Road To The Olympic Games

Aquatics·Preview

What to expect from Canada at the world aquatic championships

One of the year's biggest sporting events starts Friday. With the Olympics almost exactly a year away, we'll find out how Canada's best swimmers and divers stack up.

National teams have 3 swimming stars and top medal contenders in diving too

Canada's Kylie Masse, centre, is the defending world champ in the women's 100-metre backstroke. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

The world aquatics championships is one of the biggest international sporting events of the year. It starts on Friday. Here's what you need to know about it:

What is the world aquatics championships?

It's a big meet, held every two years, that brings together the world championships for several water-related sports: swimming, diving, high diving, water polo, open-water swimming and artistic swimming (what they used to call synchronized swimming). Those are all Olympic sports, except for high diving.

When and where is this year's?

July 12-28 in Gwangju, South Korea. The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are almost exactly a year away, so the aquatics worlds will give us a good idea of who to watch next summer.

A lot can change in a year, though. Penny Oleksiak didn't even compete at the worlds held the summer before the 2016 Olympics (she starred at the junior worlds instead). A year later, she stunned everyone by winning four medals (including a gold) at the Rio Games.

What's the best event to watch?

Swimming is one of the most popular Olympic sports, and it's No. 1 at the aquatics worlds. But you have to wait until the second week of the meet: the first swimming heats are on the night of Saturday, July 20 in Canadian time zones. That's Sunday morning in Korea, which is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Time.

Unless you're a hardcore swimming fan, don't worry about the heats. The finals are where the medals are decided, and you can watch those live every day from Sunday, July 21 through Sunday, July 28. They start at 7 a.m. ET and each session lasts between two and three hours. You can watch them all live on CBCSports.ca. Here's the full schedule.

Who are the best Canadian swimmers?

Three women: Taylor Ruck, Kylie Masse and Oleksiak. Penny hasn't been the same since her breakthrough at the 2016 Olympics, where she tied for gold in the 100-metre freestyle, took silver in the 100-m butterfly and helped Canada win a pair of relay bronze. She didn't win an individual medal at the '17 world championships or the '18 Commonwealth Games. But she's made it a priority to avoid burnout and she's still only 19 years old. So don't write her off yet. But she has a lot of work to do to catch up with her rivals, who are always getting faster. At worlds, Oleksiak will race in the 100 and 200 freestyle and the 50 butterfly. The latter is not an Olympic event.

Ruck has a chance to be the Penny Oleksiak of the 2020 Olympics. She's two weeks older than Penny and they won a couple of bronze medals together as relay teammates in Rio, but Ruck is still an unknown to the casual Canadian sports fan. For now. Like Oleksiak, she's versatile enough to reach the podium in different events. She took home eight medals from last year's Commonwealth Games. Five of those came in individual races (meaning not relays), ranging in length from 50 metres to 200, including a gold in the 200-m freestyle. She also won that event at last summer's Pan Pacific championships, where she beat American superstar Katie Ledecky. Ruck competed in the junior world championships in 2017, so this is her first full-on worlds. She'll go head-to-head with Oleksiak in the 100 and 200 freestyle, and also race in the 100 and 200 backstroke.

Masse is a backstroke specialist and the defending world champion in the 100 metres. She set a world record of 58.10 seconds when she won that title in 2017, though it's since been lowered to 58 flat by American Kathleen Baker. Masse is also the reigning Commonwealth and Pan Pacific champ in the 100 back (she beat Baker at the Pan Pacs) and she took a bronze in that race at the '16 Olympics. She'll also compete in the 200 back at worlds.

Penny Oleksiak, left, and maybe the next Penny Oleksiak. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Who's the biggest swimming star from the rest of the world?

Katie Ledecky. The 22-year-old American is going for her fourth consecutive world titles in the 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle. She's the reigning Olympic champ in the 200, 400 and 800 free, and will likely add a 1,500 gold next summer when that distance gets added to the Olympic women's program for the first time. Ledecky settled for silver in the 200 at the last world championships, but she's dominant from 400 metres and up — and nearly unbeatable in the 1,500.

What's on before the swimming events start?

Diving is the top sport in the first week. It's also Canada's best chance to win medals outside of swimming. Veteran Jennifer Abel has won eight in her career — tied for the most ever by a Canadian in any sport at the aquatics worlds. She'll have two shots to break the record: in the 3-metre individual and mixed synchronized events. Abel is ranked second in the world in the solo and third in the synchro with partner Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu.

Canada also has three-time Olympic bronze medallist Meaghan Benfeito. She's won three world championship medals in the women's 10-m event, and she's ranked third in the world in the 10-m synchro with partner Caeli McKay. On the men's side, Philippe Gagne and Francois Imbeau-Dulac are ranked second in the 3-m synchro.

CBC Sports' Sophia Jurksztowicz talks with Diving Canada chief technical officer Mitch Geller, who explains that Canada will be looking to win medals and qualify for Tokyo 2020 during the FINA World Championships. 1:49

When and where can we watch all these events?

CBCSports.ca has live online coverage every day. It starts Friday at 7  p.m. ET with the men's 5-km open-water swimming event. Diving gets started at midnight ET with the mixed 10-m synchro. Watch live events here, and go here for the full streaming and TV schedule.

This piece is taken from The Buzzer, CBC Sports' daily newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing below.

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