2016 Rio Olympics Previews: 2 World Leaders Clash in Women’s 200 Free


  • 2012 Olympic Champ: Allison Schmitt (USA), 1:53.31
  • 2015 Worlds Champ: Katie Ledecky (USA), 1:55.16
  • World Record: 1:52.98 | Federica Pellegrini (Italy) | 07/28/09

Sarah Sjostrom and Katie Ledecky are so good at their best events that there haven’t been any consistent challengers (or real challengers, at all) over the last few years. Former 100 fly world record holder Dana Vollmer went off the map after London, and Sjostrom has been the unquestioned sprint butterfly queen since her World Championship title in 2013. Even since Vollmer’s return and her quick catch-up back to form, Sjostrom holds the five fastest 100 butterfly performances ever and has been swimming mind-bogglingly fast in the months leading up to Rio. Ledecky, meanwhile, doesn’t need much of an explanation for her astounding success in the 400, 800, and 1500m freestyle races since 2012. These two leviathans of their disciplines will battle in an off event* in what could be the race to watch in Rio.

Sarah Sjöström prelims of the 200 free at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Austin

Sarah Sjöström (photo: Mike Lewis, Ola Vista Photography)

*It feels very wrong to call the 200 free an off event for two women who can put up 1:54’s in-season. But I’m calling it that.

Ledecky did her thing where she blows up for some huge time at the Austin Pro Swim Series meet, and she was 1:54.43 there for a lifetime best. That time was actually faster than what she ended up going in the 200 free final at the Olympic Trials, which suggests (along with her so-so [by Ledeckian standards] 800 free and 100 free) that she probably didn’t rest much, if at all, for Trials. Meanwhile, Sjostrom swam a 1:54.34 at Swedish Nationals earlier this month, nearly eclipsing her own personal best.

The world record is a 1:52.98 done during the suit era by Italy’s Federica Pellegrini (we’ll talk about her in a bit), and the fastest-ever in textile was American Allison Schmitt‘s 1:53.61 from the London Games, which also stands at the Olympic meet record. Both Ledecky and Sjostrom could certainly be under Schmitt’s mark, and Pellegrini’s could be in danger. Sjostrom is more of a sprinter, so we know she has the front half speed necessary, and Ledecky has been sub-54 more than once in the 100 free. The Swede has backed off of the 200 free before, dropping it from her schedule at last summer’s World Championships, only to swim faster than Ledecky’s world title-winning 200 free time while leading off Sweden’s 800 free relay. At the Olympics, however, the 200 conflicts with neither swimmers’ regular schedule, so we might just be lucky enough to see the butterfly queen and distance superstar compete in common ground.

Pellegrini, who is still alive and kicking, actually just took down her own national record in the 100 free at the 2016 Sette Colli Trophy in Rome with an impressive 53.18. She also swam a 1:54.55 200 free at the same meet, erasing Sjostrom’s Sette Colli record, in turn beating her 200 free times from the previous three World Championships as well as the London Olympics. Pellegrini’s alarmingly fast swims are even more impressive considering her two performances from the Sette Colli Trophy are textile bests for her. She has more international experience than Ledecky and Sjostrom combined in this event, and could absolutely surprise for the gold in Rio.


Michelle Coleman (photo: Tim Binning)

Australia’s Emma McKeon continues to improve in the 100 and 200 free, impressing with a 1:54.83 to win the Aussie Trials and also posting a sub-53 performance in the 100 at the same meet. McKeon is the fourth and final swimmer to break 1:55 this year, and she will give the other ladies a run for their money.

Let’s talk a bit about Sjostrom and Ledecky’s countrymates in this event: Michelle Coleman and Missy Franklin. Coleman posted a lifetime best 1:55.88 at the Sette Colli, where she raced Pellegrini. The Swede is an incredibly useful 2nd big leg for her nation’s 800 relay, and has posted several times under 1:57 in the last year or so that suggest she should be competitive in this race. Franklin, who has had not only a rough Trials but a rough couple long course seasons, did really pull through despite low expectations in the 200 free final in Omaha to earn an individual bid to the Games and beat out Allison Schmitt. Franklin’s 1:56.18 is by no means a good time for her at a meet like Olympic Trials. The 2011 World Champ, however, has been under 1:55 before, and her bronze in Kazan, plus her swim at Trials, show that she can come through when she needs to. With no more 100’s to swim, and only the 200 back to worry about individually, Franklin should be capable of another 1:55 mid to low at least in Rio.

China’s Shen Duo posted a 1:55 at the Chinese Nationals in April. The Chinese 800 free relay is one for the Americans to keep the closest eye on, and Shen is certainly in the mix for appearances in the final. Femke Heemskerk is a much more viable threat in the 100, but she did post a 1:54.68 in March of 2015. She hasn’t been consistent enough or strong enough when it counts in this race, however, to warrant the expectation for her to repeat a time like that.

