How & Why Doha Broke The Record For Most Nations Taking Gold & Medals

2024-02-22 2 comments Reading Time: 10 minutes
Dan Wiffen and Sarah Sjostrom, the two swimmers whose winning times at the World Championships in Doha would have won gold at both the past two Olympic Games - photos courtesy of Swim Ireland and World Aquatics

When reading the runes for Paris 2024, it would be best to largely discount the World Championships that ended in Doha last Sunday with none of the 35 Olympic events untouched by mass absenteeism or abstention from peak performance among the majority of the world’s best 10 in every race.

After a few days of pondering the worldwide mainstream media write up (and it was fairly threadbare, to be honest), we should discount many of the assessments made, presumably without much homework at all.

Laura Stephens Great Britain
Laura Stephens Great Britain

Take Britain’s Laura Stephens‘ historic gold in the 200m butterfly. Historic it was for her and her country and a fine trial of race craft on the way to Olympic trials. too. A “stunning gold”, as the BBC put it, delivered an unnecessary word too many and begged the question ‘how’. The winning time was 0.2sec slower than Laura swam for sixth place in a personal best at Fukuoka 2023, and no, that’s not playing down the swimmer’s effort, it’s simply placing it in the context Laura herself alluded to, to her great credit.

But the key problem with the BBC report was this: all three medallists from the 2023 world championships “did not make it to the podium.”

True. But that’s because they weren’t even in Qatar. Such truth-shy references were rife in the reports about many of those who topped or made podiums in Doha, in several languages, not a single one of them noting the context of times that would not have made the medals or in some cases the final at championships held more than a decade ago.

In some cases, you have to go back almost two decades, to Montreal 2005, to find slower winning times at the global showcase. The pace of gold and spread of speed through finals in Dohas was significantly down on Fukuoka, of course, and although some gaps look relatively cheery, it’s good to remember that half a second over 100m and a second over 200m, let alone 10seconds over 800 free or 400IM, can, of course, be filled with everyone from gold to no place in the final.

Doha 2024 to Fukuoka 2023 comparisons included some stark examples, such as relays in which the pace of 7th last year was good for gold this year.

More significant to Paris, as our graphic at the foot of this page highlights, is comparison to the pace of Olympic Games of 2020ne and 2016: it confirms the need for a caveat-emptor approach to any Doha-Paris extrapolations. A quick overview:

Women: In nine of the 16 long-term Olympic events on the program, nine victories unfolded in times that would not have made the podium in at least one of the last two Olympic finals in the respective events, leaving seven wins that would have made at least one Olympic podium from 2016 or 2020. Five out of a possible 32 swims in Doha would have claimed gold at either the 2016 or 2020ne Games. There was one swim faster than the pace of both the past two Olympics: Sarah Sjöström‘s 23.63 in the 50m freestyle.

Men: In nine of the 16 long-term Olympic events on the program, 12 victories unfolded in times that would not have made the podium in at least one of the last two Olympic finals in the respective events, leaving four wins that would have made at least one Olympic podium from 2016 or 2020. Three out of a possible 32 swims in Doha would have claimed gold at either the 2016 or 2020ne Games. There was one swim faster than the pace of both the past two Olympics: Dan Wiffen‘s 14:34.07 in the 1500m freestyle.

Those outstanding swims in the context of Olympic winning speed 2016 and 2020ne:


  • Better than 2016 and 2020ne victory pace: Sarah Sjöström – 50m freestyle
  • Better than 2016 pace: Marrit Steenbergen – 100m freestyle; Claire Curzan – 100m backstroke; Tes Schouten – 200m breaststroke
  • Better than 2020ne pace: Kate Douglass – 200m medley


  • Better than 2016 and 2020ne victory pace: Dan Wiffen 1500m freestyle
  • Better than 2016 pace: Pan Zhanle – 100m freestyle; Kim Woomin – 400m freestyle 

Wiffen, winner of the 800 and 1500m freestyle titles, won the male swimmer of the championships award and Curzan, who claimed the backstroke triple and silver in the 100m butterfly as well as helping the USA to gold and bronze in mixed relays, the female swimmer of the championships award.

Results in Full

When A Rise In Numbers Comes With A Fall In Quality

Not a single race in Doha escaped a big opt-out. Britain’s Olympic champions Adam Peaty and Tom Dean, neither racing rested for peak performance in Doha, were the only Tokyo 2020 Olympic winners, among men and women, to compete in Qatar, while 16 World champions, all of them contenders for Paris gold, bypassed Doha.

Official statements noting the “record numbers” of participants in the Doha event did not mention the two key causes: subsidisation of teams, and the fact that chances of progress to semis and finals was greatly increased by absenteeism and abstention from peak-form performance of many of those with Paris in their sights.

Those numbers:

Doha 2024: 2,600 participants hailing from 201 countries, in addition to the World Aquatics Refugee team. World Aquatics ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus had been partially lifted, with Russians and Belorussians having to be approved by the World Aquatics Integrity Unit in a process aimed at confirming that they were not linked to the state apparatus, an exercise riddled with challenges given that Putin is the effective head of sport in Russia and all agencies operating in sport must answer to the state and a leadership waging war on Ukraine:

The Inquisitor: The tentacles of the Russian state invade Kamila ValievaIs it still state doping in Russia under the supervision of the FMBA? Russian athletes are spoilt for choice between the carrot and the stick. Either they toe the FMBA line and compete, or face the wrath of the Russian state and expulsion from the sport – by Andy Brown

and… one that links back to the Kazan 2015 World championships a year after Putin invaded Crimea but the world mof sport, including FINA, kept quaffing with the dictator and commander in chief of Russian sport:

The Inquisitor: Back to the Future: Sochi, Kazan and New York CityHistory was made on 21 February 2024. While the warmonger Vladimir Putin put on another sporting propaganda show in Kazan, the first drug dealer was convicted under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act in the USA – exactly 10 years after the Sochi Doping Games – by Jens Weinreich

Fukuoka 2023: 2,392 from 192 countries (the original number cited, of 195 nations, included the Philippines and Kenya, whose athletes had to compete under the banner ‘Suspended Member Federation’, while two athletes of Syria competed under the banner ‘World Aquatics Refugee Team’. World Aquatics ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus remained in effect for these championships.

In the depth of those numbers was a big leap in the numbers of nations making finals compared to previous championships, while Doha set an all-time record of numbers of nations claiming gold in the pool and on the count of overall medals, the previous record having stood to Rome since 2009, the shiny suits saga and all that came with that particular departure from business as usual, all the way back to 1973:

How Doha Tops Table For Most National Podium Places Since 1973, Rome Demoted, Cali The Lowest Count Of All

In the past two decades, swimming has had a fairly constant rate of around 10-12 nations claiming at least one gold and 18-20 nations making the medals table. A glance of latest and through the decades:

EventNations With Gold Nations With Medals
Doha 20241830
Fukuoka 20231221
Budapest 20221119
Gwangju 20191221
Rome 2009 (shiny suits)1725
Perth 19981019
Madrid 1986715
Cali 1975611

The Doha Drop

A pre-Olympic World swimming Championships has long generated the form guide and ones-to-watch list for the Games. Not Doha, which staged the first global showcase ever to be held in the Middle East – and ever scheduled in Olympic year. 

Held every two years for the past quarter of a century, the championships were rocked by Covid cancellations and the removal of a Russian host in response to the war on Ukraine the world. In its attempt to catch-up with Covid-delayed contracts, World Aquatics opted to stage its showcase annually in four successive years between 2022 to 2025. 

Nations played along in 2022 and 2023 but a decision not to delay Doha until 2025 proved a gamble too far even after World Aquatics insisted on making the championships the decisive qualifier for Olympic relays for all but medallists at the Fukuoka 2023 championships last July.

Teams capitalised or made the most of the circumstances in ways pertinent to their national Olympic selection processes. Several, but by now means all, Dutch swimmers raced as though they were at their top trials moment for Paris, while nations without a multi-event consideration model, such as Britain, attended Doha for two key reasons: the dress-rehearsal benefits of a big-championship environment; and tickets to relays such as that secured by the men’s 4x100m freestyle quartet after a DQ in Fukuoka that may yet prove to have been a blessing in disguise in the form of a flight under the radar.

Many Brits and others used the event as a pitstop on their way to their final training camps before Olympic trials season – and they were clear about their purpose in Doha and the context of the moment, athletes, staff and statements.

Among the 16 2023 wold champions missing from Doha: France’s Leon Marchand – three golds, 1 world and 2 European records to the good in Fukuoka (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

The likes of Olympic host France and Japan were largely absent. Same for the USA and Australia, which sent largely development teams to Doha in the stead of many who will surely be on their Olympic teams for Paris.

China was missing its best in key events, though Pan Zhanle, as things stand the favourite for Olympic 100m free gold in Paris after his 46.80 world record, and Tang Qianting were prime examples of swimmers racing in peak form, which may make July in Paris their third tapered meet of the year.

All of those differentials and more contributed to the celebrations of several nations, including Ireland, Portugal and New Zealand, not only claiming world swimming titles for the first time since the start of the global showcase in 1973 but also boosting statistics such as the numbers of swimmers in finals to record levels.

What do such stats mean? Better levels of funding? Likely. Greater expectations? And how. The media archive confirms it. The significance of those expectations ebbs and flows from swimmer to swimmer, with program to program important to the equation.

Dan Wiffen
Dan Wiffen – the countdown includes two world titles. Image courtesy of World Aquatics

Dan Wiffen‘s double gold. Does it make him the golden favourite for Paris? No. But we know his winning 1500m, for example, was faster than the pace of 2016 and 2020ne Olympic gold and we know that Doha confirmed the pathway he’s already invited us down: he’s a clear podium shot among several in two Olympic events on the boil. No embellishment given and none required.

Among those winners and podium placers in Doha, however, are many now billed to one extent or another as “Olympic golden shots” back home. Such great expectations, not exactly discouraged by governors, coaches and others in understandable cheer-leader mode, are highly unrealistic in several cases.

That’s not because the new champion is undeserving or somehow below-par but because they have a veritable mountain to climb from world-class excellence to the heady outer orbit occupied by trailblazers and living legends keeping their powder dry for a touch of pantheon-plumping action in Paris.

There’s a tendency to talk up not down in all circumstances in elite sport for obvious reasons, including the importance of celebrating any ‘victory’ along the way and embracing the status and rewards that come with confidence-building exercises.

Even so, fear and possibly misunderstanding of what it means to be “negative” about anyone’s achievements, surely understand the downside of misplaced Doha ‘positivity’, and we have to believe that no matter what’s been said in open forum, back in the calm of a return to dedication this week, context has been reinforced in a way that places expectation in equilibrium with reality and ignores pointless prediction.

If some sections of the mainstream media call it wrong, mainly through lack of knowledge and/or basic homework, don’t just blame them: they’re largely reflecting the hyper-interpretation of results in Doha heard in the words of athletes, coaches, heads of programs and, yes, those niche media players that bend like a willow in a strong wind towards pleasing with context-free content replete with superlatives guaranteed to go up in flames when the podium predicted turns into something less.

It is not hard to see how some of the times that converted to medals in Doha might not even make the final in Paris (see graphic below).

One mentor told me: “Not easy. We all understand that context but there was a lot of talk of ‘stunning’ victories and we got some headlines that talk of … ‘golden Olympic prospects’. It risks setting the athletes up for a fall in Paris when the biggest guns step up.”

Domestic Olympic trials season, be it one-shot meet or a series of qualification chances between March and June will provide far better guidance than Doha, while any “Guide to Paris 2024” already printed is already past its sell-by date .

Much will change before we sit in the French capital hearing the sound of silence and feeling the hair stand up on neck and arm as “Take Your…” precedes the only moment that matters when it comes to the household-name/healthy bank account, sport-transcending, life-changing and lifelong-lasting ambitions in the sport of swimming.

For the record, here are the winning times and 5th fastest in World Long-Course Championship finals, 2007 through 2024, in all Olympic events held consistently throughout that period:


2024 gold2024 6th2023 gold2023 6thOG202one podiumOG2016 podium
50FR23.6924.5123.6224.4523.81; 24.07; 24.2124.07 – 24.09 – 24.11
10052.2654.0552.1653.3451.96 – 52.27 – 52.5252.70 – 52.70 – 52.99
2001:54.891:56.891:52.851:56.001:53.50 – 1:53.92 – 1:54.701:53.73 – 1:54.08 – 1:54.92
4003:59.444:05.733:55.384:05.173:56.69 – 3:57.36 – 4:01.083:56.46 – 4:01.23 – 4:01.92
8008:17.448:29.248:08.878:19.738:12.57 – 8:13.83 – 8:18.358:04.79 – 8:16.17 – 8:16.37
100BK58.291:00.4257.5359.7257.47 – 57.72 – 58.0558.45 – 58.75 – 58.76
2002:05.772:10.112:03.852:08.432:04.68 – 2:05.42 – 2:06.172:05.99 – 2:06.05 – 2:07.54
100BR1:05.271:06.581:04.621:06.361:04.95 – 1:05.22 – 1:05.541:04.93 – 1:05.50 – 1:05.69
2002:19.812:25.342:20.802:24.222:18.95 – 2:19.92 – 2:20.842:20.30 – 2:21.97 – 2:22.28
100Fly56.2857.6856.1257.1355.59 – 55.64 – 55.7255.48 – 56.46 – 56.63
2002:07.352:08.812:04.062:07.272:03.86 – 2:05.30 – 2:05.652.04.85 – 2.04.88 – 2.05.20
200IM2:07.052:11.202:07.172:11.272:08.52 – 2:08.65 – 2:09.042:06.58 – 2:06.88 – 2:08.79
400IM4:37.144:41.954:27.114:37.734:32.08 – 4:32.76 – 4:34.904:26.36 – 4:31.15 – 4:32.39
4x100Fr3:36.613:41.673:27.963:35.413:29.69 – 3:32.78 – 3:32.813:30.65 – 3:31.89 – 3:32.89
4x200Fr7:47.267:55.717:37.507:52.937:40.33 – 7:40.73 – 7:41.297:43.03 – 7:44.87 – 7:45.39
4x100Med3:55.984:00.343:52.083:58.023:51.60 – 3:51.73 – 3:52.603:53.13 – 3:55.00 – 3:55.01


2024 gold2024 6th2023 gold2023 6thOG2020 Podium OG2016 Podium
50FR21.4421.8121.0621.7321.07 – 21.55 – 21.5721.40 – 21.41 – 21.49
10047.5348.0247.1547.8347.02 – 47.08 – 47.4447.58 – 47.80 – 47.85
2001:44.751:45.861:44.301:46.041:44.22 – 1:44.26 – 1:44.661:44.65 – 1:45.20 – 1:45.23
4003:42.713:45.873:40.683:44.223:43.36 – 3:43.52 – 3:43.943:41.55 – 3:41.68 – 3:43.49
150014:34.0714:47.8914:31.5414:51.4614:39.65 – 14:40.66 – 14:40.9114:34.57 – 14:39.48 – 14:40.86
100BK52.6853.6452.2252.9251.98 – 52.00 – 52.1951.97 – 52.31 – 52.40
2001:55.301:56.641:54.141:56.291:53.27 – 1:54.15 – 1:54.721:53.62 – 1:53.96 – 1:53.97
100BR58.5759.3557.6959.2357.37 – 58.00 – 58.3357.13 – 58.69 – 58.87
2002:07.942:09.802:05.482:08.782:06.38 – 2:07.01 – 2:07.132:07.46 – 2:07.53 – 2:07.70
100Fly51.1751.6850.1451.2049.45 – 49.68 – 50.7450.39 – 51.14 – 51.14
2001:53.881:55.761:52.431:54.741:51.25 – 1:53.73 – 1:54.451:53.36 – 1:53.40 – 1:53.62
200IM1:56.641:57.751:54.821:56.701:55.00 – 1:55.28 – 1:56.171:54.66 – 1:56.61 – 1:57.05
400IM4:09.724:13.054:02.504:11.294:09.42 – 4:10.28 – 4:10.384:06.05 – 4:06.75 – 4:09.71
4x100Fr3:11.083:13.673:10.163:12.713:08.97 – 3:10.11 – 3:10.223:09.92 – 3:10.53 – 3:11.37
4x200Fr7:01.847:09.106:59.087:04.076:58.58 – 7:01.81 – 7:01.847:00.66 – 7:03.13 – 7:03.50
4x100Med3:29.803:34.623:27.203:32.583:26.78 – 3:27.51 – 3:29.173:27.95 – 3:29.24 – 3:29.93

SOS Coverage Of Doha 2024:

Day 8: Wiffen Grabs Gold No2 For Ireland In Roaring 14:34 Rite Of Passage To Paris Showstopper

Day 7: Sarah Sjostrom Strikes Again! Sixth 50 ‘Fly World Title For All-Time Top 23 Dashes

Day 6: Steenbergen & Schouten Lob Double Dutch Gauntlet Before Gonzalez, Dong & China Join Them In Doha World-Title Debutants Club

Day 6 heats: The Vortex, February 2024 – McEvoy Chucks 21.13 Gauntlet In Doha 50 Free Heats

Day 5: Curzan At The Double As Pan, Stephens & Knox Join Wave Of World-Title Debutants At Quirk Of Qatar Gathering

Day 4: Wiffen, Haughey, Honda & Williamson Deliver Flow Of World-Title Firsts

Day 3: Quadarella, Tang & Hwang Produce Paris-Podium Prospect Victories at Doha Championships As Haughey Tops Versatility Stakes

Day 2: Douglass, Fink, Kohler & Ribeiro Claim Day 2 World Titles In Doha

Day 1: Fairweather & Kim Take Doha 400m Free Crowns & Pan Cracks World 100 Free Record in 46.80 Leading China To 4×100 Gold

Context: The Power Of Relays & Race Craft In Great Britain Quest Of Quartets

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2 thoughts on “How & Why Doha Broke The Record For Most Nations Taking Gold & Medals”

    Lack of world records also supports your analysis. Just 1 world record is the fewest apart from 0 set in Perth in 1998.

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