Pan Zhanle broke the men’s 100m freestyle world record leading off China’s gold medal-winning 4x100m free relay team to open the world swimming championships in Doha on Sunday.
Pan, 19, split 46.80 seconds, taking six hundredths off Romanian David Popovici’s world record from 2022.
China led wire-to-wire to win the relay by one second over Italy. The U.S. took bronze without its top 100m freestylers.
Pan entered worlds as the fifth-fastest man in history with a personal best of 46.97 from September’s Asian Games. He was fourth in the 100m free at last July’s worlds in a then-Asian record 47.43.
Now, he may go into the Paris Olympics as the favorite in swimming’s marquee race, which American Caeleb Dressel won in an Olympic record 47.02 at the previous Games in Tokyo in 2021.
Many top swimmers opted not to compete at these worlds, the first to be held in an Olympic year, to focus on training ahead of Olympic Trials.
In the women’s 4x100m free, the Netherlands overtook Australia in the last 50 meters with anchor Marrit Steenbergen posting the fastest split of the 32-swimmer field. The U.S., which has a small overall women’s roster of eight, did not enter the event.
Erika Fairweather became the first New Zealand swimmer to win a world title, comfortably taking the women’s 400m free by 2.18 seconds over China’s Li Bingjie.
This summer, Fairweather will look to challenge the three fastest women in history — Australian Ariarne Titmus, Canadian Summer McIntosh and American Katie Ledecky — all of whom skipped worlds.
South Korea’s Kim Woo-Min held off Aussie Elijah Winnington to win the men’s 400m free.
The final lacked 2023 World champion Sam Short of Australia, who didn’t enter worlds, and Olympic gold medalist Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia, who was 17th in the morning heats.
Worlds continue Monday with finals live on Peacock at 11 a.m. ET. The lineup features American Kate Douglass looking to repeat as champion in the 200m individual medley.