2016 Rio Olympics Preview: 800 Free to Feature Ledecky vs. Herself


When you own all 10 of the top 10 swims ever recorded in the 800 free, and nobody active has been within 10 seconds of your current best time in years, your true opposition is the clock… and yourself.

It’s a story we know all too well. Katie Ledecky is head, shoulders, knees and toes ahead of anyone else in this event in the history of the sport. It’s quite mind-boggling that her 8:10 at the U.S. Olympic Trials, considered to be an “alright” swim for her, was almost four full seconds faster than the pre-Ledecky world record of 8:14.10, and more than four seconds ahead of her gold-winning time from 2012 that shocked the world.

The focus for her is not going to be on any other swimmers. She has no true rival at her level in this event (but imagine if she did..), and she will be set on taking her world record to new heights in Rio. 8:06.68 is the mark, a time she swam at the Austin stop of the Arena Pro Swim Series in January. Ledecky was 8:07.39 to win the World Championship title last summer, and considering that she rested very little (if at all) for Trials, she could do something really magical in Rio.

While Ledecky will be swimming further into uncharted territory, there is a host of incredibly talented distance freestylers that will be jockeying for the medals left in Ledecky’s wake. While Leah Smith has charged forward and looks to be the favorite out of the pack behind Ledecky in the 400, the 800 is a different story. Australia’s Jessica Ashwood has made her mark as the next-best this season in this event.

_BOYLE Lauren BOYLE Lauren BOYLE NZL-TBX_7019-

Lauren Boyle (photo: Tim Binning)

Ashwood posted a new Australian national record in the 800 free at the Santa Clara stop of the Arena Pro Swim Series, a strong 8:18.14 that was a few tenths faster than the time she swam at the 2015 World Championships. There, Ashwood was edged out in a scrum for minor medals behind Ledecky– New Zealand’s Lauren Boyle (8:17.65) and GBR’s Jazz Carlin (8:18.15) were able to withstand Ashwood’s 29.25 final 50, the 2nd fastest last lap of the field. This season, though, Ashwood’s 8:18.14 sits at 2nd-best, and is the only performance under 8:20 other than Ledecky.

Carlin and Boyle have been 8:23 and 8:24 this season, neither of which are exceptional times, though they have potential to be well under 8:20. Boyle might have more upside– she’s by far the best distance swimmer in New Zealand, thus she hasn’t had to put it all on the line to qualify for Rio like some of the other top distance swimmers have had to. Carlin, though, has been 8:15.54 in her career. While that time is from 2014, and is a bit dated, she would easily vault herself to the silver medal favorite if she can show she’s back to that kind of form.

Smith, along with Boglarka Kapas and Brittany Maclean, are three young rising talents to watch out for in Rio. Smith posted a lifetime best 8:20.18 to finish 2nd at Trials, and with her staggering improvement rates over the last two seasons or so, she could push right past the 8:20 mark. Kapas, who recently scored a new Hungarian record in the 400 free, is the biggest female medal threat for her country not named Hosszu. Her best time this season of 8:21.40 from the 2016 European Champs is hundredths off of her lifetime best from the 2013 World Champs. That 8:21.40, too, is tied with Maclean’s season best from this year. Smith and Maclean have battled on the NCAA stage and will likely meet again (along with Kapas) in the final of this event in Rio.

Denmark’s Lotte Friis and Spain’s Mireia Belmonte are two veteran distance stars who could find themselves in medal contention if they can show up in a big way. Friis, who battled with Ledecky in the 1500 free at the 2013 World Championships in the most exciting Ledecky-versus-someone-other-than-the-clock race ever, was 8:24.33 at the Austin Elite meet in June. She was 5th in the final in Kazan, and should make another appearance in the top 8 in Rio. If Belmonte wants to be a real medal contender, the 2012 silver medalist in this event will probably have to pare down her Rio schedule. Should she choose to do away with events like the 400 free and 200 IM, which aren’t her forté, Belmonte could certainly be a factor in this race.

Sarah Kohler of Germany has been 8:22.80 this season, which ranks her 7th in the world. Considering that #6, Becca Mann, won’t be competing in Rio, Kohler is 6th this year out of potential competitors at the Olympics. She was 7th at the 2015 World Champs, and could make an appearance again in the Rio final. Another name to watch out for is Dutch distance swimmer Sharon von Rouwendaal, who won the 400 free silver in Kazan last summer.

Place Swimmer Country Best Time (Since 2012 Olympics) Predicted Time in Rio
1 Katie Ledecky USA 8:06.68 8:05.8
2 Jessica Ashwood Australia 8:18.14 8:14.3
3 Lauren Boyle New Zealand 8:17.65 8:17.0
4 Leah Smith USA 8:20.18 8:17.9
5 Jazz Carlin GBR 8:15.54 8:18.2
6 Lotte Friis Denmark 8:16.32 8:21.1
7 Brittany Maclean Canada 8:20.02 8:22.0
8 Boglarka Kapas Hungary 8:21.21 8:23.1

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The predicted time is too slow.


My picks

Distance Swimmer

Ledecky stuns world, breaks men’s world record. Quits swimming then joins Stanford’s football team as starting QB


HAHA that would be great..

Mighty max


Mighty max



If that were to happen all the sexist feminists would use it as propoganda. I do think she has a 7:59 in there somewhere though.

Pau Hana

And all the sexist men out there (ahem) would tell her to go back to the kitchen.


7:59 is possible for 2020.

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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