A Rare Feat: NCAA & Olympic Champions In The Same Year

The 2020-21 NCAA season is over. And after the results of the Women’s and Men’s NCAA Division I Championships, we wonder which college swimmers have a shot to make the Olympic team. And even more, which of them can win Olympic gold medals this summer in Tokyo?

This is a harder feat than some of you may think. Instagram’s Swimming Stats page has published all the swimmers who won the NCAA and the Olympics in the same year, in the same individual event.


Speaking of recent Olympics, there were no swimmers who achieved this feat in London 2012. In Beijing 2008, no men, and in Sydney 2000, no women.

On the other hand, three swimmers won gold at the 2016 Olympics and claimed the 2016 NCAA title across four events, the most since 1984: Lilly King (women’s 100 breast), Ryan Murphy (men’s 100 and 200 back), and Joseph Schooling (men’s 100 fly).

It’s worth noting that 24 male and 8 female swimmers were able to repeat their NCAA victories at the Olympics in the same year. The fact that there are fewer women than men is obvious: men’s swimming in the NCAA has been contested since 1925, and women’s NCAA swimming has only been contested since 1982.

Of course, there were some NCAA and Olympic legends who never won their events at the two meets in the same year simply because they didn’t have the chance to do so. Take the case of Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky, who won their Olympic gold medals years before entering college. If they were college swimmers in 2012 and 2016, respectively, undoubtedly they would make the list.

There were those who won NCAA titles, but managed to reach their peak and win the Olympic gold medal years later, such as Dana Vollmer, Katinka Hosszu, Nathan Adrian, Matt Biondi, Matt Grevers, Ryan Lochte, Mel Stewart, and many others.

And there were those who dominated their respective event in the NCAA, but, for one reason or another, didn’t win their races in the Olympic year. Simone Manuel, the 2016 Olympic champion in the women’s 100 free, won the 100 yard free at NCAAs in 2015, 2017 and 2018 – she didn’t compete in 2016. Misty Hyman, the women’s 200 fly Olympic champion in 2000, won the 200 yard fly at NCAAs in 1998 and 2001 – she ended up in 2nd place in 2000.

As we can see, it takes more than being a fantastic swimmer to win the NCAA and the Olympic titles in the same year. It’s a combination of reaching your peak while still in college and, of course, having the opportunity to compete at the Olympics during this period. History shows that this is a feat for a certain few.

Which 2021 NCAA Champions have the best chance to achieve this feat next summer? Two strong candidates are:

Maggie MacNeil (Michigan, Canada): Already a world champion in the women’s 100 butterfly, she became the first swimmer to crack the 49-second barrier in the 100 yard fly two weeks ago.

Shaine Casas (Texas A&M, USA): He was just 0.02 off Ryan Murphy‘s NCAA record in the men’s 200 backstroke recently. Murphy is the defending Olympic champion in the event, so Casas may have a shot. He can also be competitive in the 200 IM.

Do you think they or another 2021 NCAA winner will repeat their NCAA victories in Tokyo?

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Coach Rob
5 months ago

This opportunity only comes around once every 4 years.

JigglyPuff
Reply to  Coach Rob
5 months ago

Sometimes it’s 5 😉

Klorn8d
5 months ago

Maaaaaybe alex Walsh? I see her 200 IM being fast fast this summer and with Katinka hosszu looking was more beatable these days that race is relatively open. I’m not expecting it but it could happen

Admin
Reply to  Klorn8d
5 months ago

I think that’s a plausible choice. I’m pretty much right there with you on your supporting statements.

Breezeway
Reply to  Klorn8d
5 months ago

She’s gotta beat out Baker, Cox and Margalis first and then worry about the Iron Lady and everyone else.

ALEXANDER POP-OFF
Reply to  Klorn8d
5 months ago

Does Kaylee McKeown swim it in Tokyo? That’s a factor.

Aquajosh
Reply to  ALEXANDER POP-OFF
5 months ago

I think Yui Ohashi (who has been 2:07 and within tenths of an on-form Katinka head-to-head) is the one to beat, especially at a home Olympics, but we’ll have a better idea in a few days.

HJones
Reply to  ALEXANDER POP-OFF
5 months ago

I don’t think she will, given the conflicts it would have with her other events.

Waterbear13
Reply to  Klorn8d
5 months ago

Alex Walsh (and anyone from this year’s freshman class) could be in a unique position to get 2 shots at this achievement. With the Olympics pushed back a year, Class of 2024 will get to try again in 3 years.

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
5 months ago

😊😊😊

Willswim
5 months ago

Kieran Smith in the 200 free is plausible I guess, but Casas and MacNeil are much better bets.

Riccardo
Reply to  Willswim
5 months ago

200/400 free are wide open. Rapsys is a great Swimmer but let’s not pretend anyone looks at a 1:44 high / 3:43 guy as untouchable.

