The swimming world championships will kick off in Doha next weekend devoid of some serious star power including Aussie champions Emma McKeon and Arairne Titmus. The latest edition of the world championships is taking place just under six months from the Paris Olympics, with organisers forced into the tricky scheduling decision due to the lingering fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The biennial world championships always take place in an odd-numbered year, but because they were postponed in 2021 there's been a backlog of events to catch up on. It means 2024 will mark the first time since the world championships began in 1973 that they'll take place in the same year as an Olympics.
But the 51-year first has led to a number of high-profile swimmers opting to skip the event due to how close it falls to the Olympics. Aussie stars McKeon, Titmus, Mollie O'Callaghan, Kaylee McKeown and Kyle Chalmers are just a few who won't be in action in Doha for the worlds.
McKeon is dealing with an arm issue, while Titmus recently underwent surgery to remove two benign tumours on her ovary. Both have opted to focus on building up their training for the Olympics rather than competing at the world championships.
While the world champs are normally the second-biggest event in world swimming, this year they feel like more of a nuisance. The majority of countries are sending what amounts to their B teams, although the Aussies will be led by Shayna Jack, Cameron McEvoy and Elijah Winnington.
Last year McEvoy, 29, became the oldest Australian in swimming history to win an individual gold medal at a world championships after his triumph in the 50m freestyle in Japan. He will face stiff competition in Great Britain's Benjamin Proud as he attempts to defend his title this year.
“It’s going to be pretty rough, Ben's going to be on, but it’ll be a really good pre-Paris experience,” McEvoy said late last year. “Fukuoka was my first international 50m final, so to have another one of them and have been in top form is a good experience.”
Swimming world championships missing high-profile names
American breaststroke star Lilly King won't be competing, saying: "I don't really care, to be honest. It's not that big a deal for me." The Americans will also be without superstars Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel and Ryan Murphy.
Leon Marchand of France, who has drawn comparisons to Michael Phelps, is also sitting out. And the same goes for Canadian prodigy Summer McIntosh, and Chinese stalwarts Qin Haiyang and Zhang Yufei.
There were 22 individual gold medallists at last year's world championships, but only seven of them will be in action in Doha. Australia won a record 13 gold medals in Japan, but will be hard-pressed to match the feat this time around.
— World Aquatics (@WorldAquatics) February 1, 2024
However there will still be plenty of compelling storylines. Backstrokers Iona Anderson and Jaclyn Barclay will be making their international debuts for Australia, while the British team still have nine gold medallists from last year's worlds in their squad.
They've also picked former world record holder Adam Peaty. After an extended break to deal with mental health issues, the 29-year-old Peaty is back and eager to regain his status as the sport's most dominant breaststroker.
The World Aquatics Championships will run from February 2 to 19, and includes water polo, diving, artistic swimming and open water swimming. The traditional swimming program will kick off on February 11.
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