SwimVortex Rio Review: USA Soars, Ledecky & Phelps At Helm; Peaty Tops Performances

Top Swimmers of Rio 2016 Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and the man who produced the top performance of the Games, Adam Peaty - all images by Patrick B. Kraemer

Rio 2016 Olympic Games SwimVortex Review The Rio 2016 Olympic Games have now joined the pantheon and archive of all that was. We hope you enjoyed our coverage from Brazil. Below is our overview of the event, lists of top performers and performances on points, medals tables and a compilation of links to our comprehensive…

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Rio 2016 Olympic Games SwimVortex Review The Rio 2016 Olympic Games have now joined the pantheon and archive of all that was. We hope you enjoyed our coverage from Brazil. Below is our overview of the event, lists of top performers and performances on points, medals tables and a compilation of links to our comprehensive… […]


clive rushton

IPS points using the base as the WR?

Hmmm …. I think Nick’s original base as the average of the top whatever was better. FINA’s insistence of using the WR is a flawed decision and skews the resulting calculations. It weights the truly abnormal, ahead of their time performances (e.g. Ledecky) and doesn’t reflect the overall standard of the top end of the event at the world level.


Women’s event winners that don’t appear in the top 20 performances (ie. worst quality winning times):

50 free, 100 free, 200 back, 200 fly.

The collapse of Australian swimmers in 50/100 free and 200 back contributed heavily into such low quality races.

In my opinion, the w200 fly was significantly higher quality (with two 2:04) than 50/100 free and 200 back, but since the points are based on the respective WR, that makes it extremely hard for w200 fly winner to match up wit the ridiculous 2:01.81WR


The overall conversion rate from trials to the Olympics for the USA is given as 58% but on my numbers it is 63%. I think the difference lies in whether you use the number of athletes or the number of events as the base. The corresponding rate of 29% for Australia is stark. Is it because having trials 4-5 weeks out is better than having them 4-5 months out? Are American swimmers mentally tougher? Or is it because they prepare better between trials and the big meet?

One obvious reason why Australia appears to underperform is because times swum at their trials tend to flatter the swimmer. Even though Australia is a relatively strong swimming nation, the leading candidates for national team selection can still afford to hold back in heats/semis and then unleash in the final. The men’s 200BF was a good example where Grant Irvine and David Morgan went through the rounds in 1.57 or 1.58 then in the final pulled out a 1.55. But Americans swimmers have no such luxury given the quality and depth of competition. Therefore, their trials give a good indication of what the swimmer is actually capable of producing at deep, highly competitive meets like the Olympics or World Championships, whereas the Australian trials don’t. To put it simply, Americans are better, tougher swimmers to begin with. Then, freed from the cut-throat nature of their trials they go on to the big meet and use the sense of occasion to reach a new, higher level.



I’m not quite sure that is the cause for Australia’s Olympics underperformance.

Remember, the Aussie swimmers who mostly underperformed in Rio were not finalist-level swimmers, they were strong favorites to medal.

We are not talking about the likes of Grant Irvine and David Morgan (which ironically, performed as well as anyone expected from them).

The swimmers not favorited to medal actually did pretty great: Madeline Groves did great, Jake Packard was fantastic.

We are talking about Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell, Cameron McEvoy, Emily Seebohm who normally could swim medal-winning times in all rounds. I hope you are not saying that Cate can’t swim 52 three rounds? And remember, they even rested mcEvoy from individual 200 free and 4×200.

All of them did not medal, in any individual event.
If that is not the biggest collapse in swimming history, I don’t know what is.


American men did not medal in the 400 freestyle

Craig Lord

Clive – we use Nick’s system that he left us. The WR is the 1000 at any given update to the system but there is a quotient that works out spread through the ranks/quality of spread through the ranks, as you suggest, it looks at means and spread (and the points shuffle the moment I run them after a meet – we don’t wait for three years to update 🙂 … it differs quite a bit from FINA points – and in a good way. The trouble remains: shiny suits; the skew certain events. The women 200 fly, for e.g…. fine efforts but no chance because of that 2:01. The men’s 200m breaststroke is the event where any 2:07 is right up there among the 990 points still, a dam waiting to burst. I believe we may see Mr Peaty break that dam, unless someone gets to it first.

Craig Lord

Keno: thanks – tweaked. 1 men’s events, 2 women’s.

