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.
IT’S A BETTER RACE THAN THE 800– MORE CAN HAPPEN.
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”.
WOMEN CAN SWIM IT JUST AS WELL, IF NOT BETTER.
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.