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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Swimmer Thieroff
5 years ago

So would the 1500 be a substitute for the 800, or would it be added on the women’s side and the 800 added on the men’s?

Reply to  Swimmer Thieroff
5 years ago

I’d hope they add the women’s 1500 and men’s 800. The Olympics take the place of world champs in Olympic years. I don’t care if NBC broadcasts it, but it should be swum. Both men and women distance swimmers get screwed in Olympic years because they only get to swim 1 of their events tapered.

5 years ago

800 for men?

phelps swims 200 breast rio
5 years ago

Add 1500 for women, 800 for men, 4×50 free and 4×50 medley.

Reply to  phelps swims 200 breast rio
5 years ago

4x 50 relays would be so exciting to watch!

Reply to  Swimmer0883
5 years ago

I think just the 4 x 50 medley to even out the relays and give the 50 meter specialists something to race. Ditto – I also agree in adding the 1500 for women and the 800 for men.

Reply to  phelps swims 200 breast rio
5 years ago

No way the are going to add more events. There are already so many events compared tonother sports.

Years of Plain Suck
Reply to  Roderick
5 years ago

Roderick comment is harsh but true.

The IOC does NOT want more athletes in the Olympic Village.

I can see replacing the women’s 800 with the 1500.

Reply to  Years of Plain Suck
5 years ago

More athletes, more medals, more money.

They won’t add. So the argument is to replace the 800 with the 1500. This is also tough because there is no longer any records or legacy in the event.

5 years ago

I think the 1500 would be an amazing race to watch the women swim!! I would also like to see the 400 swimmers clash with the 1500 swimmers in the 800 on the men’s side.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Chase
5 years ago

So how to get it to happen? Obviously, convincing the IOC is the major hurdle, so what are the actual steps needed? Ideas, thoughts anyone? Thank you.

Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
5 years ago

Get FINA to recommended to IOC to drop the 800 meters and add 1500. Don’t propose an event add, as Olympics already bloated with too many events and sports.

5 years ago

There should be a 1500 for women, no doubt about it. It shouldn’t be substituted for any other event. If this happens then the 800m for men should also be added. In this day and age having a difference in events available for men and women is ridiculous

5 years ago

Why not add the 4×200 medley relay???? I’ve be more inclined to watch that

Reply to  Stat
5 years ago

I’ve wanted to see that since Peirsol, Hansen, Phelps and Vanderkaay were all dominating early in the 2000s!

Lp Man
Reply to  Stat
5 years ago

This could be a very boring relay

5 years ago

Why NOT have a 1500 W?
That women don’t have the same events as the men in 2016 is ridiculous.

The more swimming we get to watch the better, so add the 1500W, 800M, 50’s of the stroke events, 4×50 relays, and why not a 4x100X now that they’re doing that at Fina worlds.

Ole 99
5 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
5 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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