Note: Katinka Hosszu isn’t entered to swim this race in Rio.

Place Swimmer Country Best Time (Since 2012 Olympics) Predicted Time in Rio
1 Katie Ledecky USA 1:54.43 1:53.5
2 Sarah Sjostrom Sweden 1:54.34 1:53.6
3 Federica Pellegrini Italy 1:54.55 1:54.3
4 Emma McKeon Australia 1:54.83 1:55.0
5 Missy Franklin USA 1:54.81 1:55.5
6 Shen Duo China 1:55.82 1:55.9
7 Michelle Coleman Sweden 1:55.88 1:56.4
8 Bronte Barratt Australia 1:55.95 1:56.6

Dark Horse: France’s Charlotte Bonnet. She posted a 1:56.32 at the French Open in early April. That wasn’t her first time toying with the 1:56 barrier, after posting a 1:56.16 at the Canet stop of the 2015 Mare Nostrum tour. She’s coming off of a bronze from the 2016 European Champs behind Pellegrini and Heemskerk, posting a 1:56.51 there.


In This Story


  1. Iain says:

    I will be backing Sjostrom, but I think Ledecky will just squeak it. McKeon though could be a spoiler, her 2:07 200m fly shows she has the endurance.

  2. Gold says:

    I still think Missy can medal

  3. tm71 says:

    My picks

  4. King in da norf says:

    Ledecky the Queen of Freestyle
    La Fede Lionessa di Verona
    Sarah the Nordic Fly Queen

  5. M Palota says:

    1.) Sjostrom
    2.) Ledecky
    3.) Shen Duo

    I could go either way on Ledecky v. Sjostrom. I’d like to see the Swede take it but Ledecky is a beast. Very, very hard not to pick her.

    It’d be a shocker if Missy medals. In fact, I think there’s a higher probability that she misses the final.

    • Dan says:

      Think Ledecky over Sjostrom because of the number of 200’s that has to be done, 3 or 5 depending on if the 800 FR is before or after the individual 200 free.

  6. Gold says:

    Four people faster than world champs gold medalist? Interesting

  7. Allison says:

    Seriously, Allison not even in your top 8?

  8. Emanuele says:

    Your time are insane. Not one but two mid-53? In the history there are only three time under the 53 mark (2 Pellegrini super swimsuit and Schmitt)
    The winner will swim a 54 low maybe, in best case, a 53 high (something like 1.53.9) nothing less…

  9. Nick says:

    GOLD Sarah Sjöström 1:53.88
    The fastest in 2014, 2015, 2016 so far
    Maybe she doesn’t has so much experience, but she knows how to swim 200m free fast
    (She broke the short course world record, has second fastest result in textlie suit)
    SILVER Emma McKeon 1:53.97
    Big year for her, PBs in 100m free, 200m free, 100m fly, 200m fly, in Rio will be her time to shine
    BRONZE Katy Ledecky 1:54.16
    She is not a junior swimmer anymore, and if you think she will be improving, constantly setting massive PBs, you’re in a big mistake
    She is dominant in 400, 800, 1500 free
    But she never was a dominant 200m swimmer, and that probably won’t change
    I think she reached her maximum, and progress doesn’t come easily after junior age
    Rio can be her last multi-WR meet
    Although swimming IMs she has big chance to medal at major meets in the future

    • Jim C says:

      You are predicting a massive improvement for 22 year old McKeon, but you think Ledecky at 19 is too old to show such an improvement.

      • Nick says:

        Ledecky has been breaking WRs since she was 16, not only because she’s got talent but also her physical power showd earlier than others’ swimmers
        17 year old Ledecky broke 400, 800, 1500 WRs, 17 year old McKeon was swimming 56 high 100m free
        Some excelent junior swimmers are not only not improving after turning 18 but they’re regressing (Franklin, Meilutyte, Ye)
        Most of women swimmers with early successes are reaching their best results before 18, then they stop progress, and personal bests become rare ‘icing on the cake’
        I know you think Ledecky will be breaking WRs till she’ll reach 30 but that’s not possible, especially for a long distance swimmer
        Probably Ledecky is going to PB in 200m free, I say 1:53 high is a best time she can reach in Rio

    • SwimmerFoxJet says:

      She isn’t dominant? She won worlds didn’t she?

      • Nick says:

        Yes she won, but that wasn’t dominant swim like Ye Shiwen’s 400m IM in London or Katinka Hoszzu’s 200m IM in Kazan
        In my opinion Ledecky won because other swimmers ubnderperformed (Femke Heemskerk, Federica Pellegrini, Missy Franklin) and because Sarah didn’t swim this event, also a big factor was tiring Hosszu’s schedule who improved her 200m free later at the World Cup
        Winning by a small margin =/= dominant swim

    • Shibly says:

      Ledecky will win 200m with WR…..u r absolutely wrong abt Ledecky….do u know how many times Ledecky swam faster than SS in 200m freestyle?

