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Swimmers staying home as world titles begin in Doha

Paul NewberryAP
Many of swimming's top names, like Caeleb Dressel, are skipping the world championships. (AP PHOTO)
Camera IconMany of swimming's top names, like Caeleb Dressel, are skipping the world championships. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP

With all eyes on the Paris Olympics, the World Aquatics Championships feel more like a nuisance than the second-most important event on the swimming calendar.

Given the unusual timing -- a lingering fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic -- many of the biggest names have decided to skip the meet in Doha, Qatar.

"I don't really care, to be honest," American breaststroke star Lilly King said. "It's not that big a deal for me."

The biennial world championships -- which also feature diving, water polo, artistic swimming, open water and high diving -- are usually held in odd-numbered years to avoid conflicting with the Olympics.

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But the pandemic threw the schedule all of whack, beginning with the Tokyo Olympics being postponed until 2021.

Now the Doha meet has been squeezed into the schedule less than six months ahead of the Paris Games, the first time the championships -- which began in 1973 -- are being held in the same calendar year as the Olympics.

The 17-day competition begins Friday with a pair of diving events, while in the swimming, set for the back half of the meet, most of the world's top nations are sending what amounts to B-teams.

For the powerhouse Americans, that means no Katie Ledecky, no Caeleb Dressel, no Ryan Murphy.

Australia, who won a leading 13 swimming gold medals last summer in Fukuoka, won't have Kaylee McKeown, Ariarne Titmus or Mollie O'Callaghan.

French star Leon Marchand, who has drawn comparisons to Michael Phelps, is sitting this one out, too. Ditto for Canadian prodigy Summer McIntosh, along with Chinese stalwarts Qin Haiyang and Zhang Yufei.

Of the 22 individual swimming gold medalists at last summer's world championships, only seven are entered for Doha.

Not that the meet in Doha won't feature some compelling storylines. The British team, for example, have picked a squad that included nine medalists from Fukuoka, as well as world-record holder Adam Peaty.

After an extended break to deal with mental health issues, Peaty is eager to regain his status as the sport's most dominant breaststroker.

DIVING

China, this sport's long-time superpower, has entered many of the same athletes who hoarded 12 of 13 golds and 19 medals overall in Fukuoka. Reigning individual world champions Wang Zongyuan, Chen Yiwen and Chen Yuxi were all scheduled to dive in Doha.

Australia's Cassiel Rousseau, who prevented a Chinese sweep last summer with a stunning upset on the men's 10-metre platform, decided not to defend his individual title and will focus on the synchronised event.

WATER POLO

Hungary are the defending men's champion, while the Netherlands will look to capture another women's title.

ARTISTIC SWIMMING

Russia , a one-time powerhouse in the sport formerly known as synchronised swimming, haven't competed at the worlds since taking nine of 10 gold medals at the 2019 championships. The Russian artistic swimmers will be sitting out again at Doha, passing on the chance to enter as neutral athletes.

OPEN WATER

Germany's Florian Wellbrock and Leonie Beck, who swept the individual races in Fukuoka, were set to defend their titles in this rough-and-tumble event that will be held at the Old Doha Port.

HIGH DIVING

The Old Port will also be the site of this non-Olympic event, in which the men fling themselves off a 27-metre tower and the women leap from 20 metres. Defending men's champion Constantin Popovici of Romania and reigning women's champ Rhiannan Iffland, of Australia, are both scheduled to compete.

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