Craig Lord

longstroke – each single solo swim is counted for my count (and on a straight faster or slower at trials/Rio)


Craig, I’m just a fan making a few observations so I could be wrong but by my reckoning out of the 52 entrants in only 19 cases was the Rio time slower than the USA trials time as follows:

Nathan Adrian – 100FS
Conor Jaeger – 400FS
Jason Plummer – 100BK
Jacob Pebley – 200BK
Josh Prenot – 200BS
Michael Phelps- 100BF
Tom Shields – 100BF
Tom Shields – 200BF
Ryan Lochte – 200IM
Jay Litherland – 400IM
Abby Weitzell – 50FS
Abby Weitzell – 100FS
Missy Franklin – 200FS
Leah Smith – 400FS
Leah Smith – 800FS
Missy Franklin – 200BK
Lilly King – 200BS
Molly Hannis – 200BS
Kelsi Worrell – 100BF

19 out of 52 gives you 37%. The flip side is that in 63% of all cases the American time in Rio was faster. That’s a great conversion rate which I’m sure Australia and a few other countries would die for.

I have to say that although Australia was very disappointing some of the criticism has been excessive. As was pointed out in this piece, Australia had 32 finalists. The next best, Japan was a long way away with 21 with the big improvers, Great Britain and Canada even further away. Given it has only 23 million people to draw from, Swimming Australia must be doing most things right to be where it is. Obviously, there needs to be a thorough review as to why Australian swimmers keep failing to peak at the big moment. But all this screaming for top to bottom changes seems way over the top.

Craig Lord

Longstroke – will check the slight difference when the chance arises.. doing diving and other stuff for newspapers, so out of it for a while… as for Australia, I think the leadership issues are important – it should not be possible for four key gold medal prospects to fall over as badly as they did when it most counts… they clearly have the athletics ability to have been medallists and champions – that chance has gone and may never come back. If anyone had suggested that Cate and Bronte Campbell, Cam McEvoy and Emily Seebohm would leave the Olympics with no solo medals, we’d have all have laughed at the mad chap suggested such nonsense. And yet… there it is. That should not have been and Australia found no way of preventing it. Not just 1 or 2 misses, for such things are often a part of elite sport and the US has a share of that, too (just gets less noticed because of the level of success all about) but the misses were severe enough to think the system and custodians Down Under must listen to every word of expert advise it can get. I don’t think it a case of changing top to bottom among coaches and swimmers… but ‘leadership’, yes – this is on their watch – it is ‘all’ they have to do: to provide the best conditions that ensure that world-class swimmers are delivered to their blocks ready to race at best or close to it. AND NOT TO PREDICT OR PROMISE ’10 GOLD MEDALS’ A YEAR OUT – WHEN THEY HAVE HAD BUGGER ALL TO DO WITH IT AND DON’T EVEN HAVE THE WHERE-WITHALL & LEADERSHIP QUALITIES TO KNOW THAT YOU NEVER EVER EVER SAY SUCH THINGS AND CERTAINLY NEVER DO SO ON BEHALF OF OTHERS – there, there’s my scream 🙂

Craig Lord

longstroke – among men, you’re missing Kevin Cordes – 100 and 200 breaststroke

Craig Lord

longstroke – and, at a glance … among women, you’re missing Elizabeth Beisel, 400IM

Tony McKinnon

Given, the level of public funding, the world rankings and the team’s performance at Kazan, I do not think the reaction to Australia’s performance is in any way excessive, longstroke. Swimming is only next to cricket in pantheon of Australian sport, it does hold a unquie place in the Australian sport.
People keep holding up Athens as the top of the recent Australian performances and over look Bejing given that there was only one gold medal difference, the overall performance of the Australian team was the best since 1956/60.
Now to the real issue, I find it curious that the head coach has NOT taken responsibility for the Rio disaster. I have not read one report in either the print or electronic media where Verhaeren has in any way admitted total or some responsibility for the Rio debacle. In fact in the articles I have read he has constantly shifted the blame to the swimmers.
More than most sports swimming relies enormously on coaches, yet this guy seems to feel he bears no responsibility for perhaps contextually the worst Olympic performance in our history. I just don’t get his thinking or his interpretation of his place in the KPI of the national swim team.
Likewise sailing administrator in charge of this iconic Australian sport doesn’t make sense. The performance of the Dutch swim team and the Australian sailing team (compared to London) indicates that both teams need some extra help and Australian swimming needs an Australian head coach and some one emersed in the culture of Australian swimming in charge. Critics please don’t use London as an example of Australian swimming culture that was an abortion, not the rule.
We do need change but not the detached unresponsive leadership we have at the moment.
Swimming Australia needs to listen to John Coates, the Australian Sports Commission needs to butt out of swimming and leave Swimming Australia run its own affairs, we need ex swimmers at the helm. We need to listen to people like Bill Sweetenham and Suzi O’Neill their original review after London needs be revisited. Nicole Livingston had been very quiet, perhaps honouring her corporate responsibility to Swimming Australia.
One thing is sure change is needed and the outside interference in Australian swimming has not worked.


