Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Previews: Hosszu vs Rising Field in Women’s 400 IM

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2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Women’s 400 IM

  • World Record: Katinka Hosszu (HUN) – 4:26.36 (2016)
  • Olympic Record: Katinka Hosszu (HUN) – 4:26.36 (2016)
  • World Junior Record: Yu Yiting (CHN) – 4:35.94 (2021)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Katinka Hosszu (HUN) – 4:26.36

Since the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Katinka Hosszu has dominated the women’s 400m IM, winning every major international title in the event over the last Olympic quad. The current world record holder in the event has the top two times posted in the event since the 2016 Olympic Games with her winning performances from the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. Hosszu’s winning time of 4:29.33 from the 2017 World Championships places her over a second faster than her competition, and her world record of 4:26.36 is two seconds faster than any other woman in history. Based purely on statistics, Hosszu should be the clear winner in Tokyo, where she looks primed to top the podium.

However, there is a lingering question mark following Hosszu in the IM events. Since Rio, Hosszu has dealt with significant issues in her personal life, including a split from her husband and longtime coach Shane Tusup in 2018. In addition, Hosszu was only a 4:34.76 at the recent European Championships, over 8 seconds shy of her own world record. Plus, Hosszu has a hard schedule in Tokyo that includes the 400 IM, 200 IM, 200 backstroke, and 200 butterfly. Although the 400 IM is on the first day, she may need to conserve energy at 32-years-old. 

Despite the lingering questions, Hosszu is still the favorite to take the Olympic gold, especially considering 2 out of the 4 women ranked ahead of her worldwide for the 2021 season will not be racing the event in Tokyo. 

The only two women ranked ahead of Hosszu for the 2021 season who will be swimming the event in Tokyo are Americans Emma Weyant and Hali Flickinger, who posted times of 4:33.81 and 4:33.96 at the US Olympic Trials meet. Both swimmers have never contested the event at a senior-level international competition before. 

Weyant rose to the scene in 2019, when she upset the field at the US Nationals meet to take the national title in the event. Her time of 4:35.47 was almost a 5 second drop at the time, and ranked her as the fastest American in the world for the 2018-2019 season. Despite this, she was still an underdog at Olympic Trials, where she roared home on the freestyle leg of the race to punch her ticket to Tokyo. Given her closing speed, Weyant is a serious medal threat, who may even challenge Hosszu if there is a small-enough window between them going into the freestyle leg. 

Flickinger comes into Tokyo with some Olympic experience after racing the 200 butterfly in Rio, where she placed 7th in finals. Although she has traditionally focused on the 200 butterfly, Flickinger has shown a lot of improvement in this event, going from 4:37.55 down to 4:33.96 at Olympic Trials. Flickinger’s 4:37 was only set last April as her previous personal best of 4:38.84 was set at the 2020 Pro Swim Series in Des Moines just before the beginning of the pandemic. In addition, Flickinger trains in Arizona with Bob Bowman, who coached one of the world’s greatest 200 butterfly/400 IM swimmers for decades. Given her stamina, combined with Bowman’s knowledge of the Olympic double, Flickinger should be primed to perform in Tokyo. 

Since the end of the 2016 Olympic Games, only one woman has been within a second of Hosszu in this event: Japan’s Yui Ohashi. The 2019 World Championships bronze medalist in the 400 IM, Ohashi has been as fast as 4:30.82 in the event back in 2018. Although she has only been 4:35.14 this season, Ohashi has a major advantage in the fact that the Olympics are being hosted in Japan. Unlike Hosszu, Weyant, Flickinger, or many of the other competitors, Ohashi will not have to adjust to a time difference or travel far to participate in the Games. Since the 400 IM is one of the first swimming events contested at the meet, this may ultimately prove to be what puts her on the podium. 

Courtesy of Mine Kasapoglu for ISL With permission

Canadian Sydney Pickrem has been a lingering threat in the 400 IM for the past few years. In 2016, Pickrem finished 12th overall in the event, failing to make the final in Rio. However, she roared back in 2017, placing 3rd overall at the World Championships with a time of 4:32.88. Pickrem later placed 4th overall at the 2019 edition of the meet, just missing out on a medal. Over the past 4 years, Pickrem is one of the only women to beat Hosszu in an IM event at an international competition, as she took her down head-to-head in the 200 IM at the 2020 FINA Champions series. 

At the 2021 European Championships, Aimee Wilmott gave Hosszu a run for her money over the first 200 meters of this event until Hosszu managed to pull away on the breaststroke leg. Ultimately, Wilmott ended up tying for a silver medal with Hosszu’s countrymate Viktoria Farkas in a time of 4:36.81. However, given her ability to hang with Hosszu, Wilmott may be able to sneak into the final, especially if she can close faster than she did at Euros. 

