PARIS (AFP): Leon Marchand’s performances at swimming’s world championships gave a tantalising glimpse of what he could achieve at next year’s Paris Olympics, while Australia’s stars will also be confident after an impressive display.
French sensation Marchand was irresistible in Fukuoka, winning three gold medals and breaking Michael Phelps’ long-standing 400m individual medley world record.
The 21-year-old cut a relaxed figure in and out of the pool, rarely looking flustered.
The Paris Olympics will be a different matter, with the expectations of the host nation cranked up to potentially overwhelming levels.
Marchand said he was “super-happy” with what he achieved in Japan, where he was named the competition’s top men’s swimmer.
“It’s not perfect, there are always things to improve,” he said.
“But I’m super-satisfied with what I’ve done this year.”
Australia’s Kaylee McKeown took the women’s MVP award after sweeping all three backstroke events.
She was one of several outstanding performers in an Australian team that tied their best world championships tally of 13 golds to top the medal table for the first time since 2001.
McKeown said the prize was a reward for “how well we’ve done as a collective as an Australian team”.
“For me, as proud as I am, I feel like I should have shared that with my teammates,” she said.
Australia’s Mollie O’Callaghan became the first woman ever to complete a 100m-200m freestyle world double, and won five gold medals overall.
The 19-year-old also played a part in four world records both individually and as a team, including setting a new mark in the women’s 200m freestyle.
Another Australian, Ariarne Titmus, won an epic women’s 400m freestyle final, outduelling American Katie Ledecky and Canadian Summer McIntosh in a world-record time.
Ledecky dusted herself down and went on to claim gold in both the 800m and 1500m freestyle, cementing her status as the most decorated woman in world championships history.
The 26-year-old has said she wants to compete at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics and she is likely to be a force at the Paris Games before then.
Ledecky’s performances helped lift an American team that only really came alive late in the competition.
Ledecky believes young Americans like men’s 50m and 100m freestyle silver medallist Jack Alexy will learn from the experience.
“It’s a really young team – the things I’m hearing at the lunch table, dinner table, people are learning a lot,” said Ledecky.
“We want to be better next year in Paris so I think we’ll continue to encourage each other.”
China enjoyed a more successful world championships than last year in Budapest, where they won only one individual gold.
The Chinese claimed five in Fukuoka thanks largely to the performances of new breaststroke king Qin Haiyang.
Qin won all three breaststroke titles and will look to challenge Adam Peaty in Paris if the British swimmer returns to competition following a mental health break.
Romania’s David Popovici left empty-handed after arriving in Fukuoka as defending champion in men’s 100m and 200m freestyle. The 18-year-old insisted, however, he would “be just fine” at Paris 2024.
“After I take some time off for myself, clear my head, reflect on this very busy and weird year I’ve had, I’m going back in the pool,” he said.
“Fortunately for me, what hasn’t gone perfectly here is trainable.”
Lithuanian breaststroker Ruta Meilutyte enhanced her reputation with two golds and a world record.
Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui also claimed two titles and came close to beating Sun Yang’s 11-year-old world record in the men’s 1500m freestyle.
Then there was Canadian prodigy McIntosh, who lost her world record and missed out on a medal in the women’s 400m freestyle but still left with two world titles.
The 16-year-old won the women’s 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley, and said she had “learned so much strategically” from the competition.
“It’s always good to get positive and negative feedback on how I can improve my races,” she said.