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Cal Bears at 2019 FINA World Championships update: 5 relay, 1 team, and 1 individual medals

Golden Bears have been more Silver than Gold at the 2019 World Championships

Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships: Swimming - Day 6
Murphy only managed a Silver in the 200 Back but missed the podium (4th) in 100 Back after winning Golds in both events at the last Olympics.
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

The entire Team USA, not just its numerous Cal Bears, is not quite dominating the 2019 FINA World Championships like the 2016 Rio Olympics. Stanford alum Katie Ledecky missed some races after being sick. Indiana alum Lilly King was DQ’ed in one of her signature breaststroke races. The slump also hits several Cal Bears, particularly those who won individual medals in the last Olympic games and will hope to add to those totals in Tokyo, just less than a year from now. Let’s get to the results, thus far, for the 12 swimmers who are either Cal alumni or current student-athlete.

Cal Bears contributing to USA Relays

First the good news, Cal Bears are now a part of 4 different medal winning relays - all for Team USA.

On Day 1, Nathan Adrian anchored USA men’s 4x100 Free Relay win. Abbey Weitzeil swam a leg in USA women’s 4x100 Free Relay Silver finish.

Ryan Murphy swam the leadoff backstroke leg for USA’s mixed 4x100 Medley Relay, who eventually finished 2nd. Stanford alum Simone Manuel was unable to hold on to the lead as the anchor as Australia’s Cate Campbell overtook her at the very end. Indiana alum Lilly King swam the breaststoke leg while Florida alum Caeleb Dressel (easily one of the most dominant American at this meet) swam the butterfly leg.

Another Cal Bear who found her way to the podium is recent alum Katie McLaughlin, who swam the anchor leg of USA women’s 4x200 Free Relay that took the Silver. Despite setting a new American record, USA finished just behind Australia yet again. McLaughlin teamed with Georgia alum Melanie Margalis and Stanford alumni Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel.

Hong Kong women’s 4x200 Free Relay team finished 11th with two Calympians in alumni Stephanie Au and Camille Cheng in their lineup.

Capping the Friday night event, recent Cal alumni Andrew Seliskar swam the leadoff leg for Team USA as the American took the Bronze in 4x200 Free Relay behind Australia and Russian. Seliskar teamed with Louisville alumni Blake Pieroni, Zach Apple, and Texas alum Townley Haas.

Bears falling short of lofty individual expectations set by the last Olympics

Individually, Cal Bears have had significantly less success thus far.

The biggest Cal shocker may be Ryan Murphy’s 4th place finish in the 100 Back final.

Murphy bounced back on Friday night with a Silver finish in the 200 Back.

Murphy finished as runner up to Russia’s Rylov. It is perhaps not a given that Murphy will match Aaron Peirsol as back-to-back Olympics 100 Back champion or be the first man ever to win back-to-back Olympics 200 Back Gold next summer in Tokyo.

Fellow Calympian Jacob Pebley took 6the place in 200 Back.

Also missing out on an individual medals is Kathleen Baker, who finished 6th in both the 50 Back and 100 Back. For her best event, 200 Back, Baker finished a disappointing 9th in the semifinal to miss out on the final. Baker turned professional a year early by giving up her last year of college eligibility (when the Bears could have really used her this past season to unseat Stanford); it is unfortunate to see that she did not meet the pre-meet lower expectation of winning at least a medal in the three backstroke events.

By the way, fellow American Regan Smith broke Calympian Missy Franklin’s 200 Back world record in just the semifinal swim. Unfortunately (for Cal women’s chance in the NCAA), the 17 year old Smith has committed to swim for Stanford (though she could always turn pro early with the Olympics an year away).

Silver medalist in the 200 Breast in the last Olympics, Josh Prenot is bummed to not even make the final of this event. He’s got a year to bounce back before Tokyo (or the big USA Trials in Omaha). Prenot finished 13th in the semifinal.

Several Golden Bears still have their top event coming up. Egyptian Olympian Farida Osman set a personal record in the 100 Free (but not good enough for the top 16) but has the 5th best semifinal time to book a spot in Saturday’s final.

Other Golden Bears, with less expectations, got the following results thus far:

Singapore Calympian Zheng Wen Quah took 27th in 200 Fly. Representing Croatia, Ema Rajic took 32nd in 100 Breast. For Hong Kong, Stephanie Au finished 24th in 100 Back. Swimming for Spain, Cal alum Marina Garcia placed 19th in 200 Breast.

It’s way too early to worry about Team USA’s performance in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, or worry about Cal Bears not making that squad (for the always very competitive USA, the precious Team USA Olympic berths will be completely decided by the results at the 2020 USA Olympic Trials next June). Nonetheless, this meet is a good reminder that it is very tough for athletes to maintain their dominance from one Olympics to the next in the world of swimming.

There are two more days to this World Championships for the various Cal Bears to earn more medals both individually or in relays.

This week’s events in Gwangju, South Korea is not limited to just swimming. Cal has two representatives on Team USA for men’s water polo. Team USA, with Calympian and Peter Cutino Award winner Luca Cupido and recent graduate Johnny Hooper, took 9th place overall. Both men are in position to make the 2020 Olympic squad for USA next summer.

On the women’s side, there are even more Golden Bears in water polo action. Team Canada have 3 Bears on the roster between rising senior Emma Wright to go with alumni Kindred Paul and Kelly McKee. Calympian Anna Illes is on the Hungarian team, which surprisingly does not include Cal’s all time leading scorer in Dora Antal (my guess is that she’s injured? since at 25 years old, she’s way too young to retire from water polo). Fellow Calympian and her former teammate Roser Tarrago, who left the Cal team with a year of eligibility left, is on the Spanish team.

The Canadian women finished 9th in this tournament after beating Kazakhstan.

Tarrago and Spain defeated Illes and Hungary to book a spot in the championship final against USA. With that semifinal win, Spain has booked a spot in the 2020 Tokyo games next summer.

Update: Spain lost to USA 6-11, so it’s a Silver to Ru Tarrago and her teammates although they are just thrilled with a spot in the Olympic next summer.

Bears and Hungary just narrowly lost the Bronze medal in women’s water polo as Anna Illes’ country were edged 10-9 by Australia.

Current Medals Tally for FINA 2019 Gwanju:

1 Gold: Men’s 4x100 Free Relay (USA with Nathan Adrian)

5 Silvers: 200 Back (Ryan Murphy), Women’s 4x100 Free Relay (USA with Abbey Weitzeil), Mixed 4x100 Medley Relay (USA with Ryan Murphy), Women’s 4x200 Free Relay (USA with Katie McLaughlin), Women’s Water Polo (Spain with Roser Tarrago)

1 Bronze: Men’s 4x200 Free Relay (USA with Andrew Seliskar)