Five Rings: Takeaways From Kazan 2015

Five Rings gives an in-depth look at an event, athlete, or trend in the Olympic sports world and the Olympic movement. In this first edition of “Five Rings”, David DeGuzman looks back at the last two weeks of world championship action in Kazan, Russia.

Most people couldn’t point the city of Kazan on a map before these world championships. And they likely still won’t be able to after. A world championship festival, even one that involves multiple sports and disciplines like the FINA Aquatics Championships, doesn’t spotlight the host city like an Olympics does. But this “Russian Cultural Hub” did a fantastic job of providing a stage for one of the best world aquatics championships we’ve seen in awhile. Now that Kazan 2015 is in the books, here are five takeaways from the event as we move towards Rio 2016.

Katie Ledecky is the queen of the pool. 

A relative unknown three years ago in London, Katie Ledecky has become a household name in American swimming after the week she’s had in Kazan.

The 18-year-old won five gold medals in five events, breaking three world records in the process. Ledecky is the only swimmer to hold titles in the 200m free, 400m free, 800m free and 1500m free at a major championship meet. She also won gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay.

It wasn’t just what she won but how she claimed victory in those races. In Saturday’s 800 meter final, Ledecky destroyed her own world record by 3.61 seconds. The Bethesda, Md-native swam a total of 6200 meters in the span of a week, including a 1500-200 double on Tuesday.

Make no mistake, Katie Ledecky is set to make some sort of history next summer in Rio.

USA Women’s Water Polo Finds Missing Jewel To Complete Crown

With a 5-4 win over the Netherlands in the gold medal game, the United States is the first nation to hold Olympic, World League, World Cup and World Championship titles at the same time since women’s water polo made its debut at Sydney 2000.

Friday’s victory was the first world title for USA since 2009, making the Americans the clear favorites to repeat as gold medalists next summer in Rio, despite the fact that only four players from the London 2012 team were on the world championship squad. UCLA’s Rachel Fattal was named tournament MVP, scoring two goals in the gold medal game against the Dutch, while Ashleigh Johnson made 12 saves in the win.

The women aren’t a lock yet for Rio though. They still need to qualify via a tournament next March in the Netherlands.

British Swimming Is Here To Stay

Team GB finished fifth in the overall medal count at Kazan 2015, including a fourth place finish in swimming events. The Brits won nine medals in lane swimming, five of them gold, making this meet the most successful world championships for Great Britain. Clearly, the legacy of London 2012 is still alive for the country’s aquatics program.

James Guy and Adam Peaty will be 20 and 21 years old respectively next year in Rio, meaning that Kazan was just the start of what should be a successful run for the British men in the pool. Peaty won three golds in Russia while Guy anchored Team GB to its upset win over the United States in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay, ending the Americans’ reign in that event at major championship meets dating back to Athens 2004.

And the men set a British record in the 4x100m medley relay, though they missed the podium by 0.17 second. That means there’s still work to do for Great Britain in the year ahead before Rio.

China’s Sun Yang Clouded In Mystery

Kazan_2015_-_Sun_Yang_wins_800mAn odd thing happened on the final day of these World Championships. Reigning Olympic and World Champion in the 1500 meters never showed up to defend his title. China’s Sun Yang was never introduced and by the time the swimmers took the blocks in the distance event, Lane 3 was empty. And no one knew where he was.

Sun Yang, the gold medalist in the 400 free and 800 free, eventually showed up on stage, alongside Katie Ledecky, as he was honored as the meet’s best male swimmer. Later, the 23-year-old held a press conference, telling reporters that he had a heart problem and didn’t feel well after his warm-up earlier that morning.

But he deflected questions about multiple reports that he was involved in an altercation with a female Brazilian swimmer in the warm-up pool Sunday morning.  This isn’t the first time that Sun has been involved in controversy.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Sun has made just as many headlines away from the sport as he has in the pool.

He was banned by Chinese swimming authorities in 2013 after being jailed for crashing a car he had driven without a licence.

It also emerged last year that Sun had secretly served a three-month ban after testing positive for a banned stimulant.

For a country like China, that works hard at making sure its athletes have a polished image, there’s a lot of clouds surrounding Sun heading into Rio. Pun intended.

Australia Is Back

While the headlines in the United States talk about the decline of American swimming, Australia is on an upswing.

Three years ago, the nation sunk to its lowest of lows in the pool. The Aussies had their worst performance at an Olympics in 20 years, earning only one gold medal. An independent review revealed a ‘toxic’ culture within the team.

But in Kazan, the Dolphins came away with 16 medals, including seven golds. And there would’ve been eight if Cameron McEvoy caught up with USA’s Nathan Adrian in the 4x100m medley relay.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Grant Hackett says that the culture has returned to what it was back in 2008 – when the Aussies won 20 medals and finished second in the standings behind the United States. Hackett, on a comeback of his own, wasn’t chosen to swim in the 4×200 meter relay, but is focused on going to Rio, where the Aussies can complete their return to the top of the swimming world.

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