Curzan At The Double As Pan, Stephens & Knox Join Wave Of World-Title Debutants At Quirk Of Qatar Gathering

2024-02-15 No comments Reading Time: 6 minutes
Finlay Knox
Finlay Knox celebrates victory in the 200IM at Doha world titles - courtesy of World Aquatics

Claire Curzan of the United States made it double solo gold on day 5 at the anomalous Doha World titles in a session that delivered maiden world titles for Pan Zhanle, of China, Laura Stephens of Great Britain and Finlay Knox, of Canada.

Curzan added the 50m backstroke crown to the 100m backstroke victory two days ago, while Pan took the 100m freestyle, Stephens the 200m butterfly and Knox the 200m medley. None of debutants had ever made a world-championship podium in a solo event before.

Curzan is no stranger to the global long-course medals pantheon. Her international career has coincided with a time of three world titles in three successive years, when we would normally see the showcase event held every two years. In Budapest 2022, Curzan took bronze in the 100m backstroke and two golds and two bronzes in USA relays.

This week in Doha, her tally has reached four podiums, her solo triumphs sitting alongside silver in the 100 ‘fly in the same session as her 100 back win and gold in the 4×100 mixed medley relay with USA mates.

Editorial: For context in all of what’s unfolding in Doha, where the bulk of the top Paris-Olympics podium shots are either absent or racing in-season at the championships, look no further than Stephens, who was delighted with an untapered effort that made her the first British woman to claims a solo world long-course title since Rebecca Adlington‘s victory in the 800m freestyle in Shanghai in 2011 but summed up the cautionary note that all nations celebrating titles and podiums in Doha must take into account if athlete welfare matters to them.

Anyone who disagrees, needs to reach for truth: you have to go back to 2005 before the winning time in Doha would have made the podium in the 200 ‘fly (similar statistics can be found in several events) and 2003 for the best of 2024 to claim gold.

And stating such things does not take the shine off the swimmers’ efforts: that was done the moment it was decided to hold a World Championships in February of Olympic year, regardless off any arguments for and against. We can’t pick and choose which context should we stated and which should be swept under the carpet for decade upon decade: swimming is a sport that boasts a massive fraud and lie in its World-Championship history book.

It’s called GDR doping and remains the official record of the sport, to the detriment and pain of generations of women (in the main), their parents, coaches and communities who never got to celebrate their true worth and result in sport. And it sits Eoin the record books without any official recognition in sport of the pain and damage to lives of many of the GDR athletes who endured the abuse of their guardians. So let’s save the tears and reflect what the swimmers themselves know to be the truth and know why it’s important to state it, as Stephens did, to her great credit, as Knox did to his great credit, as others on Doha have done too.

Stephens, like many others in Doha, had a fine day in the pool but won a world title without even requiring a personal best. Neither she nor the others should be written up as “gold-medal” contender in Paris. It would be unfair and unrealistic and undermine any terrific peak-form performance she may deliver in Paris, beyond the test of trials in April, regardless of whether that is good for the medals or not.

“I’m definitely very happy, it’s really hard to put into words to be honest with you, I just can’t believe it!” said Stephens. “I came into this meet hoping for three solid swims, to learn through the process – and to come away on top of the podium is kind of crazy.Β 

“It’s a good marker for myself” – Stephens

Laura Stephens Great Britain
Laura Stephens Great Britain

“I had no expectations in terms of time, it’s February, so I couldn’t even come into this hoping for PBs or things like that. But that is a really solid swim, it’s a great way to start off the long-course season and hopefully I can just get faster and faster.

“This definitely gives me a lot of confidence towards Paris. If anything, it just makes me more excited to get back into the hard work, into the training and to keep on improving.

“The top three medallists from the Worlds in the summer aren’t here, they’re away working hard right now, I’m sure, and we’re all in the middle of hard work as well. It’s a good marker for myself, just to see where I’m at – now I can just learn and hopefully move forward.”

Laura Stephens – Photo courtesy of British Swimming

Britain is among the many nations using the Doha event as a valuable opportunity to test themselves and check skills and habits and routines in a major championship environment.

