AP Sports

Teenagers shine at World Aquatics Championships as China’s Pan, American Curzan take golds

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — China’s Pan Zhanle backed up his world record in the relays with a victory all his own Thursday, while American Claire Curzan became the first swimmer to claim two individual gold medals on a starring night for teenagers at the World Aquatics Championships.

The 19-year-old Pan won the men’s 100-meter freestyle at Aspire Dome, four days after swimming the fastest two laps in history with a time of 46.80 seconds in the lead-off leg of China’s gold medal-winning 4×100 free relay team.

He didn’t go quite as fast the second time around, but it was good enough for gold. Pan touched in 47.53 to stamp himself as one of the top contenders heading to the Paris Olympics.

“This was very hard,” Pan said. “This is my first (individual) world championship title. I know it’s only the beginning. I will keep moving forward and let’s meet in Paris.”

Curzan, also 19, used a blistering start to claim gold in the women’s 50 backstroke, adding to her victory in the 100 back. She picked up a third gold as part of the winning 4×100 mixed medley relay team.

“I can’t really remember that last time I did a 50 back,” said Curzan, who competes for the University of Virginia. “I’ve had a lot of fun doing it this year. I think it’s great to spread my wings a bit.”

Both Pan and Curzan took advantage of many big stars skipping the Doha championships to focus on the Olympics.

The 100 free Olympic champion, American Caeleb Dressel, and 2023 world champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia are not at these worlds.

Ditto for Australia’s Kaylee McKeown and American Regan Smith, who went 1-2 in all three women’s backstroke events at last summer’s championships in Fukuoka.

Finishing behind Pan, Alessandro Miressi of Italy (47.72) took the silver and Hungary’s Nandor Nemeth (47.78) claimed the bronze.

In the 50 back, a non-Olympic event, the silver went to Australia’s Iona Anderson (27.45) and Canada’s Ingrid Wilm (27.61) earned the bronze. That the same order as the top three in the 100 back.

China claimed its second gold of the night in the final event, winning the women’s 4×200 free relay in 7 minutes, 47.26 seconds with the team of Ai Yanhan, Gong Zhenqi, Li Bingjie and Yang Peiqi. Britain claimed the silver at 7:50.90, with the bronze going to Australia in 7:51.41.

China now has four swimming gold medals and 20 victories overall at the World Aquatics Championships, more than double any other country.

Also Thursday, Britain’s Laura Stephens won the women’s 200 butterfly, going out strong and gutting it out at the end to touch in 2:07.35.

Helena Rosendahl Bach of Denmark settled for silver in 2:07.44 and 18-year-old Lana Pudar grabbed the bronze from lane eight in 2:07.92 — the first world medal ever for Bosnia and Herzegovina. She edged American Rachel Klinker for the last spot on the podium by 0.27.

“All I was thinking about the last 50 was just holding on to technique,” Stephens said. “I guess it worked.”

Finlay Knox gave the makeshift Canadian team its first gold medal of the championships in the men’s 200 individual medley, finishing with a strong freestyle lap to touch ahead of everyone else in 1:56.64.

Carson Foster of the United States took the silver in 1:56.97, with the bronze going to Alberto Razzetti at 1:57.42. The Italian had already taken a silver in the 200 butterfly.

“Historically, I’m pretty slow in the backstroke, and as I’ve gotten older the breaststroke has been a little bit of a struggle as well,” Knox said. “So just making sure I’m strong through that, and then the last 50 everyone knows you just have to dig deep and go for it.”

In the morning preliminaries, world-record holder Sarah Sjöström withdrew from the 100 free, a decision that was not surprising since the 30-year-old Swede has said she doesn’t plan to compete in the event at the Paris Olympics.

HIGH DIVING

With a huge final dive, Britain’s Aidan Heslop claimed the men’s title off the 27-meter tower at Doha Old Port.

He finished with 422.95 points in the non-Olympic sport, beating France’s Gary Hunt (413.25) as Romania’s Catalin-Petru Preda claimed the bronze (410.20). James Lichtenstein of the United States was fourth.

Heslop sealed the victory with a forward four somersaults with 3 1/2 twists in the pike position, a dive that has the highest degree of difficulty (6.2) ever completed at worlds. He received 8.0s and 8.5s from the judges.

“When you’ve got the big dives, that’s all you need to be on the top of the podium,” Heslop said. ”Being at the forefront of some of the biggest dives that people are doing nowadays is fun. It’s risky, but it’s fun.”

WATER POLO

Croatia advanced to the Saturday championship in men’s water polo with a 17-16 semifinal victory over France on penalties.

The French rallied from three goals down in the final quarter to tie the score at 11, but Croatia made all six of its penalties to survive.

Italy claimed the other spot in the final with an 8-6 victory over Spain.

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