Four Years Later: What Does The Past Predict for Rio Winning Times?

This is part three of a three part series. You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

It’s incredibly trite to say that swimming is getting faster. It’s a refrain you’ll find on any championship pool deck. “The ACC is getting faster, the SEC is getting faster, Division III is getting faster”. What’s more fun is to discuss “how much faster?”. The following is an attempt at prognosticating the winning times for all male and female events in Rio. Swimming is both an art and a science, so both will be used to formulate the predictions. First, a couple of guiding principles:

  1. The Olympics are typically represent a bigger than usual spike in performance: Generally we see such a big spike in performance in an Olympic year that the following year regresses a little bit in comparison. This happened in 2013- with winning times generally slower than the 2012 Olympics. 2009 was a hugely anomalous year that deviated a bit since the 2008 Olympics were still a bit uneven in tech suit adoption. 2004-2005 had it’s own anomaly which we’ll discuss next.
  2. Facilities will be a factor in performance: The best comparison for the variety of facility issues that have plagued Rio 2016 is Athens. At this level, the best times are achieved in top level conditions, and if anything is short of that by the time the games begin, it will be a negative factor on performance. Athens famously did not enclose their Olympic pool, and the grueling heat and sun took a toll on the swimmers and the performances showed it.
  3. When predicting a WR, look for a generational talent with people to push them: The Olympic is all about getting your hand on the wall first. World records are a nice bonus, but altogether secondary. Most of the time great swimmers need some great competition to push them to their true top level of performance. Katie Ledecky is probably the one swimmer who won’t need anyone to push her come Rio.

With that out of the way, here are some predictions on the winning individual times along with a quick rationale,  way ahead of Rio. Starting with the men:

  • 50 Freestyle: 21.09. This race will be closer than it looks, but Manaudou has a dominant start and body size that leaves him mostly unaffected by other athlete’s wake.
  • 100 Freestyle: 47.40. Despite the heavy competition this time around, the 100 free is typically a little slower than it seems it should be:
  • 200 Freestyle: 1:44.20. A weird step back with the best active lifetime performers in this event struggling a bit
  • 400 Freestyle: 3:41.40. Another step back- their is not enough depth in this event internationally to push any performer to a world record
  • 1500 Freestyle: 14:30.32. Yang plus a hard charging Paltrinieri could mean a world record here.
  • 100 Backstroke: 51.85. Again, a top performer like Mitch Larkin and the potential challengers from the US will make this a fast race
  • 200 Backstroke: 1:53.00- A more modest improvement with less international depth than the 100
  • 100 Breaststroke: 57.65- Easy money with a young Peaty and strong competition
  • 200 Breaststroke: 2:06.85- Yamaguchi’s world record is one of the most likely to be broken given the level of talent in this race
  • 100 Butterfly: 50.02- A clash of generations will mean this even is much faster than 2012, even if the world record is likely still safe
  • 200 Butterfly: 1:51.95- Expect a much more competitive field than in Kazan
  • 200 IM: 1:53.85- Great field, lots of potential for improvement on this WR
  • 400 IM: 4:04.73- A somewhat more unbreakable WR, less chance of someone pushing themselves for the record if their lead is clear.

As for the women:

  • 50 Freestyle: 24.11: Without a dominant starter like Manaudou, the swimmers wake will augment performance down a bit in this race
  • 100 Freestyle: 52.32: Like the men’s race, this is not typically one in which a world record performance comes in the Olympics
  • 200 Freestyle: 1:53.56: Ledecky….
  • 400 Freestyle: 3:56.85: See above
  • 800 Freestyle: 8:03.40: See above
  • 100 Backstroke: 57.87: The 58 second barrier will go down in Rio in the most consistently deep women’s race
  • 200 Backstroke: 2:04.55- This would be a WR prediction if Missy Franklin looked more on point
  • 100 Breaststroke: 1:05.22- There aren’t really any good candidates to break Meilutyte’s record especially with the woman herself injured
  • 200 Breaststroke: 2:19.55- Although Pedersen doesn’t look good, there are still enough competitors to push past her WR
  • 100 Butterfly: 56.26- I expect Sjostrom to win but not surpass her records, through lack of competition and lack of prior Olympic success
  • 200 Butterfly: 2:03.55- Consistently an exciting race at the Olympics, something unpredictable happens, but Zige’s world record will sit for a while
  • 200 IM: 2:06.39- Similar to Sjostrom, I expect Hosszu to win but come up a little short for similar reasons
  • 400 IM: 4:28.07- The competition is better here and Hosszu will have pushed a few others to up their game.

So with all that said- what are your premature predictions? What trends do you see going forward into the 2016 Rio Games?

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Tigers Coach

I love that in the women’s 200,400, and 800 no explanation is needed but “Ledecky”


Kromowidjojo’s start could be described as dominant – Compared to the Campbell’s & Halsall.

Victor P

Yes, that was very evident in Kazan.


I don’t know, I think the Men’s 100 fly could push the barrier. 49-high is definitely doable after the monster summer for Cseh, LeClos, Schooling, and Phelps. I don’t necessarily think Cseh or Schooling could throw down a 49, but definitely LeClos and Phelps can. Shields could push 50-low, but I’d say he’s the only other one capable of going under 51. I’d say the WR is at minor risk, but don’t sleep on Phelps trying to make that last impression. Who knows? Maybe the GOAT will give us some fun.


Can’t forget about Li Zhuhao. 51.33 this past year at 16 years old. I personally would not be surprised to see him clock a 50 mid.


yah against a seriously experienced field – sounds unreasonable at this point .

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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