By Karen Price | July 25, 2019, 10:48 a.m. (ET)

(L-R) Silver medalists Melanie Margalis, Katie McLaughlin, Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel of the United States pose during the medal ceremony for the women's 4x200-meter freestyle final at the 2019 FINA World Championships on July 25, 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea.

 

U.S. swimmers blitzed the medal stand at the FINA World Championships on Thursday, winning two gold, two silver and two bronze medals in Gwangju, South Korea.

Caeleb Dressel defended his title in the men’s 100-meter freestyle, setting a new American record in the process, Olivia Smoliga won gold and also set a U.S. record with her win in the 50-meter backstroke and Katie Ledecky, who missed two finals because of illness, returned to competition as the women’s 4x200-meter freestyle team took silver in a thrilling battle against Australia.

In total, Americans reached the podium in all five finals.

Australia came into the relay as the top seed but the U.S. had won seven of the last eight world titles in the event. Four-time Olympic medalist Simone Manuel kicked things off for the U.S., racing against Ariarne Titmus. Australia had the lead as Ledecky took over for the second leg. By the third lap she’d moved up on Australia’s Madison Wilson, and the two were neck-and-neck after Ledecky’s 1:54.61.

Melanie Margalis then put the U.S. out in front, and just nine-hundredths of a second separated the two nations after three legs. Ultimately it was Australia that claimed victory with a new world record time of 7:41.50, followed by the Americans with a new U.S. record of 7:41.87 after Katie McLaughlin’s anchor leg.

Earlier in the night Dressel won his third gold medal in four events so far when he out-swam defending Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia in near-world record time. Dressel finished in 46.96 seconds, setting a new American record, and ending up a mere .05 seconds off the world record that’s stood for 10 years. Dressel also has gold medals in the 50-meter butterfly and the 4x100-meter freestyle as well as silver in the 4x100-meter mixed medley, and he could still tie the seven gold medals he won at the 2017 world championships. Chalmers won silver in 47.08, Russia’s Vladislav Grinev was third in 47.82. American Blake Pieroni finished just off the podium in 47.88.

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Meanwhile, Smoliga picked up her first individual long course world championships gold medal when she won the women’s 50-meter backstroke. Smoliga’s performance comes on the heels of her record eight gold medals won last December at the short course world championships, as well as a bronze in the 100-meter backstroke won earlier in the week. She had also previously won four short course medals in 2012 and two long course golds in 2017 (both in relays).

On Thursday, Smoliga lowered her own U.S. record of 27.43, finishing in 27.33, to outpace Brazil’s Etiene Medeiros, who won silver in 27.44 seconds, and Russia’s Daria Vaskina, who took the bronze in 27.51.

Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot won silver and bronze, respectively, in the women’s 200-meter butterfly. Flickinger finished in 2:06.95 followed by Drabot in 2:07.04, just behind Hungarian Boglarka Kapas’ time of 2:06.78.

Rounding things out, Chase Kalisz took bronze in the men’s 200-meter IM with a time of 1:56.78, .64 seconds behind winner Daiya Seto of Japan. Switzerland’s Jeremy Desplanches won the silver in 1:56.56.

Through five days of swimming at Gwangju, Team USA leads all countries with 14 medals, five of them gold. Racing continues through Sunday.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.