Spring Grove honors Olympic athlete Hali Flickinger on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016.


Spring Grove High School graduate Hali Flickinger has traveled halfway around the world to compete in the most important swimming competition of the 2019 season.

It doesn’t appear that the former Olympian has left her championship form in America.

In fact, Flickinger may be poised to win her first-ever world championship gold medal.

During semifinal action at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, on Wednesday, Flickinger had the top qualifying time to earn a berth in the 200-meter butterfly final, set for Thursday.

Flickinger and fellow American Katie Drabot were dominant in the second semifinal heat, finishing a full body-length ahead of the next nearest swimmer. Flickinger was just off her morning preliminary time of 2 minutes, 5.96 seconds. She touched first in her semifinal in 2:06.25.

Drabot set a new lifetime best time to finish second in the semifinal in 2:06.59. Hungary’s Liliana Szilagyi was third in 2:07.83 and Alys Thomas was fourth in 2:08.26.

Hungary’s Boglarka Kapas won the first 200 butterfly semifinal heat in 2:07.33. German Franziska Hentke touched second in 2:08.14, while Russia’s Svetlana Chimrova was third in 2:08.30.

Flickinger is now the No. 1 seed for Thursday’s 200 butterfly final, set for 7:02 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday. The No. 2 seeds through No. 8 seeds, in order, are Drabot, Kapas, Szilagyi, Hentke, Thomas, Chimrova and Laura Stephens.

Defending world and Olympic champion Mireia Belmonte of Spain finished eighth in the second semifinal heat and 16th overall in 2:12.72. She didn’t qualify for the final.

In June, Flickinger established herself as a legitimate world championship contender when she posted the No. 1 time in the world for the year at 2:06.40.

Flickinger finished seventh in the 200 butterfly at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2:07.71. In the last World Swimming Championships in 2017 in Budapest, Hungary, Flickinger failed to qualify for the 200 butterfly final, taking ninth in 2:07.89.

Showing marked improvement: Her times this year, however, have shown a significant improvement for the 25-year-old former York YMCA swimmer.

In June, Flickinger said her decision to step away from the sport in 2017 was the key to her success in 2018 and 2019. After years of battling illness and self-doubt, the former University of Georgia star decided it was necessary to stay out of the pool for a while in 2017 to focus on her health, physically and mentally, in the hopes of becoming the elite swimmer she knew she could be.

“I was becoming really impatient with the lack of results,” Flickinger said. “I knew how I was training. My coaches knew how I was training. And I was nowhere near what I believed I could do. It was years after years of being disappointed. I was just tired of that feeling and needed to step away from the sport in order to remember why I am doing this — because I love the sport.”

It's now obvious that the time away did a world of good for Flickinger, who has regained her passion for the sport, becoming a favorite to win a world title on Thursday.

If she wins gold on Thursday, Flickinger will also likely be considered a real contender to win a gold medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Reach Steve Heiser at Rob Rose contributed to this report.