The Case for an Olympic Women’s 1500

Last night Katie Ledecky completed her historic Olympics with an insane performance in the 800 freestyle, touching the wall almost 11 seconds before silver medalist Jazz Carlin finished. Ledecky is now the first Olympian since Debbie Meyer to win the 200, 400 and 800 races at one Olympics. Her unreal dominance in the women’s distance events raises the question about why the women’s 1500 is not an Olympic event. Surely she could put up a great, if not better performance in the 1500.

The Case for an Olympic Women’s 1500

The conversation surrounding the women’s 1500 freestyle as an Olympic event has been circulating for a while, however there are no plans to add it to the Olympic schedule in the near future.

The argument against adding the women’s 1500 has to do with popularity: the thought is that Olympic viewers are generally uninterested in the distance events, gravitating more towards exciting sprints and relays. While this argument holds some weight, it is flawed. If the 1500 is too boring to cover, why include it at all? Why should the men get to swim it and not the women?

Equality aside, this argument is inaccurate at its core– it shows a genuine misunderstanding of the sport of swimming. While it may not be as intense as the 50 freestyle or the 4×100 medley relay, the 1500 is a race that has potential to attract non-swimmer and swimmer viewers alike.


First and foremost, if you’re going to include a distance event in the Olympics – the 800 freestyle just doesn’t cut it. Any swimmer knows that the 800 is merely an extension of mid-distance events. No distance swimmer is training to swim the 800 when they taper; they are training to swim the mile.

Additionally, the 1500 is far more exciting and strategic than the 800– more can happen. Take the men’s 1650 at this year’s NCAA DI championships as an example. This race in particular exemplified just how much the 1500/1650 can come down to strategy.

Favorite Clark Smith took the race out incredibly fast; coming in at 4:20 at the 500 mark. Regrettably, this strategy did not work out and throughout the next 500 Smith’s technique and speed slowly dwindled as PJ Ransford took hold. Ransford led the race through the 1100, however similar to Smith his effort seemed to come too early, and South Carolina’s Akram Mahmoud began to catch up. Up until the last 50, it seemed like Mahmoud had the race in the bag. But outsider Chris Swanson came out of nowhere, blasting out the last 50 in 24.23, winning the race by only a tenth of a second.

If this race would have been merely a 1000, the outcome would have been completely different. The longer race allows strategy to become more apparent hence a more interesting/viewable race; a la “the Tortoise and the Hare”.


The notion that a women’s 1500 freestyle is somehow less interesting than a men’s 1500 is probably the biggest issue with the argument against including it in the Olympics.

Olympic team coach Bob Bowman noted that women can swim it just as well, if not better. In an interview with the New York Times, Bowman said “I actually think women are better suited, physiologically, for 1,500 meters than they are for the 800 because they’re more endurance-oriented.”.

Lastly, let’s not forget about Katie Ledecky. These Olympics have proven that she is without a doubt one of the best swimmers of all time. Her unreal performance in the 800 proves that she is more than capable of putting up a stellar performance in the 1500. She is also a fan favorite, somebody that viewers can relate to and love. Her large fan base would flock to watch her swim any race, whether it be the 50 or the 1500.

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7 years ago

Too many events to add the women’s 1500m?! What a joke. We could quickly come up with a dozen silly events they could cut out. They’re adding skateboard and surfing in 2020 for Pete’s sake! Adding the women’s 1500m is a no brainer. It would be a travesty to deprive the world of Ledecky’s brilliance again.

Brute Bradford
7 years ago

Question: why not make it a 1600 meter swim? There really is no rationale to double each of the previous races–50, 100, 200, 400, 800–and then go short of 1600. That way it would truly be a mile. The same can be said for track and field. Why run 1500 meters rather than 1600? I know, tradition has it that it’s always been a 1500, but if we’re going to make changes, why not be scientific and rational?

7 years ago

Would want the 800 for men as well, which always gets overlooked. The men’s 800 WR is still by far the toughest in the books (2 3:46 flat 400s back to back – ouch). I bet that one won’t be broken for another 30 years even if it gets to be an Olympic event.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Dman
7 years ago

Is it a super suit record?

7 years ago

Would love to see the swimming entries expanded to three swimmers per event for each country instead of two. Like track and field. It seems odd that there hasn’t been a push for this to happen. And yes women need the 1500 added to their events.

A world champ but not in swimming
Reply to  Swimm
7 years ago

Agree about 3 per event, though the real problem is top ranked swimmers being excluded from major championships due to national quotas. If the top 10 times in each event got auto-invites, I’d have no problem with 2 per nation after that. A major championship needs to include all proven top competitors over the previous year. Going purely by nation quotas prevents that.

7 years ago

I wish we could’ve done a Phelps vs Ledecky in-season 1500 race. it would’ve been a close race (remember when they tied in the 400?). if a woman can beat or come close to beating the greatest male swimmer of all time in a race… I think thats a pretty strong argument for letting women compete in it.

Brute Bradford
Reply to  Penguin
7 years ago

No argument that women should be able to compete in the 1500, but if Phelps at his prime in 2008 had trained for a 1500, he probably would have been able to swim a 400 in 3:40 and the 1500 in 14:45 or thereabouts. No way would Ledecky even be close to Phelps in his prime when he was training for the 400 IM

Reply to  Brute Bradford
7 years ago

no I meant in the past year. in season.

7 years ago

It’s about damn time that all the 50s and both distance events got added to the Olympic program.

Reply to  MTK
7 years ago

And the 4×50 relays, how sick would that be?

7 years ago

If they think the 1500 is boring, just how boring are those bicycle races or the marathon they have in the Olympics. Include the 1500 hundred for women and also the 800 for men. Have equal events for both genders.

Ole 99
7 years ago

The real question is why hasn’t the IOC made the 1500 for 800 switch? I don’t think there is an appetite outside the swimming community to add more medals, so i don’t think you’ll see an addition of the mens 800 and womens 1500.

Pau Hana
Reply to  Ole 99
7 years ago

I think it’s FINA’s call – a senior coach told me a few years ago that the IOC would be happy to switch but didn’t want to add more events while FINA was holding out to add the M800 and W1500. Track did something similar a few years ago – women used to run the 3000, men the 5000, and both the 10,000 – IAAF swapped the women’s 3000 for 5000 but didn’t add an extra event.

About Rachel Harvill

Rachel Harvill

Rachel has been swimming ever since she can remember. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where she learned to love swimming with the Walnut Creek Aquabears. She took her passion for swimming to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon where she primarily competes in sprint freestyle events. In addition …

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