Freestylers, already the most bountiful of swimmers when it comes to Olympic medal shots, have been granted yet more chances as the International Olympic Committee ticked the box for the men’s 800m and women’s 1500m freestyle to the Games program for Tokyo 2020.
A mixed medley relay also make the program, which may now be extended to nine days, the costs of having teams in town for the Olympic swimming program rising in line with FINA ambitions.
- The good news: men and women will now share the same swimming-events program at the Olympics for the first time in history, a mixed medley relay extending equality to racing in the same race for the first time, too.
- The bad news, at least if you’re a strokes sprinter: no dash events on backstroke,, breaststroke and butterfly, the world titles program still much bigger than the Olympic schedule.
- The ugly news: sports governors have delivered a fat-cat solution to swimming’s program and in so doing have diluted the impact of multi-medals in swimming.
The sport, already criticised for having too many events that are too similar in nature, with many podiums a match of the same 2 or 3 swimmers, will no longer be one in which medal comparisons are valid at the Olympic Games, the chances of multiple medals now all the greater for freestylers.
Take the following scenario that is more than likely given that it has already been achieved in the history of swimming:
- Swimmer A: medals in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500m free, 4x100m free, 4x200m free, 4×100 mixed relay (7 shots – at least)
- Swimmer B: medals in the 50, 100 and 200m free, the 4×100, 4×200 free, the 4x100m medley and mixed medley (7 shots)
Katie Ledecky (USA) claimed four golds and a silver at Rio 2016, winning the 200, 400 and 800m freestyle, the 4x200m gold with teammates and playing her part in the 4x100m free relay, too.
In Tokyo, her schedule could be: 200, 400, 800, 1500m free (she is world record holder in the biggest three distances), the 4x100m and 4x200m free (USA will have clear shots at the podium) and potentially the 4x100m free mixed. There is also a chance she will take on the 400IM, though much development ahead on that score.
It remains likeley that Michael Phelps (USA), winner of a record-of-records 23 gold and 28 medals in all between 2004 and 2016, will be the sole winner of eight gold medals at one Games for some time to come but the chances of 5, 6 and more medals for one swimmer are now significantly greater.
To any in swimming, Usain Bolt’s view that he would have won as many medals as Phelps had there been running backwards, sideways and skipping races for him to enter was somewhat unfair and liked understanding of just how extraordinary – in swimming and sports terms in general – his achievements were.
Even, so, the latest additions to the Olympic program are likely to increase the perception that swimming is an ‘easy to multi-medal’ sport.
For FINA it is about boasting and demanding a greater share of broadcast funds. In a statement, the international federation that spends more of its budget on blazers than prize money for swimmers, puffed out its chest to declare:
“At Tokyo 2020, FINA will become the sport with the greatest number (49) of finals on the Olympic programme, with 35 for swimming, eight for diving, two for water polo, two for marathon swimming and two for synchronised swimming”.
FINA was unable to persuade the IOC that high diving, another discipline in the stable of aquatic sports with very modest participation numbers, is a sport worth adding to the Games.