2024 Olympics Preview: Will We Finally Get The Race We Anticipated In The Women’s 200 IM?

2024 Olympic Games

  • July 27 to August 3, 2024
  • Paris, France
  • Paris La Defense Arena
  • LCM (50m)

BY THE NUMBERS — WOMEN’S 200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY

  • World Record: Katinka Hosszu, Hungary — 2:06.12 (2015)
  • World Junior Record: Summer McIntosh — 2:06.89 (2023)
  • Olympic Record: Katinka Hosszu, Hungary — 2:06.58 (2016)
  • 2023 World Champion: Kate Douglass, United States — 2:07.17 (2022)

Alright, let’s try this again.

Last year, the women’s 200 IM race at the 2023 World Championships was billed to be a must-see showdown, with top contenders Summer McIntosh, Kaylee McKeown, Kate Douglass, and Alex Walsh all being within 0.3 seconds of each other. However, things when awry when McIntosh dropped the event due to a schedule conflict and McKeown got disqualified in the semi-final. The race ended up just being a battle of the Americans between Douglass and Walsh, something that we’ve already seen many times in the past.

This time around, all four contenders are back, with no schedule conflicts to get in the way of the race (and hopefully no DQs). The top times have gotten even faster since last year, and so has the field. A year removed from when this original showdown was set to take place for the first time, what do the swimmers have in store?

Once more, let’s break down the top four, one by one.

Summer McIntosh

PB Splits:

FLY 26.80
Back 31.83
Breast 38.63
Free 29.63
Total 2:06.89

Last year, McIntosh entered Worlds as the favorite to win, being the only swimmer in the field to go under 2:07. Now, McKeown and Douglass have joined her in the 2:06 club, and McIntosh’s best time of 2:06.89 makes her just the third seed. That time from last year is still her personal best, but she’s been 2:07-low enough times this year for us to believe that she’s still capable of replicating that time in Paris.

But McIntosh’s greatest advantage is that as a 17-year-old, she’s got the greatest upside. Just this year, she dropped 1.63 seconds off her own world record in the 400 IM, which indicates that she’s got more room for improvement in her other events as well.

Even though Douglass has split sub-30 before, McIntosh has the fastest closing speed out of the field by far and is capable of finishing fast even while putting together a strong first 150. On the contrary, she’s also the only top contender that’s currently incapable of splitting sub-37 in breaststroke, which is by far her weakest stroke. So most likely, she’ll be far behind going into the final lap, and will have to run down the likes of Douglass, Walsh, and McKeown in minimal time to win.

Prior to this 200 IM race, McIntosh will have already raced at least 2,200 meters individually (assuming she doesn’t race the 200 free), and that doesn’t even account for her potential relay duties. That’s more than the distance that Douglass (900 meters), McKeown (900 meters), and Walsh (0 meters) will race individually combined. The wear-and-tear that she will have endured is comparable to when she raced the 400 IM at the end of the 2022 and 2023 World Championships — she added at least a second in the event at both meets. So even though she’s got the most room for improvement as a teenager, her workload may hinder her from being at her best.

Kate Douglass

PB Splits:

FLY 26.78
Back 33.27
Breast 36.57
Free 30.17
Total 2:06.79

Douglass’s advantage is that she has the experience of getting her hand on the wall first. She’s won the 200 IM at the last three major international world championship meets (2022 Short Course Worlds, 2023 Long Course Worlds, 2024 Long Course Worlds), and although McKeown and McIntosh were racing aside her at 2023 or 2024 Worlds, knowing how to get her hand on the wall first will give her a leg up.

Since winning those World titles though, Douglass has just gotten even faster. At the U.S. Olympic trials, she swam a time of 2:06.79, improving upon her best time of 2:07.05 to get under the 2:07 barrier for the first time in her career. She’s now the fourth-fastest performer of all-time, and just 0.16 seconds off of McKeown’s world-leading time. She may not head into the Olympics as *the* favorite to win, but she certainly has the experience and speed to get on top.

In this event, the backstroke leg is Douglass’s kryptonite. Her speed in fly, breast, and free are world-class, but somehow, she’s hardly improved since 2021 on backstroke (her Tokyo Olympic final backstroke split was 33.93). At the 2023 World Championships, she was in fifth place at the 100-meter mark after posting the third-worst backstroke split in the final, and had to claw her way back to win the race. In Paris, the only way she’ll be able to win is if she’s not lagging too far behind at the halfway mark, and if she has the closing speed to come back after a sub-par backstroke leg. In contrast though, Douglass has the fastest butterfly and breaststroke speed out of the field (the only swimmer out of the top four with the fastest splits in two categories), which will make up for her backstroke deficiencies in between.

Douglass has almost every major 200 IM title (long course Worlds, short course Worlds, NCAA) to her name, and she won bronze in this event at the Tokyo Olympics. Now, she’s going to chase after the one achievement not in her awards cabinet: Olympic gold.

