Void in the pool as post-Phelps era dawns

BUDAPEST: The world swimming championships will usher in a new era following the retirement of American great Michael Phelps when eight days of racing commence at Budapest’s Duna Arena on Sunday.
This will be the first global meeting since 1998 without either Phelps, holder of 23 Olympic gold medals and 26 world titles, or compatriot and six-time Olympic gold medallist Ryan Lochte who is ineligible to compete after a 10-month ban.
Although Phelps missed the 2013 and 2015 championships, it is his farewell after his final competitive race at the Rio Olympics which still resonates. Phelps was the last to leave pool deck as he waved an emotional goodbye to a boisterous crowd after helping the US to gold in the men’s 4×100 metres medley relay.
Nearly one year on, his departure has left a void as the sport searches for the next global star to take over the 32-year-old’s mantle.
A mixed medley relay, along with a men’s 800m and women’s 1,500m freestyle races were last month added to the Tokyo 2020 programme by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in a radical shake-up of the Games programme. However, if those changes were implemented to ensure gender parity across the sport, it is women’s elite swimmers who are likely to receive top billing in Budapest.
Following local favourite Katinka Hosszu’s trio of Olympic titles at last summer’s Olympics, an expectant nation will now be anticipating more bounty in the pool where she has been training for multiple individual tilts.
Following her Rio exploits, the self-billed ‘Iron Lady’ has entered six individual events across medley, backstroke, freestyle and butterfly. The 28-year-old is also bidding for a hat-trick of world titles in both the 200m and 400m individual medley.
Katie Ledecky of the United States is set to go one better.
Unbeaten at world championships, the American’s freestyle brilliance is set to continue in the Hungarian capital as she aims for a hat-trick of individual world titles in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m. Like Hosszu, she is entered into six events — and unless she scratches some races, the 20-year-old collegiate will undertake her most active schedule yet in a major meet.
Along with Hosszu and Ledecky, Swedish sprint star Sarah Sjostrom, 23, will be vying to win her first freestyle world title, having come to the fore with Olympic gold in the 100m butterfly, her signature event. — Reuters