Swimming’s Olympic Equality A reality As Freestylers Find Favour With FINA Fat Cats

Michael Phelps: the only way you're going to have a shot at my eight golds and record scores of 23 and 28 is if you bloat the program - 'come on Katie' - by Patrick B. Kramer

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 talking to the nation on NBC

Michael Phelps – by Patrick B. Kraemer

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.

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 […]



It’s just the mixed medley relay and not the freestyle. Personally, I don’t like it, I don’t think the Olympics is the place for novelty events. Perhaps the winners will get candy floss instead of medals.
At least the the distances events are now equalised, although whether both the 800m and 1500m are needed is another question and where will the IOC fit the new events into the schedule?

Craig Lord

Thanks Ger. I agree. At Olympics, it smacks of egg and spoon race – and that while understanding the standard and quality involved. Plenty of other examples in other sports, of course. I don’t hold with the more is more… sometimes, it is distinctly less.


What were the IOC thinking when they agreed to an expanded program? I can see why in track and field you have races over 100/200/400/800/1500 metres. There is more competition depth in track and field. More importantly, as you go up or down a distance the adjustment that is required in terms of training, technique and physical conditioning is greater than it is in swimming and therefore requires greater specialization.
The mixed relays looks particularly superfluous. Track and field has four relays. Why does swimming need eight? This will go close to making the sport a laughing stock and it will definitely devalue the worth of a swimming medal.


Correction: swimming will now have seven relays. Overkill.

Craig Lord

Yes, too much. Dilution is what happens – including dilution of written coverage. At world titles it is physically impossible for single journalists to provide decent coverage to all highlights on an average evening of finals. It becomes ever more a remote show for TV/live stream and a result sheet, less a moment to provide great depth and the stories that tell why swimming is such a great sport and how it is stacked with terrific folk heavy on personality and stories – stories that are ever less properly told. Overkill is correct.


Realistically the formstroke 50’s weren’t likely to get the nod as this would be where you’d see the inflation in competitor numbers.

Neither the extra distance events or the MMR are likely to mean additional numbers as they’ll essentially be calling on those already competing in existing events.Zero issue with the 2 distance events but not happy about MMR primarily due to FINA trying to shoehorn it onto the program rather than have it proven that they ARE worth their place.

As a fan of nordic winter sports (and a Eurosport man), mixed relays have actually become an accepted part of the Biathlon World Cup where they hold at least 2-3 during every season including World Championships and in 2014 made an Olympic debut after more than proving its worth as an event

Swimming has no real international series to speak of where such a system could be replicated but are mixed relays on the program of any of the other “sub Worlds” meets ?

Wasn’t on 2014 Asian Games, nor CG or 2015 Pan Ams. There was a MFR at 2014 Euros and will have both at this years Euros. NOT (currently) on 2018 CG schedule. Unclear on Asian Games.

IF it were the case that mixed relays had become an accepted part of the program at both Worlds and at these “sub Worlds” meets over a couple of cycles, THEN my view may be different


A further note, the mixed relays in Biathlon & cross country skiing have a set structure of the 2 women’s legs (shorter in distance than the male circuit) up first followed by the men rather than the free for all that FINA has allowed to date with mixed relays.

I totally grant that these are very different sports but I cannot help thinking that a mixed freestyle relay would’ve been a better way to go IF they were so insistent on cramming a mixed event onto the program

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