In a set of changes that might both excite and frustrate swim fans, the IOC announced today that the men’s 800 freestyle, the women’s 1500 freestyle, and the mixed 400 medley relay will all be added to the swimming program for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
The addition of the women’s 1500 and the men’s 800 free will mean that men and women will finally compete with the same exact event lineup, something for which fans have clamored for years. Previously the 800 free was the longest women’s event. Men have competed in the mile or 1500m free in the Olympics since 1904, while the women’s 800m free has been part of the Olympic program since 1968.
This will presumably provide world record holder Katie Ledecky with an opportunity to become the first woman to win an Olympic gold in the event. Of course, other distance swimmers should benefit as well. At the 2013 World Championships, Chinese star Sun Yang won both the 800 and 1500 free (along with the 400 free), while Canada’s Ryan Cochrane earned a medal in each event. Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri, the Rio 1500m champion, is another swimmer who has earned medals in both events.
Fans may be less thrilled about the addition of the mixed medley relay. It has been part of the long course summer world championship schedule since 2015, but it seemed like countries did not take mixed relays as seriously as they did the gender-specific ones. However, adding the event to the Olympic program may mean that it takes on increased prestige at world championships, including this summer’s competition in Budapest.
There was no indication from the IOC whether or not the additional events would impact any limits on each country’s roster size, currently set at 26 per gender, but given that the same IOC release stated that the overall number of swimmers will decrease by 22, an increase in team size does not seem likely.