Battling Back: How Injured Swimmers Fared At 2016 Olympic Games

With the competitive pool swimming events having concluded on Saturday, August 13th for the 2016 Olympic Games, we can now take a closer look at the results and see how certain demographics fared in Rio.

With the road to Rio being long, arduous and hard-fought, there were a multitude of injuries and setbacks suffered by athletes around the world, either leaving them off their nation’s Olympic rosters all together, or at the very least coming into play with their Olympic results. Let’s review how several notable elite athletes made the most of their Olympic appearances, despite recently dealing with pre-Rio injuries.

*Not meant to be an inclusive list of swimmers recovering from injuries

Kosuke Hagino (Japan)

One of the athletes suffering from what was dubbed ‘the Kazan curse’, 21-year-old Japanese super star Kosuke Hagino broke his elbow in a biking accident at his nation’s FINA World Championships training camp. Too injured to participate in Kazan, Hagino sat out several months of training and competition, coming back to the pool just this past February at the Kitajima Cup.

Hagino competed in several domestic meets including Japan’s Olympic Trials,where he earned roster berths in the men’s 200m IM, 400m IM and 200m freestyle, as well as a relay. By looking at the Japanese swimmer’s results in Rio, it is fair to say Hagino successfully conquered his injury in spades. Hagino blasted a gold medal-winning 400m IM, while also claiming silver to Michael Phelps in the 200m IM and by finishing 7th in the 200m freestyle event. Hagino proved essential to his nation’s 4x200m freestyle relay, as his 1:45.34 lead-off split was the 2nd-fastest of the field and gave Japan a maintainable position to ultimately earn bronze in the event.

Mireia Belmonte (Spain)

Spain’s version of Katinka Hosszu is known around the world for her tough work ethic and monstrous competition schedules. But, her ambition took its toll on the 25-year-old Spaniard, as she started nursing shoulder bursitis in May of last year.

Despite undergoing stem cell therapy and taking on lighter workouts, Belmonte was forced to pull out from the Mare Nostrum Tour, the 2015 World Championships, as well as Spain’s Summer Nationals. However, her road to recovery was a successful one, as Belmonte took home two medals while competing in Rio. Belmonte wound up atop the podium in the women’s 200m butterfly, just out-touching Aussie Maddie Groves. She also proved lethal in the 400m IM, earning a solid bronze behind newly-minted world record holder Hosszu and silver medalist Maya DiRado.

Therese Alshammar (Sweden)

The 38-year-old Swedish mom pulled out of the World Championships last year due to a nagging back injury. If she had competed in Kazan, it would have marked the incredibly resilient athlete’s 9th World Championships. Instead, Alshammar chose rest and recuperation, which helped her qualify for her 6th Olympic Games.

In Rio, Alshammar’s schedule included the 50m freestyle event, one in which she earned silver back at the 2000 Olympic Games. Although the sprinting mainstay was stopped after semi-finals, where she ranked 15th overall and out of the final, Alshammar was selected as her nation’s flag bearer in Rio and can still claim herself to be a 6-time Olympian.

Bronte Campbell (Australia)

2015’s double World Champion in the women’s sprint freestyle events, Aussie Bronte Campbell seemed prime to be a gold medal contender at the 2016 Olympic Games. However, the 22-year-old’s body had other plans, as Campbell dealt with hip and shoulder issues for most of 2016.

Campbell wanted to get through Rio before delving deeper into finding out diagnostically what’s wrong and what is causing pain. Unfortunately for the Aussie, she was a non-factor in both the 50m and 100m freestyle individual events, finishing in 7th and 6th places, respectively.

A highlight of the games for Campbell, however, was teaming up with sister Cate, Emma McKeon and Brittany Elmslie to score a shiny new World Record in the women’s 4x100m freestyle event. The very first final for the Aussie rendered a speedy split of 52.15, which helped snag the gold and the new record. Having that event on the first night of competition no doubt helped Campbell crank out a mega-split to help bring her team to victory before her injuries started to come into play.

Inge Dekker (Netherlands)

An experienced Olympian holding medals of every color, Dutch swimmer Inge Dekker was devastated when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer earlier this year. She swiftly underwent surgery in March, which rendered the athlete cancer-free and she bravely qualified for her 5th Olympic Games.

Although entered in the women’s 50m free, 100m butterfly and 4x100m freestyle relay, Dekker dropped the butterfly event to focus on her sprint freestyle races. Dekker qualified for semifinals with the 13th-fastest time of 24.77, the best outing for her since 2014. Although she would miss out on making the finals and the Dutch women’s 4×100 free relay finished 4th, Dekker’s ability to persevere and even just compete in Rio is a testament to her character and dedication to the sport and her team.

Bruno Fratus (Brazil)

With fellow Brazilian teammate Cesar Cielo not qualifying for the host country’s Olympic team, Bruno Fratus appeared to be the would-be torch-bearer to carry on the nation’s successful history in the 50m freestyle event.

However, Fratus had been nursing nagging back pain, which he insisted was completely healed. But, the general manager of sports performance for the Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB) said in June that Fratus’  health was one of the committee’s biggest concerns ahead of high medal expectations for the home team.

Fratus made it to the final in the men’s splash n’ dash, settling for a 6th place finish overall, but wasn’t able to satisfy Brazil’s wanting for a home country medal.

Sharon van Rouwendaal (Netherlands)

Claiming her nation’s first swimming medal of these Games, Sharon Van Rouwendaal took the gold in the women’s 10k open water event.

Not a stranger to injury, van Rouwendaal has reportedly been nursing a shoulder problem since 2012, one which forced her to pull out of the 2013 World Championships. The injury has been recurring and flared up this year for the swimmer, according to reports.

Finishing out of the women’s 400m freestyle final in Rio, experienced competitor van Rouwendaal scratched the 800m freestyle event to focus on her 10k race instead. The strategy paid off, as she topped the open water podium, finishing 17 seconds ahead of the next nearest competitor.

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4 years ago

Wouldn’t Lochte be on this list too?

Reply to  JerDawg
4 years ago


Canadian John Doe
4 years ago

Very interesting to see

4 years ago

This is a very cool article. I would love to see more analysis like this.

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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