FINA’s recently proposed event additions raise a number of questions as to country medal counts at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and the impact that the changes could have on specific countries. Based on the proposed changes, sprinters, as well as countries that have strong contingents of both men and women stand to gain the most from the addition of mixed relays and 50 meter races. On the other hand, distance swimmers for both men and women gain a medal opportunity in the 800 and 1500 meter races respectively. So which of the top nations have the most to gain from FINA’s proposed changes?
The obvious answer has to be Katie Ledecky, right? Ledecky is the fastest female freestyler in the world right now and would likely run away with a 1500m Olympic race. But with her recent work in the 400 IM and shorter freestyle events, Ledecky would lose the opportunity to swim, and likely medal in the 400 IM or 100 freestyle in Tokyo all while reducing the strain on her body during the difficult meet program. So, the net medal count for her would be at least 1 more, but it could be a small tarnish to the potential of her legacy. For the men, the addition of 50 stroke events would certainly prolong careers for swimmers like Matt Grevers, who did not qualify for the 2016 games in the 100 backstroke due to Ryan Murphy and David Plummer. Grevers finished second in the 50 backstroke at the 2015 World Championships and would certainly have been a contender to make the Olympic team in a 50m backstroke. Swimmers in similar situations to Grevers would have an opportunity to continue their Olympic careers in shorter events. The United States would also stand to gain from the addition of mixed relays as the USA is consistently at the top of the medal count for both men and women.
France would gain some significant ground as far as the medal count on the men’s side with the addition of 50m races. Backstroker Camille Lacourt won gold at the 2015 World Championships in the 50 backstroke. Lacourt finished outside of the medals in Rio, finishing 5th in the 100 backstroke but with his proven speed would have likely medaled in a 50m distance. Additionally, Florent Manaudou broke 23 seconds in the 50m butterfly and won the gold at the 2015 World Championships. Manaudou was not in the final at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Adam Peaty highlights British swimming at the moment. Peaty would be a virtual lock to win an Olympic gold in the 50m breaststroke as he holds the world record in the event. He hasn’t stepped out into the 200m distance yet, and so as such is a one-hit-wonder (and quite a wonder) at the Olympic level thus far. Perhaps more importantly for Great Britain, the addition of mixed relays would give them a leg up on the rest of the world. At the last world championships in 2015, Great Britain’s relay team in the mixed 400 medley relay took gold ahead of the United States. The women from Great Britain did not medal in any relays in Rio and the addition of mixed relays, specifically the medley would provide a great opportunity.
The Women’s National Team of Sweden would likely see a boost in their medal count based off of their 2015 World’s performance if FINA’s proposal is approved. Olympic gold medalist Sarah Sjostrom won gold in Rio in the 100m butterfly but also took home titles in the 50m and 100m butterfly races at the 2015 Worlds. Jennie Johansson won the 50m breaststroke at the 2015 World Championships but did not make the final in Rio in the 100m distance.
Collectively, there seems to be a mutual distain for the mixed relays, as they would add to the program of elite swimmers and solely provide another opportunity for medals. On the contrary, the United States would likely be in favor, and would gain substantially from the addition of distance events. Just the opposite would be true in Europe as countries like France, Great Britain and Sweden would almost certainly have the most to gain from the addition of sprint races.