      • Nick says:

        SS was sub 1:55 4 times
        KL was sub 1:55 2 times
        And Sjöström has 2 times faster than Ledecky’s PB
        200m free WR will surely survive Rio, I bet it was your joke to write about breaking it

    • Riley says:

      If you think any of these swimmers will break the WR and dip under 1:53 your OUT OF YOUR MIND!! It would be sensational to see one of them break 1:54 (which i doubt will happen)

  10. Roderick says:

    Why heemskerk not in the final? She has proven more than coleman in big finals desite being inconsistent.

  11. weirdo says:

    This is a stud field with no clear cut favorite for Gold. It should be a great race.

  12. NTIN SWIMMER says:

    Pellegrini will win with as low time as it needs to take gold. But because there are so many big names I think it will be a slow final, not as slow as in Kazan but 1:54.5 will be enough for gold.

  13. Jrsaba says:

    My pick is Pellegrini just because she has too much experience in this race: she got a medal in every Olympics and worlds since 2004 (except London) and also because this year she’s faster than ever in the 100 free.

    • Jrsaba says:

      I also don’t understand how the “predicted time in Rio” works since Pellegrini wasn’t fully rested when she swam 1:54.55

    • Prickle says:

      Pellegrini is usually slower than her major opponents at start and successfully chases them down. It looks like moving targets makes her swimming stronger and she has no psychological problem to come from behind. The problem is with choosing right target. In Barcelona it was Muffat and Fede lost a bit to Franklin. In Kazan she chased Franklin and missed Ledecky. Should she focus on Ledecky who was three lanes away but not racing next lane Franklin she would win gold. Now in Rio it is very confusing who will be the leader. But with such fast 100 she may change the strategy – start fast and swim her own race.

    • Rnelly says:

      I pick Pelligrini too. She is really consistent and when she is confident, is really hard to beat. Recently she has relied on her stong back half to chase people down but that won’t fly with Ledecky. If she isn’t too far behind at the hundred, she has a really good shot (fastest last 50 in the field at 29.0 from 2013)
      Personally, I would like to see her swim it the way she did in Rome, where she went out and held the lead. I have never seen her die in a race, only go out too slow. She hasn’t won on the world stage since 2011 though so you never know how she will do.

      Either of the top 3 could win. I don’t see Katy going 1:53.5. It will be really hard for her to drop nearly a full second off her best time of 1:54.4. I bet Pelligrini, Ledecky, and Sjostrom will all be around 1:53.8-1:54.2

      • Rnelly says:

        The 200 is also Pelligrini’s favorite race, whereas it is a 3rd/4th event for Ledecky and Sjostrom. Federica also isn’t in the 400 this time around so she should be both fresh and excited for the 200. I think she is back to the form she had from 2008-2011 (minus the Jaked suit) and seems just as motivated.

  14. robbos says:

    I just don’t see Ledecky beating McKeon by 1.5 seconds in the 200.

  15. robbos says:

    This is easily the most open women’s freestyle race, with 4 potential gold medalist, though I would have Ledecky as favourite.

  16. Prickle says:

    Sjostrom: She hasn’t show signs of improvement from her best form at freestyle, that is 2014: 50m -23.98; 100m – 52.67; 200m – 1:53.64(relay with RT – 0.32). Her last race this month was done with negative splits. The only thing that can be said about it that she won’t execute such a tactic at Olympic final. It is too risky not to have advantage over such racers like Pellegrini and Ledecky after first half of the distance. Or to trail a body length behind McKeon. I took Berlin 2014 relay race as a benchmark. What Sjostrom is capable for now is most likely 1:54.2 +/- 0.15.
    Ledecky: Her January times in Austin are what she was capable for in Kazan should she not swimming 1500. The trial shows that she at least didn’t slow down. If it was any noticeable progress is hard to say. The situation is similar to her 800 last season. She was struggling around 8:11 all season long and had similar problems with 1000yards. And then BUM!! 8:07. I cannot predict anything about her and just wish her to have 4 golds in 4 Olympic records.
    Pellegrini: This huge jump to 53.18 and 1:54.55 hasn’t been expected by anybody. One month prior Olympics at low level meet – what for? I wish her at least to stay at this level, but most likely she will bounce back.
    McKeon – look at her splits. Does she have any unutilized reserves? No, this is how sprinters do 200.
    Anyway I think this race will be slower than expected and it will be a racing from the very beginning. The better tactician wins.

    • NTIN SWIMMER says:

      The best tactician is definitely Pellegrini. I think even if she is 1 second behind the leader at the 150 she will win.

