Pan swims record 100m as China wins relay gold

DOHA, Qatar — Despite the absence of many of the sport’s biggest names, the first day of the swimming events saw a world record at the World Aquatics Championships on Sunday.

Teenager Pan Zhanle swam the fastest 100 meters in history as he led off China’s gold medal-winning 4×100 freestyle relay team.

His time of 46.80 seconds — with a split of 22.26 — took six hundredths off Romanian David Popovici’s world record from 2022 and established the 19-year-old as one to beat in swimming’s marquee race at this year’s Paris Olympics.

“Actually, I wasn’t feeling in great form,” Pan said. “I would’ve been happy with just getting on the podium. This morning in heats, the U.S., Great Britain and Italy were all quicker than us, and I just wanted to focus on doing my job well.

“I told myself, ‘Just swim hard.’ I was shocked when I saw the time. I wasn’t expecting to break the record now — I wanted to leave it for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

China won the relay in 3:11.08. Italy finished a second behind, with the United States rounding off the podium in 3:12.29.

Erika Fairweather became New Zealand’s first gold medalist at a World Aquatics Championships by winning the women’s 400 freestyle.

Fairweather, who claimed bronze behind Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky at last year’s swimming worlds, won in a time of 3:59.44, which was 2.18 seconds ahead of Li Bingjie of China.

Germany’s Isabel Gose was third, 2.95 behind Fairweather, who also broke her national record on her way to victory.

With open water, artistic swimming and diving events all completed in Doha, the focus shifted to the Aspire Dome and eight days of racing in the pool.

Titmus and Ledecky were just two of the sport‘s biggest names skipping the worlds, with the Olympics starting in Paris in just over five months. It is the first time in history a long-course world championships has been held in the same year as an Olympics.

The men’s 400 free final was also without a defending champion but for a different reason as Ahmed Hafnaoui was surprisingly eliminated in the heats earlier in the day, finishing two seconds off the pace.

Kim Woo-min won in a personal best of 3:42.71 to claim South Korea’s first medal in the discipline since 2011.

He edged out 2022 champion Elijah Winnington of Australia by 0.15 and Germany’s Lukas Märtens by 0.25.

In the 4×100 women’s free relay, the Netherlands took the gold in 3:36.61, with Australia earning the silver (3:36.93) and Canada the bronze (3:37.95).

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