Kaylee McKeown

PB Splits:

FLY 27.58
Back 31.83
Breast 36.87
Free 30.35
Total 2:06.63

During the 2020-21 long course season, McKeown posted a 200 IM time (2:08.23) that would have won gold at the Tokyo Olympics. However, she decided to drop the event because the semi-finals fell during the same session as the 100 back final. This year, the 200 IM semis come after the 200 back finals, but she’s still going to chase after the event anyway. And she comes in as the top seed with an entry time of 2:06.63, nearly two seconds faster than her world-leading time from three years ago.

McKeown has the worst opening speed out of the field, but it’s not like her butterfly leg is bad by any means. In fact, she’s probably the most well-rounded swimmer out of the top four — she has no standout strength (as a world record-caliber backstroker, her backstroke split is elite, but not “fastest of all-time” revolutionary), but no blaring weakness either. She swims her race the same way that Katinka Hosszu did when she set her world record of 2:06.12 (27.30/31.64/36.70/30.48), so interpret that well-roundedness in any way that you wish to interpret it.

The 200 IM wasn’t McKeown’s best race at either the 2022 or 2023 World Championships. In 2022, she got dominated by Walsh, and in 2023, she was disqualified in the semi-finals. If she were to put up a big-time race in Paris, it would be her first time doing so at a major international meet. But that fact shouldn’t be too concerning — her double backstroke golds at both the Tokyo Olympics and Fukuoka Worlds show that she knows how to get things done when it matters the most.

Alex Walsh

PB Splits:

FLY 27.29
Back 32.06
Breast 36.84
Free 30.94
Total 2:07.13

Walsh, the reigning Olympic silver medalist (and 2023 Worlds silver medalist), feels like such a wild card. She has it in her t0 win gold, but she could also very well finish off the podium. At the start of the Paris Olympic cycle, she dominated the 200 IM, winning at 2022 World Championships by 1.44 seconds. However, now she’s the only swimmer out of the top four to have not been under 2:07 before. In addition, her best time remains the same since 2022 — after 2022 Worlds, she hasn’t been faster than 2:07.63.

We stated this in last year’s preview that Walsh’s biggest weakness is her finishing speed. She was run down by Ohashi in Tokyo and by Douglass in Fukuoka, constantly struggling to get under 30.5 on her freestyle leg (compared to McKeown, McIntosh, and Douglass, who have all posted 29-point splits in the past). If she were to win this race, she’ll probably have to be leading by a significant margin at the 150-meter mark, which is a tall task given how strong Douglass and McKeown are on the breaststroke leg.

Walsh’s biggest advantage is that the 200 IM will be her only event at the Olympics. She can focus all of her energy on this race, unlike her competitors who will have to deal with the fatigue of racing multiple individual events and relays. So while she may not be favored to medal right now, she could definitely pull off a surprise victory.

Everyone Else

China’s Yu Yiting finished in fifth at the Tokyo Olympics, setting a World Junior Record time of 2:09.57 which has since then been broken by both Leah Hayes and McIntosh. She’s improved since then, dropping her best time to a 2:07.75 to rank as the sixth-fastest swimmer in the world this season. However, she has podium history — in 2023, she took advantage of McKeown and McIntosh’s absences and earned herself a bronze at Worlds (and then got bronze again at 2024 Worlds). It might be hard for her to break into podium position this year with all the top contenders around, but she’s also just 18 years old and has one of the greatest upsides in the field.

Yu is known for going out really fast (she opened her 2023 Worlds race with a 26.90 fly leg), so watch for her to be a pacemaker for the rest of the field.

Storied veteran Sydney Pickrem enters the Olympics as the fifth-fastest swimmer in the world, by virtue of her 2:07.68 from Canadian trials. That swim was her first time going under 2:08, and sets her up to earn a minor medal if any of the top swimmers falter. She’s been relatively inconsistent at major meets within the last Olympic cycle when it comes to swimming this race, but 2024 Worlds silver and her two best times this year (after not improving since 2019) are a positive sign.

The final three swimmers in this field under the 2:09 barrier are Israel’s Anastasia Gorbenko, the Netherlands’ Marrit Steenbergen, and Great Britain’s Abbie Wood. Gorbenko has made finals at both the 2022 and 2023 Worlds, finishing 5th last year. She’s been on a constant improvement trajectory since Tokyo, dropping from 2:10.55 to 2:08.55 in a span of three years. After breaking 2:09 for the first time this year, she is now ranked as the eighth-fastest swimmer in the world. Steenbergen sits right behind her in ninth with a time 2:08.91, having also broken 2:09 for the first time this year. She’s a bigger contender in sprint events like the 100 free, but she finaled in the 200 IM at 2023 Worlds and will be in the running to final again this year.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Wood missed the podium by 0.06 seconds, getting run down by Douglass on the freestyle leg. Now, the podium seems miles away from her, but she’s actually gotten better since 2021, setting a best time of 2:08.91 this April. It seems unlikely that she’ll get redemption through medalling in Paris, but she’ll get redemption through a time improvement for sure.

Last year, Australia’s Jenna Forrester nearly snatched a spot on the podium, setting a best time of 2:08.98 to finish fourth during the Worlds finals. She’s not qualified to race the 200 IM at this Olympics, but fellow Aussie Ella Ramsay is. Ramsay is ranked 13th in the world with a time of 2:09.32, and will certainly be in the running to final. She’s going to be racing in her first major long course competition since 2022 Worlds, where she finished 15th in the 200 IM semifinals and missed finals.