Ilaria Scarcella

Ilaria Scarcella
58th Settecolli Trophy, Rome, Italy
Courtesy of Mine Kasapoglu

Two other swimmers to keep an eye on are Italian Ilaria Cusinato and Frenchwoman Fantine Lesaffre, who hold personal bests of 4:34.65 and 4:34.17, respectively. Notably, the 21-year-old Cusinato previously trained under Hosszu’s old coach Tusup, but elected to leave his program at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season. 

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte Garcia is another name to watch. The 2016 Olympic champion in the 200m butterfly, Belmonte Garcia has had significant international success in this event as well, winning the silver medal at the 2017 World Championships. However, health issues have hindered her performance for several years, and leave her questionable going into the Olympic Games.

SwimSwam’s Picks:

Swimmer Country
Best Time Since 2016 Olympics
1 Katinka Hosszu Hungary 4:29.33
2 Hali Flickinger USA 4:33.96
3 Yui Ohashi Japan 4:30.82
4 Emma Weyant USA 4:33.81
5 Sydney Pickrem Canada 4:32.73
6 Amiee Willmott Great Britain 4:34.90
7 Fantine Lesaffre France 4:34.17
8 Ilaria Cusinato Italy 4:34.65

Darkhorse Pick: Hosszu’s Hungarian teammate Viktoria Farkas has been a rising force in this event, claiming the silver medal at the recent European Championships. Farakas entered the 2021 season with a personal best of 4:40.65 that was set in November of 2020. Since then, she has lowered it by almost 5 seconds, down to a 4:36.81, which won her the silver medal at Euros. Given that she is only 17-years-old, Farakas may still have more in the tank to drop in Tokyo, which may push her into the final. 

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MrsTarquinBiscuitbarrel
2 months ago

No.

Rafael
2 months ago

Hosszu will probably Drop 200 back and also fly. All in for IM for gold and silver

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Rafael
2 months ago

She’s definitely not going to medal in 200 back.

Hillbilly
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
2 months ago

She has already won because she dumped Tusup

TerryO
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
2 months ago

Not even semi-final without TUSUP

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Rafael
2 months ago

All in for a bronze, if lucky.

HJones
Reply to  Rafael
2 months ago

I don’t think she’ll drop the 200 fly, considering how open it is at the moment. Even though it clashes with the 200 IM, she does not need to push that hard to make the final.

Hswimmer
2 months ago

No.

Eras
2 months ago

Over the past 4 years, Pickrem is the only woman to beat Hosszu in an IM event at an international competition, as she took her down head-to-head in the 200 IM at the 2020 FINA Champions series. 
That’s incorrect. At the last Euros, Gorbenko won the 200 IM, Wood 2nd and Hosszu 3rd.

Sam B
Reply to  Eras
2 months ago

Plus, Baker in Nice in 2020

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Eras
2 months ago

At the age of 32, put a fork in her she’s done.

Stephen
2 months ago

Another lottery race.
No idea how fast they’ll swim. Probably the US best chance for a gold on night one.

Texas Tap Water
2 months ago

Kaylee McKeown could have won this

SBOmega
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
2 months ago

800m of IM to start her packed week is not what you want going into your first Olympics

She’s a solid favourite for 100m and 200m back and a decent fave for the 200IM, let alone one and potentially two relay swims

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  SBOmega
2 months ago

exactly. agnel was a 3:43 man (probably better by London considering he took down biedermann’s scm wr) yet he dropped the 400 free when a 3:44 was good enough to medal. all because he found that in 2011 swimming 800m on day 1 takes too much out of him, a decision which paid dividends.

hoff likely would have had a better campaign in 2008 had she dropped a 200 and 400, rather than regress with each individual swim due to taking a program that was 1.2km longer than phelps (still longer if you exclude the 800 final) and mostly done by end of the 4th finals session.

phelps taking on a huge program doesn’t mean everyone else should. and phelps… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Old Man Chalmers
AnEn
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
2 months ago

Not sure if Agnel in 2012 is a good example. He won the 200 free by like 10 seconds and didn’t medal in the 100 free, so not sure if he wouldn’t have had a better medal tally by swimming the 400 free.