DCSwim
Reply to  Riccardo
5 months ago

If anything, we know Detti will get bronze in the 400

HJones
Reply to  DCSwim
5 months ago

No more, no less.

HJones
Reply to  Riccardo
5 months ago

If Sun swims, I think at least two of the medals are as good as taken with Rapsys and Sun. I wouldn’t be confident to put Smith ahead of someone with more international pedigree like Scott.

CACrushers
Reply to  Willswim
5 months ago

I think you’ve got a case for Smith’s chances over Casas’. I think both events are pretty wide open but the guys in the 200 back have such high ceilings!

HJones
Reply to  CACrushers
5 months ago

Agree. I highly doubt Casas can touch Rylov–the dude’s been on fire this quad. At best, he’ll be in the mix with Larkin, Xu, Irie, Murphy, and Greenbank for the minor medals.

SWIMGUY12345
5 months ago

200 free LCM and SCY are VERY different. Rare to see someone truly elite at both.

200 free LCM probably takes a more similar number of strokes to the 500 SCY than 200 SCY but I’m just guessing. Usually see 500 SCY swimmers do better at the 200 LC.

ALEXANDER POP-OFF
Reply to  SWIMGUY12345
5 months ago

Good point. Missy was the rarity.

SWIMGUY12345
Reply to  ALEXANDER POP-OFF
5 months ago

She also had a damn good 500.

Mr Piano
Reply to  SWIMGUY12345
5 months ago

Bob Bowman said a year ago that training for a 500 SCY prepares you for the 200 LCM better than the 400

Honest Observer
5 months ago

Finke is a dark horse since he’d have to get past the three fast Europeans, but his 14:12 equates to somewhere around a 14:40, and he’s been a *consistent* 14:12. That puts him within shooting distance.

Clownley Honks
Reply to  Honest Observer
5 months ago

I will be shocked if any American freestyler besides Dressel makes the individual podium, yards freestyle just doesn’t translate into the big pool.

There was a similar hype around Haas in 2016 and he still hasn’t broken 1:45.

Caleb
Reply to  Clownley Honks
5 months ago

He had a low 1:43 relay split at one point… I think there will be two Americans under 1:45 this summer. It’s a wide-open race.

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  Caleb
5 months ago

James Guy also had a 1:43 relay split, and he never broke 1:45 as well.

HJones
Reply to  Caleb
5 months ago

Maybe Smith and…who else? Seliskar? Pieroni? I doubt Haas will, he has regressed every year since 2017.

Aquajosh
Reply to  Clownley Honks
5 months ago

Finke went 14:48 LC in 2018 the summer before he went to Florida. In 2019, he went 14:23 in the 1650 at SECs, and even after a wrist injury, he went to Nationals that summer and went 14:51 and a 4:13 400 IM. In 2020 he destroyed the American record in the 1650 at SECs with a 14:12 and didn’t get a long course meet to taper for, so he’s due for a big drop.

Honest Observer
Reply to  Clownley Honks
5 months ago

Yes, there are obviously a host of guys whose underwater abilities give them yards times which are far better than their long course times. But watch Finke’s 1650 from NCAAs (it’s available on Youtube): he takes exactly one dolphin kick after each turn, and was gaining on his competitors during the swim portion, not during the turns. So he’s not the kind of underwater animal whose times won’t hold up in the 50 meter pool. I’m not saying he’s going to get past the three Europeans (as I said, he’s a dark horse). But the potential for a 14:40 or better is definitely there.

Justhereforfun
Reply to  Honest Observer
5 months ago

I’m sorry but I always cringe when someone starts “equating” SCY times to LCM. There are of course people who excel in both (Dressel the most prominent example), but both require such different skillsets they’re pretty much different events

Last edited 5 months ago by Justhereforfun
Blue Hen Swammer
5 months ago

I wonder how much the “taking an Olympic Training Red-Shirt Year” really affects these numbers. Or how much it will affect it in the future?

Khachaturian
5 months ago

We can only imagine what Phelps might have gone in NCAA’s

tea rex
Reply to  Khachaturian
5 months ago

.04 seconds slower from Phelps in 2004, and Ian Crocker would be on this list.
Also a dolphin kick less from Kitajima and Hansen might be on the list too.

Coach Macgyver
Reply to  tea rex
5 months ago

Had Crocker not been sick, he would have owned the 100 fly at the 04 Olympics.

Right Dude Here
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
5 months ago

He came back and proved it with that WR in 05

Swimmer
Reply to  Khachaturian
5 months ago

Only event I see him doing (extraordinarily) well in is 4 im. All the others are so much different yards than meters bc of turns.

HJones
Reply to  Swimmer
5 months ago

I think he’d also be exceptional in the 200 fly and the 200/500 free. He broke the 200 fly AR without a full taper, and the 500 free has decent overlap with the 200 LC. Plus, I think that if he really focused on yards, he could’ve figured something decent out with his start and employ more fast-twitch in his training. But, when you completely neglect yards since age 15, those things really aren’t important.