Loud Roar by Federica Pellegrini Powers Italian to Repeat in 200 Freestyle & Eighth Straight Medal

World Swimming Championships (Federica Pellegrini)

Gwangju, Day 4 finals

Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Women’s 200 freestyle

The Lioness of Verona has roared again.

A legend in the freestyle ranks, Italy’s Federica Pellegrini orchestrated a perfect race on Wednesday night to repeat as champion of the 200 freestyle and collect the eighth medal of her career in the event at the World Championships. Staying intact with the leaders through the opening three laps, Pellegrini shot off the final wall and pulled away from her rivals to win in 1:54.22, and to secure the fourth title of her career.

It was back in 2005 at the World Championships in Montreal where Pellegrini collected her first global medal over four laps of freestyle. She has not been off the podium since, complementing her quartet of triumphs with three silver medals and a bronze medal. New challengers have come and gone through the years, but Pellegrini has remained a force. Her winning time is the sixth-fastest in history, and the fourth-quickest in a textile suit.

The silver medal went to Australian Ariarne Titmus, who added to her gold medal from the 400 free. Titmus led the field through the 150-meter mark and finished in 1:54.66, just ahead of the 1:54.78 of Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom. Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey also cracked the 1:55 barrier, checking in at 1:54.98, while China’s Yang Junxuan was fifth in a world junior record of 1:55.43.

There was a scary moment following the race as Sjostrom was tended to by medical staff and given oxygen on the pool deck. Sjostrom was somewhat of a surprise participant in the 200 freestyle as she had indicated in the months prior to the World Championships that the event was likely off her busy schedule. Instead, she opted to give the race a go and came away with a podium finish.

Legendary is the only way to describe the longevity and success that Pellegrini has displayed throughout her career. At every global championships since the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Pellegrini has never finished out of the top five in the 200 freestyle. That stretch includes a silver medal at those Athens Games and gold from Beijing in 2008. Now, at 30 years old, Pellegrini goes into preparation for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as the favorite.

It is worth noting that the event was missing some of its pre-meet luster. Heading into the World Championships, the 200 freestyle was tabbed as a can’t-miss final, perhaps the most-anticipated of the week. But with illness forcing the withdrawal of American Katie Ledecky and Australian Emma McKeon, and Canadian Taylor Ruck bowing out to conserve energy, a loaded field was diluted.

The top qualifier entering the final, Pellegrini packaged a masterful race, utilizing her experience to its fullest. Seventh at the first turn and fourth at the midway point, Pellegrini never showed any panic. Rather, she stayed true to her strategy and used the last 100 meters to take over. After posting the fastest third-50 split, Pellegrini moved into second with a lap remaining. Over those final 50 meters, which she covered in 28.90, Pellegrini pulled away from the competition.

Longevity in the sport is not like finding a unicorn, especially in this modern era in which the elite athletes have the means to continue their pursuit of excellence. But the consistency that Pellegrini has displayed down the years is remarkable, an invitation to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in her future. Aside from medaling in the 200 freestyle at eight straight World Champs, Pellegrini remains the owner of the world record, sitting at 1:52.98, and proved on Wednesday night that she is still at the top of her game. Pellegrini’s time was the third-fastest of her career, and the fastest she has ever gone in textile.

There’s no telling for sure, but even with the likes of Ledecky, McKeon and Ruck in the field, Pellegrini was going to be hard to beat. And it’s not like she hasn’t beaten those foes in the past, as Ledecky and McKeon were the joint silver medalists to Pellegrini two years ago in Budapest. As a tribute to Pellegrini’s greatness, the crowd inside the Nambu University Aquatics Center gave the Italian a standing ovation during the awards ceremony and festively clapped along to the Italian National Anthem.

With Titmus in the lead heading into the last lap, and given her status as the world champion in the 400 freestyle, the Aussie seemed to have the advantage. Instead, Pellegrini left the teen easily behind, out-splitting the upstart by .61 over the final length. It was a reminder of sorts that Pellegrini was once among the elite 400 freestylers on the planet, evident in her pair of world titles in that event. Although the 400 free has been shelved for eternity by the Pellegrini camp, her ability to close is still a trademark.

For Titmus, her silver medal was the latest achievement in a rapidly rising career. The Aussie entered the final with a best of 1:54.30 and while she didn’t match the speed she showed at the Australian Trials, another sub-1:55 effort was proof she will be a factor for years ahead.

“I think I took it out hard,” Titmus said. “A silver medal at World Championships is great. Based on training times, I probably thought I had a better time in me but what can you do? It’s what you do on the day and Pellegrini was really good tonight.”

For Sjostrom, her bronze medal marked her second podium finish of the week, complementing her surprise silver medal in the 100 butterfly, where Canada’s Maggie MacNeil clipped the Olympic and world champion. The medal, however, was a bonus of sorts. In interviews over the past several months, Sjostrom alluded to the 200 freestyle as an afterthought that didn’t fit her schedule. The change of heart clearly paid off.

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