In a historic moment for New Zealand swimming, 20-year-old Erika Fairweather (Ngāi Tahu) clinched her first world championship title by winning the women’s 400m freestyle final in Doha, marking a significant milestone as she became the first New Zealander to secure a gold medal in a long course swimming world championship. Her victory was achieved in spectacular fashion, with a personal best time of 3:59.44, making her one of the few women globally to break the four-minute barrier in this event.
The absence of world record holder Ariarne Titmus, along with past champions Katie Ledecky and Summer McIntosh, positioned Fairweather as the favorite, and she delivered flawlessly, leading the race from start to finish. She finished more than two seconds ahead of her closest competitor, Li Bingjie of China, with Germany’s Isabel Gose third .
Titmus, Ledecky, and McIntosh missed the event in Doha, preferring to concentrate on their path to the Paris Olympics later this year. It’s unusual for the World Championships to be held in the same calendar year as the Olympics but needed to be rescheduled as a knock on from the effects of Covid.
Regardless, this victory places Fairweather in an excellent position ahead of the upcoming Paris Olympics, where she is expected to face stiff competition from the three no-show’s.
Fairweather’s achievement is a significant moment for New Zealand swimming, surpassing the country’s previous best performances at world championships, which included silver medals by Lauren Boyle, Danyon Loader, and Gary Hurring in various events.
Fairweather’s triumph in Doha continues her rising trajectory in international swimming, marking her as a formidable competitor and a hopeful for New Zealand at the Paris Olympics. Her success in breaking the four-minute barrier not only establishes her as a leading swimmer on the world stage but also brings excitement and anticipation for her future endeavors in the sport.
Eve Thomas, fellow Kiwi, finished seventh.