Craig, I missed Kevin Cordes in the 100BS and 200BS but didn’t Elizabeth Beisel go faster in Rio than she did at trials(4.34.98 v. 4.36.81)? Anyway, you were closer to the mark than I was which shows you the difference between pros and amateurs.

I’ve always believed Swimming Australia should be more businesslike and performance-oriented. I find their spin after the disappointments of Olympic campaigns going back 20 years a bit hard to take. However, I don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The winning times in the women’s 50FS and 100FS were times Cate Campbell was swimming routinely a few months before the Olympics. The times swum by Emily Seebohm in Kazan would have won both backstroke events in Rio. How can their self-implosion be sheeted home to Swimming Australia? If the gold medal count had been 7 instead of 3 we wouldn’t have all this noise.

After Australia ended up with 7 gold medals in Kazan there were congratulations all round but I was critical because yet again the majority of swimmers failed to improve on their trials times. This is the core of the issue. There needs to be an inquiry as to why this keeps happening and the results made public. There are many who are highly critical of John Bertrand and Bill Sweetenham has ridiculed Wayne Lomas. I can’t comment as I’m not close enough to it. I can only comment on the facts before me.

Craig Lord

Longstroke, on Elizabeth, I was going on season best of 4:33.55 (not trials), against 4:34.38 in Rio. On the conversion stuff in Australia, I think that some of those issues do come back to leadership – it seems to me that peaking at trials in late Australian summer comes (perhaps understandably) more easily… but if that is the case, the system has to think tank it and change the plan, change the season, do whatever it takes to break that mould otherwise hugely talented and hard-working athletes are being let down by being placed on a path destined to lead to downturn at precisely the wrong moment. At leadership level there is, of course, a degree of politics being played out on both sides. I think they can only make progress and break that conversion rate problem with a radical change in the way they plan their season in a country more affected than many others by time zones and the timing of major events – always in the middle of their winter.


The problem of Australian swimmers failing to perform at their best when it matters most is a longstanding one so much of the criticism directed at the present-day hierarchy seemed excessive. It blurs the picture when critics point the finger at the president of SA otherwise referred to as ‘the sailor’ or at the motivation guy being out of his depth. It’s also unedifying when the personal disappointments or failures of swimmers are used by critics to score cheap political points.

I think everyone agrees SA needs to do a lot better. And it should stop acting as if the Australian taxpayer were mugs. At every Olympics since 1992 with the possible exception of Athens 2004 the team went backwards from trials. You can add most World Championships to the list. No stone should be left unturned to provide answers to questions like: Is having trials 4-5 months out from the main event ideal for most swimmers? Is their a failure of leadership and do the swimmers carry too much of the burden of expectations? Should they spend more time in their own programs in the lead-up to the big meets? Are the team coaches skilled enough to fine-tune the swimmers when the big moment comes around? The Australian public has been waiting for answers for more than 20 years.

Lawrie Cox

Long stroke as someone who was there and directly involved in 2012 when the reviews were taken away from SAL an given to a highly paid consultancy. When the reviews contained much false material or in the financial report absolute falsehoods. Then yes the taxpayer was taken for a ride.
It suited the purposes for those who were subsequently elected at the AGM.
When then had 3 and a bit years of telling us all how it was turned around, how it was all massively improved, how we were going to win a bagful of medals and the hero was the sailor and his team.
Well all i can say is that is KARMA.
The sooner the interference is removed from ASC/AOC and the people more interested in getting the reference on the resume are removed we can get back to addressing the issues and putting our team members in a place to perform there best. That doesn’t mean all the spin and PR that places so much expectation upon them.

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