HJones
Reply to  AnEn
2 months ago

He still would have won the 200 most likely, but probably not go a 1:43. Also, on day 2, he had the 200 free semi/4*100 free relay double, and had he done the 400 free prelims/finals the day prior, I’m not sure he would have had enough gas left in the tank to split 46.7 and they perhaps don’t beat the US. Had Agnel swam the 400 free, his volume would have equaled what Lochte did on the first two days, and Ryan was pretty toast by the time of the relay.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
2 months ago

Hogwash!

That did not stop Janet Evans (400 IM, 400 FR, 800 FR) at the 1988 Summer Olympics versus a stacked deck (doped to the max GDR contingent).

Walter
Reply to  Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
2 months ago

And a foot taller.

commonwombat
Reply to  Walter
2 months ago

And they didn’t have the time (and energy) wasting obscentities called semi finals.

Stephen
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
2 months ago

McKeown would’ve bolted in. But I’m comfortable with her not swimming this.
Just like I’m happy McKeon and Chalmers have dropped the 200m free.
I know my US friends don’t like me saying his. And I’ve been saying for months. But I wish Ledecky would’ve dropped the 200m as well.

Evan
Reply to  Stephen
2 months ago

Why would Ledecky drop the 200 Free? She’s well clear of the field of swimmers in that event except for the pro rugby trained gal from AUS who has only had two fast times in the past 22 months of swimming.

Stephen
Reply to  Evan
2 months ago

She was busy with her rugby schedule.

Evan
Reply to  Stephen
2 months ago

Yes, apparently so. Must be how Titmus hurt her shoulder. It certainly wasn’t by swimming a lot–Titmus didn’t have an LCM pool splash for about 16-18 months after Ledecky beat her in the 800m free in Gwangju and in the 400 SCM by three seconds in ISL.

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Evan
2 months ago

her lifetime best is well clear of the field bar titmus, yes. but the reality is that she went that time 5 years ago and hasn’t gotten close to it since. and she’s made a habit of going her fastest time of the season outside of major finals ever since she left gemmell. she’s always been pushed in the 200, and her nearest competitor this year is just 0.17 behind, which is a far cry from “well clear”. not to mention haughey has been 1:54 this year too, so ledecky will have a fight just to be on the podium. she’s certainly in medal contention, but not a sure thing like you suggest

Last edited 2 months ago by Old Man Chalmers
Stephen
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
2 months ago

Stop making sense.
Stop killing a good story with facts.

She ain’t no spring chicken. That schedule is off the charts.
One or more of her events will be compromised.

I’d love to see Titmus v Ledecky over 500m

Evan
Reply to  Stephen
2 months ago

We have already seen Titmus v Ledecky over 500m, twice:

2018 Pan Pacs
Ledecky 5:03.85
Titmus 5:08.95

2020 World Championships
Ledecky (sick) 5:08.17
Titmus (healthy) 5:10.16

Stephen
Reply to  Evan
2 months ago

Still running with that sickness ….hmmmm

Evan
Reply to  Stephen
2 months ago

Yep. And this is what happens when Ledecky is healthy…though AUS has amnesia about it…

https://youtu.be/qkyKYcBmHWI

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Stephen
2 months ago

Still running your mouth ….. hmmm.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Stephen
2 months ago

At the of 32, Katinka Hosszu is no spring chicken.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
2 months ago

Katie Ledecky has not won the women’s 200 meter freestyle at a major international meet since the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Gemmell >>>>>>>>>>> Meehan

Greg Meehan has yet to publicly address the debacle that was the Stanford Cardinal swim team at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Evan
2 months ago

No one has ever attempted a women’s 200 FR/1500 FR double/double (heats/final) at the Summer Olympic Games.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Taa
Reply to  Stephen
2 months ago

She needs the challenge. You want to be a distance swimmer for a decade? So boring. I support her attempting the tough schedule. 200 free is always somewhat of a crap shoot.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Taa
2 months ago

Poppycock!

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Stephen
2 months ago

Katie Ledecky can always scratch the women’s 200 meter freestyle depending on the time posted in the women’s 400 meter freestyle.

Eras
2 months ago

Lesaffre never swam under 4.40 this year. Cusinato had a great season in 2018, swimming in 4.34, but never approached that mark again – she has been as fast as 4.38 this year.
I see Franceschi, Yu and especially Farkas have a better shot at a final than Lesaffre and Cusinato.

I think SwimSwam relies too much on Personal Best Times that have been swum many years ago.

Last edited 2 months ago by Eras
Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Eras
2 months ago

I’m feeling the same when they pick Efimova to medal in 100 br.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
2 months ago
Last edited 2 months ago by Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Eras
2 months ago

Also, why is there a photo of Ilaria Scarcella, an Italian breaststroker who won’t even go to the Olympics??

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is an active …

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