And in such circumstances, there were signs of progress for the women’s 4x200m free quartet. Yes, it was silver but that’s not the most important thing about the efforts of Freya Colbert, Abbie Wood, Lucy Hope and Medi Harris. Absent, Britain No1 Freya Anderson is more potential waiting to happen for that relay. The ticket to Paris is stamped after a frustrating fourth in Fukuoka a little over six months ago at the 2023 World Championships. Job done in a final that delivered gold for China with its Paris team in place minus the powerhouse of Zhang Yufei, and bronze for Australia, 2023 World champions in a World record a thumping 10sec swifter than today’s victory time, the powerhouses of its powerhouse freestyle quartets largely back home working towards the bigger moment.

None of which prevents the celebration of progress in the ranks, such as that made by New Zealand’s women’s 4x200m team of Erika Fairweather, Laticia-Leigh Transom, Eve Thomas and Caitlin Deans, who took down their national record twice in a day, in a time 2.45sec faster than the GDR’s last ahead-of-time world record in 1987. Context counts.

Championship Finals – Quirk Of Qatar, Day 5

Doha Results in full at Omega

Women’s 200m butterfly final

Laura Stephens led from go to gold in 2:07.35, fending off the constant challenge of Denmark’s Helena Bach, 0.09sec away for silver, and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Lana Pudar, on 2:07.92 as the last home inside 2:08.

Men’s 100m freestyle final

China’s Pan Zhanle opened the championships with a World record on day 1, his 46.80 a gauntlet that, for now at least and in the eyes of some, makes him the psych-sheet favourite for gold at Paris 2024. Time will tell but the solo final told a tale of many 100m free showdowns in history: its the race that counts, not the time heading into the nervy-est of nervy moments: 47.53, good for Pan’s debut world title, albeit a good chunk away from his top speed. The deficit of winning time to world-record was a touch on both lengths. A similarly balanced swim, just slower by the margin of a jangled nerve.

Italian Alessandro Miressi was closest, on 47.72 for silver, Hungarian Nandor Nemeth third in 47.78m which locked out Britain’s 200m free world champion of 2023, Matt Richards, by just 0.04sec, one of his key rivals in the four-lap battle, 2024 World champion Hwang Sunwoo, of Korea, 0.11sec further afield.

Said Richards, through British Swimming:

Matt Richards

“Missing the podium by 0.04s is never fun. Having said that, if you’d offered me coming into the meet a 47.82, unrested, untapered, unshaved, I’d have snapped your hand off for it. So I can’t complain too much, but there’s definitely still some work to be done. I’m just really excited to see what we can do as we move forward into the rest of the season … it’s just learning every time I swim it and keep fine-tuning things. We’ll see what I can do with a three-week taper and a shave come April.”

Matt Richards – photo courtesy of Simon Richards, X

Women’s 50m backstroke final

Claire Curzan, of the USA, added the backstroke dash to her win in the 100m two days ago, her 27.43 holding off Aussie newcomer Iona Anderson by the whisker of 0.02, Canadian Ingrid Wilm third in 27.61, 0.04sec ahead of Britain’s Lauren Cox. Fine race practice for all four as they head towards Olympic trials back home.

Men’s 200m medley final

Canadian Finlay Knox took the crown in 1:56.64 after racing past Americans Carson Foster and Shaine Casas on the freestyle sprint home. Foster held on for silver in 1:56.97, with Italy’s Alberto Razzetti third in 1:57.42, as the first of four 1:57s just 0.33sec apart from bronze to sixth place for Olympic silver medallist Duncan Scott, racing in-season.

Speaking through Swimming Canada, Knox said: “It feels incredible obviously now having the world champion under my name. For me it’s just another step forward. I’m very happy to be in the spotlight tonight but in the back of my mind I know there are some faster swimmers out there which keeps me hungry.”

Women’s 4x200m freestyle final

China recaptured the world title but in a time close to two seconds per 200m swim slower than peak-form efforts at Budapest 2022. The gold and podium haven’t been awarded at this kind of pace since 2007.


Women’s 100m freestyle semis

Women’s 200m breaststroke semis

Men’s 200m breaststroke semis

Men’s 200m backstroke semis

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *