Russia took triple gold across the 200-metre events at the world championships on Friday, thanks to Anton Chupkov and Yuliya Efimova in a breaststroke double and Evgeny Rylov in the backstroke.
They upstaged Simone Manuel, who claimed the top prize for the United States in the women’s 100m freestyle. She had shared Olympic gold at the Rio Games last summer, but took the medal outright this time, beating top-ranked Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden.
Sjostrom had gone under the 52-second barrier in the 4x100m relay and was again under world-record pace at the turn. But Manuel, a 20-year-old Texan, clawed her way level with 25m left and with her final five strokes clocked an American-record time of 52.27 seconds.
“My legs were burning but I just really had to dig deep,” said Manuel, who was aged two when the U.S. won its last women’s gold in the blue riband event in 1998.
“My path to swimming has just been a progress forward and a drop in time and trying to get better.”
Sjostrom finished 0.04 seconds back. Denmark’s Pernille Blume took bronze.
“I am really disappointed, it is so sad when I can’t do it the whole way,” said Sjostrom.
Among the Russians, Chupkov overhauled his Japanese rivals to claim men’s 200m breaststroke gold in two minutes 06.96 seconds. Yasuhiro Koseki and Ippei Watanabe, the world record holder, had traded leads throughout before Chupkov produced a winning burst in the final 50m.
Koseki took silver and Watanabe claimed bronze.
“I wasn’t expecting such a great time. Watanabe and Koseki are my friends and are really strong rivals,” Chupkov told reporters.
The 200m breaststroke will be one of the races to watch at the Tokyo 2020 after Japanese great Kosuke Kitajima won double Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008.
“No question, the pace has become much faster,” said an upbeat Koseki. “Watanabe and I entered the final hoping to stand on the podium together, but I feel we could meet our own expectations.”
Earlier, Rylov had set a European record, beating Olympic champion Ryan Murphy of the United States in the men’s 200m backstroke. Rylov stole a march on the opening 50m and held an unassailable lead thereafter, winning with a time of one minute 53.61 seconds.
Murphy settled for silver and his compatriot Jacob Pebley took bronze. China’s Xu Jiayu finished fifth.
Efimova then matched Alexander Popov’s five individual world titles for Russia with a gold in the women’s 200m breaststroke. American Bethany Galat finished second, over two seconds back. Shi Jinglin of China won bronze.
American Lilly King, who finished fourth, put her differences with Efimova aside by congratulating the Russian.
King, the 100m breaststroke champion, had previously criticised Efimova after the Russian was banned from the sport for failing drug tests.
“I think this kind of conflict also makes me swim better,” said Efimova. “It’s not very nice but it’s fun and more interesting for people to watch as a show. Now swimming is very popular in Russia.”
Britain successfully defended their 4x200m freestyle world title when James Guy propelled the team to gold ahead of Russia. The United States edged Australia for bronze.