Look out for these 10 stars at the Aug 2-9 Swimming World Championships in Russia

Chad le Clos.
Chad le Clos.ST PHOTO: AARON ENG

Despite missing some of swimming's big names, including American Michael Phelps, the Fina World Championships promises to be world-class affair with host of international stars set to feature.

The spotlight at the Aug 2-9 meet in Kazan, Russia will fall on South African Chad Le Clos, seen as the heir apparent to Phelps, and China's Sun Yang, who courts controversy everywhere he goes but is also undoubtedly Asia's leading man in the pool.

On the women's front, the battle for supremacy among the teen sensations Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky, Ruta Meilutyte and Ye Shiwen promises to be one of the ages.

Singapore will be represented by an 11-men team that includes Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, both hoping to make their mark at the Kazan Arena Stadium.

The Straits Times picks out 10 must-watch swimmers to keep your eye on over the next eight days.

Chad Le Clos, 23 (South Africa)


 South African Chad le Clos in the finals of the men's 100m butterfly at the Fina World Cup series at OCBC Aquatic Centre on 2 November 2014. He came in first but did not break the world record. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The only man to defeat Phelps in an Olympic individual event in eight years, Le Clos' victory in 200m butterfly at the 2012 London Games signalled a shift as swimming entered the post-Phelps era.

Proving that he was indeed the heir apparent a year later, Le Clos, who first rose to prominence with his five-medal haul at the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, then bagged the fly double (100m, 200m) at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona.

His form in recent months - he posted the year's fifth and sixth best timings in the 100m and 200m fly respectively last month - bodes well as he looks to defend his titles.

And with the weight of a country's expectations on his shoulders, Le Clos will be determined to prove he is a worthy successor to his American idol.

Grant Hackett, 35 (Australia)


Grant Hackett (L) of Australia arrives for a training session during the FINA Swimming World Championships in Kazan, Russia on July 30, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

Retired from competitive swimming for more than six years, Hackett's return to the international fray has been the sport's comeback story of the year.

He is considered one of the greatest distance swimmers of all time, having won back-to-back 1,500m golds at the Sydney and Athens Olympics and a silver in Beijing in 2008. He has also held the world record over every freestyle distance from 200m to 1,500m.

The holder of 24 Olympic and world championship medals - 13 of them gold - will compete in just one event in Russia, representing his country in the 200m freestyle relay event. But having only resumed full-time training late last year, his ability to compete at the elite level once again is truly remarkable.

Sun Yang, 23 (China)


Sun Yang of China prepares for a training session at the FINA Swimming World Championships in Kazan, Russia on July 30, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

The bad boy of Chinese swimming will be looking replicate his feat at the last world championships when he became just the second man, after Hackett, to capture all three long distance freestyle golds (400m, 800m and 1500m).

Sun is no stranger to making headlines, but has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. He was banned for three months in May 2014 for a doping offence and on his return, was stunned by Japan's Kosuke Hagino in the 200m at last year's Asian Games. He then courted more controversy by poking fun at the Japanese national anthem before he made amends by beating Hagino over eight laps.

He is the first Chinese man to win an Olympic gold in swimming - his victory in the 1,500m at the 2012 London Olympics saw him set a new world record of 14 min 31.02 seconds which still stands.

Striding out to the pool deck in gold headphones, the 1.98m-tall Sun Sun may be struggling for his best form but cuts an imposing figure and can be all but unbeatable when in the mood.

Vladimir Morozov, 23 (Russia)

Backed by a fanatical home support, this could be Morozov's time to finally claim a world title. He was a silver medallist in Barcelona two years ago in the 50m free and has been improving his times in both the sprint events.

A bronze medallist in the 4x100m free relay at the London Olympics, he has clocked the year's fastest time in the 100m free with his 47.98sec effort at the Russian National Championships in April.

His 2015 timing of 21.65sec in the 50m free is second only to France's Olympic champion Florent Manaudou (21.57sec) while the 23-year-old Russian has also posted a victory over American Nathan Adrian, the Olympic 100m free champion, earlier this month.

As one of the main medal hopes for the host, Morozov is sure of plenty of vocal support in Kazan.

Dmitriy Balandin, 20 (Kazakhstan)

The soft-spoken Kazakh made the biggest noise at last year's Asian Games when he became the first swimmer from his landlocked country to win gold.

