Maximus Williamson Now Trails Only Michael Phelps Among U.S. Male Teens in 200 IM

Maximus Williamson -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Maximus Williamson Now Trails Only Michael Phelps Among U.S. Male Teens in 200 IM

A 47-second relay split on day one of the World Junior Championships turned his individual events into much-watch performances, and it didn’t take long for Maximus Williamson to come through. In the 200 individual medley, the 17-year-old from Southlake, Texas, showed his versatility and also his improvement in only two months, with Williamson clobbering his previous best mark by 1.36 seconds. The resulting performance was one matched only by one other American teenager, one who would go on to win an unprecedented four consecutive Olympic gold medals in the race.

In the World Juniors final, Williamson took advantage of the disqualification of top seed Tomoyuki Matsushita, but he won the race by a significant margin even counting the Japanese swimmer who set a meet record of 1:58.42 in prelims. Williamson’s sizzling butterfly, backstroke and freestyle splits were enough to compensate for a tough breaststroke leg, when he barely held onto the lead. But by the end, he was 1.33 seconds clear of any other legal finisher, and his gold-medal time was 1:57.29. That would have been quick enough to qualify for the senior-level Worlds team earlier this year.

And yes, this swim compares favorably to what the great Michael Phelps accomplished at that age.

Phelps got more attention throughout his swimming career for his remarkable exploits in the 200 butterfly, the first event in which he emerged on the global scene, and the 400 IM, in which he was most dominant at his peak and held the world record for 21 years. On the contrary, Phelps lost the world record in the 200 IM in 2009 and never snatched it back from Ryan Lochte, although Phelps retained the ability to strike gold in the races that mattered most.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The 200 IM was also the only race where Phelps once broke the world record four times in six weeks. Less than one month prior to the 2003 World Championships, Phelps became the first man under 1:58 in the 200 IM, cracking Jani Sievinen’s almost-19-year-old mark of 1:58.16. One day prior to his 18th birthday, Phelps swam a time of 1:57.94 at the Santa Clara Invitational. Shortly thereafter, Phelps lowered the record to 1:57.52 in the World Championships semifinals, and then he blasted another second-and-a-half off the time in the final with his 1:56.04. Somehow not content yet, Phelps raced two weeks later at U.S. Nationals and shaved another tenth from the record, getting down to 1:55.94.

No, Williamson did not break into the 1:56s and certainly not the 1:55s, but he is already faster than the first of those two Phelps world records. And Williamson is successful enough that we can even compare his splits to those of the man who eventually won 23 Olympic gold medals. Compare Williamson’s splits to two of Phelps’ 2003 global standards, and it’s clear that this new star can already match Phelps’ teenage speed in butterfly and freestyle, although his breaststroke and especially his backstroke still trail.

Phelps 2003 Final 25.29 29.04 34.51 27.20 1:56.04
Williamson 2023 25.29 29.72 35.02 27.26 1:57.29
Phelps 2003 Semifinal 25.74 29.64 34.94 27.20 1:57.52

In the two decades since Phelps’ signature record-breaking stretch, no other U.S. junior-level swimmers have reached that level, with Carson Foster now ranking third all-time in the 17-18 age group at 1:57.59, with a big gap back to Michael Andrew in fourth at 1:59.12. The official world junior record in the race (established initially 10 years after Phelps’ performances) belongs to Hungary’s Hubert Kos (now the world champion in the 200 back) at 1:56.99, a mark now well within Williamson’s range.

It’s really hard to find a comparison that does not scream “elite.” And for a follow-up 30 minutes later, Williamson anchored the U.S. mixed 400 medley relay in 47.74, a tick faster than his groundbreaking effort one day earlier, as he swam past five female freestylers to secure American gold (Williamson’s third through the first two days of the meet) by a whopping three-and-a-half seconds.

Remember, all these junior-level records and even Phelps’ NAG record — the time which was once the world record — remain in significant danger, with Williamson having an entire summer season remaining to track down these marks. And surely, the top 200 IMers in the U.S. have plenty of reason to be concerned as they approach the 2024 Olympic Trials, with Williamson quickly building momentum toward that all-important crossroads.


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