World Championships, Day Six Semifinals: After Leading 50 Butterfly, Sarah Sjostrom Knocking on History’s Door


by JOHN LOHN – EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

28 July 2023

World Championships, Day Six Semifinals: After Leading 50 Butterfly, Sarah Sjostrom Knocking on History’s Door

Sarah Sjostrom is one swim away from history.

The Swedish superstar dominated the semifinals of the 50-meter butterfly at the World Championships on Friday night, popping a time of 24.74, the fourth-fastest in history. If the 29-year-old can follow up with a podium finish in the final, she will tie American legend Michael Phelps for the most individual medals in World Champs history at 20. Sjostrom also has the 50 freestyle ahead, meaning the record could belong to her alone before the weekend is out.

For Sjostrom, equaling Phelps figures to be a formality.

Like Katie Ledecky in the 800 freestyle and 1500 freestyle and Adam Peaty in the 100 breaststroke, Sjostrom has ruled the 50 butterfly. Including her most-recent performances at the Marine Messe Hall, she owns the 26-fastest times in history. More, she is the only woman to crack the 25-second barrier in the event, having accomplished the feat on 16 occasions. Her world record sits at 24.40.

A future Hall of Famer, Sjostrom is operating in another world when it comes to one lap of butterfly. As she covered her 50 meters, she immediately bolted to the front of the field and continuously separated herself from the opposition. Really, most world-class swimmers would love the times of Sjostrom for their 50 freestyle.

The 50 butterfly is one of just two individual events Sjostrom is contesting at the World Championships, along with the 50 freestyle. She opted to bypass the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly. Because of her scaled-back program, Sjostrom had to wait until Day Six to race on an individual basis.

“Usually, I do a lot of events,” Sjostrom said. “This is a nutty kind of year. I wanted to try a lighter program, and I feel very good about it, especially now when I finally start racing. I’m just flying in the water.”

China’s Zhang Yufei advanced to the final as the second seed, following a mark of 25.17. Zhang won the 100 butterfly earlier in the week and also helped China claim gold in the mixed medley relay. Zhang was followed by American Gretchen Walsh (25.48) and France’s Melanie Henique (25.70).

In what can only be described as the latest chapter in a feel-good story, Japan’s Rikako Ikee qualified fifth for the final in 25.72. Ikee is a Leukemia survivor who has built herself back to global factor after beating her illness.

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