And what about Yui Ohashi, the reigning Olympic champion? She hasn’t made a long course international final since winning gold in 2021, and seems to be in the closing chapters of her career. However, she is qualified for the Olympics with a time of 2:09.17, and is ranked 12th in the world right now. She may not be a favorite to defend her Olympic title, but she certainly has the international experience to pull off a finals berth — and hey, she wasn’t favorite coming into Tokyo, so anything could happen in Paris.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Deciding between McKeown, Douglass, and McIntosh felt like splitting hairs, but we ultimately went with McKeown because of how well-rounded her race is — she doesn’t have to worry about one stroke messing her mojo up in the way that it would for her competitors. In addition, she also knows how to pull through in close races, as shown through her backstroke battles with Regan Smith where she’s won almost every single time. However, all three of these swimmers could emerge as the winner in a tightly-contested battle. So could Walsh, whom we put at fourth solely because she hasn’t been at the same level as the top three seeds recently, but could still pull off an upset.

If there’s one thing that’s certain though, it’s that this event has gotten so much faster since Tokyo. Ohashi’s winning time from then (2:08.52) would rank eighth in the World right now, while Douglass’s bronze medal time (2:09.04) likely would not even final this year.

Ranking Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Kaylee McKeown Australia 2:06.63 2:06.63
2 Kate Douglass United States 2:06.79 2:06.79
3 Summer McIntosh Canada 2:07.06 2:06.89
4 Alex Walsh United States 2:07.63 2:07.13
5 Yu Yiting China 2:07.75 2:07.75
6 Marrit Steenbergen Netherlands 2:08.91 2:08.91
7 Sydney Pickrem Canada 2:07.68 2:07.68
8 Yui Ohashi Japan 2:09.17 2:07.91

 

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Dai
5 days ago

YAnYan Lee never picked KD. But KD always prove herelf

Dai
Reply to  Dai
5 days ago

KD always win so far. Kaylee has not won even one 200 IM in international majors! McIntosh will be hampered by her loads, may even scratch

Swimdad
13 days ago

Douglas
Summer
McKeown.

Chlorinetherapy
13 days ago

🥇 McKeown
🥈 McIntosh
🥉 Douglas

Dai
Reply to  Chlorinetherapy
5 days ago

KD always win so far. Kaylee has not won even one 200 IM in international majors! McIntosh will be hampered by her loads, may even scratch

Troyy
14 days ago

Mel Marshall will be taking over from Michael Bohl at Griffith Uni after Paris Olympics 😳

https://x.com/tsv3y3/status/1809018486792016018

Sherry Smit
14 days ago

The thing about McIntosh is that her first 50 breast in the 400 IM was a 37 high. If she can go a 36 high or 37 low in the 200 IM, I think we could see her break the world record. Her fly, back, and free are on point, and now her breaststroke is coming together nicely.

Just Keep Swimming
Reply to  Sherry Smit
14 days ago

It’s hard to make direct comparisons like that. Kaylee’s second 50 breast in her 400IM PB is a 37.0 and in her 200IM PB it’s a 36.8. The way they use and focus energy is completely different in the different races.

swimfast
14 days ago

Seeing this, I feel like McKeown is actually probably the favorite. Her backstroke split during her best time was unusually slow, compared to the others, considering she’s the world record holder in the 200 back. If she can channel her full potential there, I just don’t see how she will lose. Her other splits are very similar to the BEST of the others’ splits. I was literally looking at it and thinking “how in the heck is she not WAY faster?” and realized it was that her back, of all things, is so pedestrian given her insane prowess in that stroke. Just my take…
2nd: Douglass…a natural born racer.
3rd: McIntosh….I just don’t think McIntosh, while extremely talented,… Read more »

Last edited 14 days ago by swimfast
Troyy
Reply to  swimfast
14 days ago

Her backstroke leg is “slow” because she’s saving her legs.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
14 days ago

Kate Douglass will win the gold medal as has been the case at the 2023/2024 World Aquatics Championships.

End of discussion.

mS424
15 days ago

Will be such a good race. Kaylee winning in my opinion. saw a comment saying that she isn’t going to win because she swam 2.06.63 on the first day of trials, whereas, Douglass swam it on the last day and posted a 2.06.79. But Kaylee won the 200 backstroke at the end of the meet in the second fastest time ever recorded so that’s why my money is on kaylee

Dan
Reply to  mS424
15 days ago

Kaylee is a more proven racer than the other two.

Dai
Reply to  Dan
5 days ago

Not true at all. Kaylee has not won any 200 IM against in major. In contrast, KD has been winning

Just Keep Swimming
Reply to  mS424
14 days ago

That’s a very good point. People are making a big deal out of the fact that it was Kaylee’s first event, but she was still super fast in her final event.

Jeff
Reply to  Just Keep Swimming
14 days ago

and a long way in front. Probably could have found another 0.2-0.3 if pushed

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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