      • Rnelly says:

        She’ll have to keep it closer than that. Her fastest last 50 in textile is 29.0 Ledecky has been 29.1 but is usually 29-mid. If she is within a half second yes, she can definitely win.

  17. He Gets It Done Again says:

    It’s hard to pick against the best female swimmer in the world. Still, if anyone can beat Ledecky, I think it’s Pellegrini, not Sjostrom. Very impressed by her in season 53.18 and 1:54.55. I guess it’s possible she peaked too early in the season, but she has a pretty decent track record of swimming her fastest times of the year at the big championship meets, so I think she could but up some fantastic times in Rio. In addition, she won’t have to swim two grueling 400m races the day before this race like she did in past Olympics.

    Also, I’m surprised so many people are high on Sjostrom when she was 4th in ’11, 11th in ’12, 4th in ’13, DNS in ’15. Plus I think there is still at least a slight chance she scratches this event.

    • SwimmerFoxJet says:

      Dumb. Sarah will probably medal.

    • Swimfan says:

      What you forget is that Sarah is stronger mentally than she have ever been before, and the mistakes she did back in 2011-13 won’t happen again. Wouldn’t surprise me if she swims a sub 1.54 and shows everyone once and for all that the nervous teenager that she was back in London 2012 is 100% gone

  18. Prickle says:

    It is amazing how this young girl, practically a teenager, influences the opinion of swimming experts. She never was #1 at any season. Her best performance is only #7 of all time bests. Just three years ago she surprised many by winning second ticket to world championship and wisely (by general opinion) decided to not compete. Her best time was shown six months ago, is not the best in the season and isn’t that fresh compare to other competitors. And yet she is the #1 contender for the gold Olympic medal. Do you know why? Because and only because her name is Katie Ledecky.

    • Markster says:

      Because her name is Katie Ledecky? I don’t understand what you’re trying to say with this comment.

      • Prickle says:

        Never mind, Markster. I’m confused myself. Trying to understand why I think she will win this race with the new Olympic record. Same situation when US commentators strongly suggested that she would win the world title when broadcasting on her semi-final race. Neither her in season times and ranking nor her semi race where she barely made to the final could support such idea at the moment.

        • King in da norf says:

          It seems you are not familiar with Ledecky.
          She swam a couple 1:56 untapered in early 2015
          She already swam several 1:55 in 2014, including 1:54.36 relay split 1:55.16 which was ranked second in 2014 behind Sarah.
          With Sarah decided not to swim 200, Ledecky was already a favorite to win 200 even before the championships started.

          • Nick says:

            Femke Heemskerk was the favorite with 1:54.68

          • King in da norf says:

            Heemskerk’s time was done in early 2014 and she never approached that time again.

          • aquajosh says:

            Heemskerk swims with the middle-distance whisperer Philippe Lucas, who has brought Laure Manaudou and Sharon van Rouwendaal to prominence, gave Camelia Potec a range beyond 200m, and brought Pellegrini back. I am not ready to count her out.

          • Prickle says:

            Heemskerk – 1:54.68 – 4/3/2015. correct your records.

          • Prickle says:

            Ledecky’s time prior WC
            1:56.16 – Austin – 1/16
            1:56.79 – Mesa – 4/16
            1:56.78 – 6/27
            I don’t count prelims.u
            Her rank was #4 behind Heemskerk, Sjostrom and Pellegrini.

          • Prickle says:

            Sorry the rank #4 is inaccurate. There was several more swimmers under 1:56 – Hosszu and McKeon for instance. Based on her times of the first half of 2015 season, her ranking and heavy loaded schedule she wasn’t considered a strong contender for world title at 200m

        • Jim C says:

          Are you really criticizing US commentators for strongly suggesting that Ledecky would win in 2015 when broadcasting the semis? She did win. Maybe there was a reason she barely made the final–like a WR in the 1500 about 20 minutes earlier?

          • Prickle says:

            Not at all Jim. I was proud of them to see that deep. Yes, her 1500 world record race was so damaging to her semi-final race that the last thing in my mind after seeing her being seventh at last turn was that I was watching next day winner of world championship race.

  19. Victor P says:

    1. Sjostrom
    2. Ledecky
    3. Pellegrini
    4. McKeown
    5. Heemskerk
    6. Coleman
    7. Duo
    8. Barratt

  20. Rylo says:

    McKeon is the clear in form smokey. Complete over distance and with speed. To not have her improve on her trial time in the predictions is dangerous. Watch this space. Medallist I think.

    • Jim C says:

      If you don’t like Karl’s projection of 1:55.0, could you give a projection of your own–and then we can see whose prediction turns out to be closer to the truth.

  21. Daza says:

    Would like the nostalgia of Pelegrini.
    1: Pelegrini
    2: McKeon
    3: Sjostrom

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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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