A look at athletes seeking individual breakthroughs at world championships

On the Rise: A Look at Athletes Seeking Individual Breakthroughs at World Championships

In less than 48 hours, a collection of the world’s best swimmers will come together to compete at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. From world record holders to Olympic champions, those about to compete are sure to deliver spectacular performances.

Although there will be veterans in Katie Ledecky, Hunt Kalisz, Caeleb Dressel and Kyle Chalmers, among others, there will also be a new generation of athletes competing. In this list, we highlight those who have yet to win an individual medal at a major international long course competition, but who may be on the verge of a breakthrough.

Carson Foster

Photo courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Carson Foster has been on fire for 11 months and is well positioned to have breakout world championships. At the International Tea Trials in April, Foster qualified for the 200 and 400 IM World Championships, and he enters the competition seventh and fifth seeded respectively. After missing the 400 IM team at the US Olympic Trials in June 2021, just over a month later, Foster swam a time of 4:08.46, good for the first time in the world, and an effort that would have won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Foster swims collegiately for the University of Texas and at the 2022 NCAA Championships he finished third in the 400 IM and was part of the relay team that won the 800 freestyle relay.

Hunter Armstrong

After a dominating performance at the International Team Trials, Hunter Armstrong, the new 50m backstroke world record holder, is looking to make his individual mark on the world stage. Armstrong qualified to swim the 50 and 100 backstroke in Budapest, where he is the obvious seed in the 50 backstroke and the second seed in the 100 backstroke. Armstrong continues to show that it is in the long course pool that he excels. Although Armstrong’s main discipline is the backstroke, he also finished fourth in the 100m freestyle at the Trials, giving himself a spot in the 400m freestyle relay. His fourth-place finish in the 100 freestyle is a 15-spot improvement from last year’s Olympic trials. Armstrong competed collegiately at Ohio State University, but recently announced he has turned pro and will follow his coach matt bowe to train at Cal-Berkeley.

Matthew Sates

On the men’s international side, Matthew Sates of South Africa is a name to watch. The 2022 NCAA champion in the 500-yard freestyle, Sates competed in an impressive nine events at the South African Championships in April. After being prematurely compared to Michael Phelps for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Saates had a lackluster summer, finishing 14th in the 200m individual medley and 32nd in the 100m butterfly. Sates will have a full lineup in Budapest, swimming the 200 and 400m freestyle, 200 and 400 IM and 100m breaststroke. Sates swam collegiately at the University of Georgia during the 2021-22 season, and in addition to his national title in the 500 freestyle, he was an NCAA finalist in the 200 freestyle. After the NCAA’s conclusion, Sates announced that he would be leaving Georgia to return home to train in South Africa.

Claire Curzan


Photo courtesy: Peter H. Bick

One of the world’s biggest young stars in swimming, 17-year-old Claire Curzan has made a name for herself in the swimming community since she was 12, when she broke the national record of the Reagan Smith age group in the 11-12 100m butterfly. After the World Champ Trials in April, Curzan appears to be at the top of his game heading into the world championships. During these trials, Curzan qualified to swim four individual events: the 50 and 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke. At the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Curzan won a silver medal as part of the USA 400 medley relay. Additionally, she swam the 100 butterfly and finished 10th in the semifinals. Curzan represents the TAC Titans in North Carolina and has committed to swimming at Stanford in October 2022.

Mollie O’Callaghan

Mollie O’Callaghan, 18, from Australia, is another teenage phenom set to meet at the 2022 World Championships. At the 2020 Olympics, O’Callaghan won three medals in relays as a swimmer preliminary, but entering Worlds this year gives O’Callaghan the chance to make his individual mark on the world stage. Although O’Callaghan has qualified for several individual events, she will forgo her backstroke events and focus on the 100 and 200 freestyles individually. O’Callaghan, who already holds the world junior 200m freestyle record, will also be part of three women’s relays for Australia, with the option of adding mixed relays to her schedule. O’Callaghan swims for prominent Australian coach Dean Boxall who helped coach Ariarne Titmus win two gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

Erika Good weather

To close our list, we take a look at prominent New Zealand teenager, Erika Fairweather. At just 18, Fairweather made a name for herself in the middle distance freestyle events and at the New Zealand World Championships trials in April, she set a national age group record in the 200m freestyle, with a time of 1:57.90. At the 2020 Olympics, she broke former New Zealand Olympian Lauren Boyle’s record in the 400m freestyle with a time of 4:02.28. In addition to swimming the 200 freestyle at the World Championships, Fairweather will also add the 400 freestyle to her schedule, where she is seeded sixth, just ahead of American Leah Smith.

Naomi C. Amerson