China's Pan Zhanle puts world on notice in lead up to Paris Olympics

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China's Pan Zhanle puts world on notice in lead up to Paris Olympics
Sarah Sjostrom extended her record tally of World Championship medals in individual events to 23
Sarah Sjostrom extended her record tally of World Championship medals in individual events to 23
Reuters
A World Championships rammed into a tight window before the Paris Olympics was never going to be a hit with swimming's global elite but if nothing else, Doha may be remembered as the launchpad to superstardom for Chinese sprinter Pan Zhanle (19).

The sprinter's 100 metres freestyle world record of 46.80 seconds electrified the opening night at the Aspire Dome pool and powered China to gold in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay.

Pan never bettered the mark in the individual event but it scarcely mattered as he became China's first world champion in the blue riband race since Ning Zetao in 2015.

Former 100m world record holder David Popovici and Kyle Chalmers, the world champion at Fukuoka last July, skipped Doha - but Pan has put them on notice in the lead up to Paris.

He finished the meet with four gold medals, helping China win three titles in depleted relay events.

While Pan is the future of swimming, Sarah Sjostrom continues to rewrite history as she pushes for another Olympic gold at the age of 30.

Though a score of top swimmers skipped Doha due to its unusual scheduling and proximity to the Olympics, Sjostrom gave the event a much-needed sprinkle of stardust.

The evergreen Swede showed she is still a major force, winning her third successive 50m freestyle gold after cruising to a sixth straight title in the non-Olympic 50m butterfly.

She became only the second swimmer to win six consecutive world titles in the same event, following the great Katie Ledecky in the 800m at Fukuoka.

Sjostrom also extended her record tally of world championship medals in individual events to 23 and returns home with confidence ahead of Paris where she will focus on the 50m freestyle.

Ireland celebrated their first world titles in swimming along with a new distance champion in Daniel Wiffen who claimed both the 800m and 1,500 freestyle golds.

American Kate Douglass will also leave Doha happy after successfully defending her 200m individual medley title.

Her team mate Claire Curzan became the second swimmer to sweep the women's backstroke events.

Notable flops

Curzan benefited from a modest field lacking Kaylee McKeown, the Australian dominator who swept the 50, 100 and 200m backstroke events last year.

However, the 19-year-old American posted impressive times, throwing down a challenge to home rivals like Regan Smith before Olympic trials in June.

Along with the successes, there were some notable flops.

Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui arrived in Doha as world champion in the 800m and 1,500m freestyle, and 2023 silver medallist in the 400m.

He failed to make the final in any, leaving Doha with questions about his preparation for Paris where he will defend the 400m gold.

The United States finished top of the medals table with eight golds, one ahead of second-placed China, but with so many top swimmers absent, the standings were more a reflection of depth than a form guide for Paris.

The Netherlands were nonetheless thrilled with their meet, having taken three titles to finish fourth on the table, including Marrit Steenbergen's 100m freestyle gold and Tes Schouten's 200m breaststroke win.

"It's been a roller-coaster," Netherlands coach Patrick Pearson told Reuters.

"Now we actually have multiple swimmers and with opportunities to be in finals and compete for medals which is different to the last couple of years."

Politics overshadowed the event and the final night had a sour note when Israel's Anastasia Gorbenko was booed loudly by sections of the crowd after taking silver in the 400m individual medley.

No Russian competed in Doha after the country's swimming federation rejected World Aquatics' conditions on their athletes competing as neutrals.

Russian and Belarusian swimmers were previously banned from international events in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow called a "special military operation".

Belarus, a close Russian ally, has provided logistical support to Moscow throughout the war in Ukraine.

Four Belarusians swam as neutrals in Doha but were banned from talking to media.

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