BUDAPEST • The World Swimming Championships will usher in a new era, following the retirement of American great Michael Phelps when eight days of racing commence at Budapest's Duna Arena today.
This will be the first global meet since 1998 without either Phelps, holder of 23 Olympic gold medals and 26 world titles, or compatriot and six-time Olympic gold medallist Ryan Lochte who is ineligible to compete with a 10-month ban.
Nearly one year on from retirement after winning five golds at the Rio Olympics, Phelps' departure has left a void as the sport searches for the next global star to take over the 32-year-old's mantle.
And it is the women's elite swimmers who are likely to receive top billing in Budapest.
Following local favourite Katinka Hosszu's trio of Olympic titles in Rio, an expectant nation will now be anticipating more bounty in the pool where she has been training for multiple individual tilts.
Following her Olympic exploits, the self-billed "Iron Lady" has entered six individual events across the medley, backstroke, freestyle and butterfly.
The 28-year-old is also bidding for a hat-trick of world titles in both the 200m and 400m individual medley.
Katie Ledecky of the United States is also set to go one better.
Unbeaten at the World Championships, the American's freestyle brilliance is set to continue in the Hungarian capital as she aims for a hat-trick of individual world titles in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m.
Like Hosszu, she is entered for six events, her most active schedule yet in a major meet.
The top male swimmers to look out for in Budapest include Britain's 50m and 100m breaststroke world-record holder Adam Peaty, who has won every 100m race he has entered since the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and South African Chad le Clos, who had a disappointing Rio Games in which the defending champion failed to even win a 200m butterfly medal.
The pressure will also be on Sun Yang when he again locks horns with Australia's Mack Horton in the men's 400m free today - dubbed the "War in the Water II".
Horton, 21, dethroned Sun over 400m at the Rio Olympics last year , having called his rival a "drug cheat" in the build-up, a remark Sun branded a "cheap trick" to upset him. The dig was a reference to Sun's three-month ban for taking a banned stimulant which the Chinese superstar, the 400m and 800m world champion, said was for a heart complaint.
Sun is fastest over 400m this year and can stamp his authority from the first day in today 's heats and final.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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