And he did so in style by completing a breaststroke treble (50m, 100m & 200m) while setting a new Games record in all three events. His time of 59.92sec in the 100m was also the first sub-1min mark in Games history and announced the previously-unknown Balandin onto the world stage.

He celebrated his 20th birthday in April and while the breaststroke specialist has yet to crack the 2015 top-eight timings in any of the three events, his performances in South Korea cannot be dismissed and he remains one of the dark horses and potential medal contenders in Russia.

Joseph Schooling, 20 (Singapore)


Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling at the Munhak Park Tae-hwan Aquatics Center during the Asian Games 2014 held in Incheon, South Korea on September 26, 2014. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

The great hope of Singapore sports has had a stellar 12 months in the pool. He made history by capturing the 100m butterfly at the 2014 Asian Games, the Republic's first Asiad swimming title since Ang Peng Siong's victory at the 1982 edition in New Delhi.

Primarily a butterfly specialist, Schooling then carried that momentum into the recent SEA Games on home soil, winning a perfect nine golds from nine events.

In a show of his versatility, he also shattered Ang's 32-year-old national record in the 50m free event.

While his Incheon winning time of 51.76 seconds will hardly strike terror into his rivals in Kazan, Schooling, who managed a semi-final appearance two years ago at the biennial meet, is riding a hot streak and has the belief that he could win a medal in only his second appearance at the world championships.

Missy Franklin, 20 (USA)


Missy Franklin competes in the women's 100m freestyle on day four of the 2015 Arena Pro Swim Series at the George F. Haines International Swim Center on June 21, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. PHOTO: AFP

America's sweetheart was still an amateur and just 16 when she burst onto the scene in the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, winning three titles.

Her star kept rising as she collected four golds at the London Games a year later before a six-gold haul at the next world championships confirmed her standing as one of the world's best swimmers.

This July, the University of California undergraduate became the first swimmer to win the prestigious Best Female College Athlete ESPY Award.

While Franklin failed to notch a win in her only world championships tuneup at Santa Clara, California, in June, she was in the midst of hard training and few will bet against her adding to her nine world championship titles in Russia.

Katie Ledecky, 18 (USA)

The undisputed princess of distance races, Ledecky holds the world record in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle events and will be looking to repeat her 2013 world championship sweep of all three in Kazan.

She also has her eye on Franklin's 200m crown and has already beaten her compatriot in the event at both last year's US championships and Pan Pacific championships.

She faces an extremely tough 200m free field that comprises defending champion Franklin, Dutchwoman Femke Heemskerk (owner of 2015's fastest time), short-course world record-holder Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, and Australian Emma McKeon, the 2014 Commonwealth Games winner.

Victory for Ledecky, the 2013 & 2014 World Swimmer of the Year, would send a message to her rivals as she gears up for next year's Olympic Games in Rio where she will look to add to her solitary gold from London.

Ruta Meilutyte, 18 (Lithuania)


 Lithuania world and Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte stands on the podium with her silver medal after finishing second in the women's 100m breaststroke event at the Fina/Mastbank Swimming World Cup Singapore held at OCBC Aquatic Centre on November 1, 2014. PHOTO: STFILE

Based in Plymouth since she was 13, Meiluytye's triumph over adversity - she lost her mother in car accident in 2001 - has been well-documented.

Seen as one of Lithuania - and Europe's - most promising swimmers, she became the youngest swimmer from her country to compete at the Olympics when she was selected for London and captured the 100m breaststroke title.

In her world championships debut a year later, she set both the 50m and 100m world records, marks which still stand today.

She is also the only swimmer in history to hold Olympic, World and European titles at both senior and youth level at the same time, after completing her set with victory at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing last year.

Ye Shiwen, 19 (China)

The Chinese superstar sent shockwaves through women's swimming at the London Olympics three years ago when she bagged the 200m and 400m individual medley double.

Her eye-popping world record swim in the longer event set tongues wagging after she stormed through her final lap quicker than men's champion Ryan Lochte, triggering accusations of doping despite no evidence incriminating the teenager from Hangzhou.

That success proved something of a poisoned chalice though and she flopped at the last world championships in Barcelona and failed to win a single medal and described 2013 as her "nightmare year".

But she bounced back and won the 200m and 400m IM double at last year's Asian Games and while she has yet to hit peak form despite winning the Chinese nationals earlier this year, Ye will be determined to redeem herself and earn her first world swimming title.

jonwong@sph.com.sg