How Often Do Reigning World Champions Win The Olympic Title The Following Year?

The World Aquatics Championships have been held since 1973. Initially with an irregular periodicity (the second edition took place in 1975, and the third in 1978), from 1978 onwards the event began to be held every four years. The only exception was in 1991, when the edition held in Perth, Australia, took place in January – it could even be argued that, during this period, it was part of the 1990 season.

From 2001 onwards, the World Championships began to be held biennially, every two years. As a result, we always have a World Championships the year prior the Olympic Games. As a result, the Worlds have always served as a good preview of what was to come the following year at the Olympics.

And although you’d expect it to be very common for world championship winners to claim gold in the same event the following year at the Olympics, in reality, there haven’t been that many, especially in the last few editions.

Simply analyzing the percentage of 132 individual events contested between the 2004 and 2021 Olympic Games, 54 of them were won by the same swimmers who won them at the previous year’s World Championships, a mark representing 40.9 percent.

(Of course, the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 were held two years after the previous World Championship in 2019, as they were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But this will bring up an interesting fact later on.)

The curious thing is that this percentage of 40.9 percent does not reflect what has happened over the years.

Percentage of events in which the winner of the World Championships goes on to win the Olympics the year after

Olympics #Wins #Events Percentage
2004 16 26 61.5%
2008 12 26 46.2%
2012 9 26 34.6%
2016 8 26 30.8%
2021 9 28 32.1%

At the Athens Olympics in 2004, no less than 16 of the 26 individual events were won by swimmers who had won the same events at the Barcelona Worlds in 2003. This represents 61.5 percent. Swimming legends such as Inge de Bruijn, Yana Klochkova, Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett and Michael Phelps were among them.

In 2008, the percentage decreased considerably: it became 46.2 percent (12 out of 26). Phelps was responsible for almost half, having won the same five events in Beijing that he had won at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne.

In 2012, there was another drop in the percentage: nine out of 26, or 34.6 percent. This time, Phelps managed to repeat just one victory he had achieved at the 2011 World Championships, in the 100 butterfly. You could say that in all nine of these events, the heavy favorites won – Missy Franklin in the 200 backstroke, Dana Vollmer in the 100 butterfly, Sun Yang in the 1500 freestyle, Daniel Gyurta in the 200 breaststroke and Ryan Lochte in the 400 IM.

In 2016, another drop: there were eight out of 26, or 30.8 percent. Katie Ledecky won three of those events (200, 400 and 1500 freestyle) and Katinka Hosszu won two (200 IM and 400 IM).

In 2021, a small increase compared to 2016. There were nine events won by the same swimmers from the 2019 World Championships, which represents 32.1 percent — in 2021, there were 28 individual events, with the addition of the men’s 800 freestyle and women’s 1500 freestyle.

This is curious, since the percentage increased, even though there was a two-year gap between the 2019 World Championships and the 2021 Olympics.

Again, it’s interesting to note that most of those nine events where repeat winners were won by overwhelming favorites — for example, Caeleb Dressel in the 50, 100 freestyle, and 100 butterfly, Adam Peaty in the 100 breaststroke, Kristof Milak in the 200 butterfly and Ledecky in the 800 free.

Perhaps the explanation for the percentages being so high in 2004 and 2008 is that there were more heavily favorites, swimmers who today are considered undisputed swimming legends — Phelps, Thorpe, de Bruijn, Klochkova, Aaron Peirsol, Natalie Coughlin, Leisel Jones and Kosuke Kitajima.

With these data, for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, the projection is that between 30 percent and 40 percent of the events will be won by the same swimmers that won at the 2023 Fukuoka World Championships. Which means eight to 11 events.

Given the superiority they displayed, perhaps the heavy favorites to repeat their 2023 world titles with wins in Paris are Sarah Sjostrom (50 free), Ariarne Titmus (400 free), Ledecky (800 and 1500 free), Summer McIntosh (400 IM), Cameron McEvoy (50 free), Qin Haiyang (200 breaststroke) and Leon Marchand (400 IM). This would total eight events. Who are the other candidates?

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Maudzilla
1 month ago

Titmus as a heavy favourite in the 400 free is a stretch. 0.7 sec on 400m?

Nick O
2 months ago

How could you ignore Kaylee McKeown for 100/200 BK . 1. Improving still ( hasn’t peaked) 2. Proven Big meet performer . 3 Consistent performs at highest level all year round . 2023 April WR 200BK, July 3 Gold medals WC , October WR 100BK

Tracy Kosinski
3 months ago

I have to disagree and say SM will reclaim her WR title in the 400 FR in Paris.

Sorry, Arianne 🙂

Nick O
Reply to  Tracy Kosinski
2 months ago

Kaylee McKeown 100/200 BK . When was the last time she got beaten in a big event ? When was R. Smiths last PB in these events ? Kaylee has proven she is still improving.

Facts
3 months ago

Most likely to least likely to repeat: 1: Ledecky 1500 free: basically Tom Brady vs the AFC East. 2: Ledecky 800 free: same thing as 1. 3: McIntosh 400 IM: Nobody close expect if Grimes has the swim of her life. 4: Marchand 400 IM: same as 3 but with Foster. 5: Sjostrom 50 free: Not really anyone close but weird things can happen in a 50. 6: Titmus 400 free: Well have to fend off McIntosh. 7: Mcevoy 50 free: Will have to fend off Dressel and potentially other 21 mid-low swimmers if they are on form. 8: Qin 200 breast: Will potentially have to race Marchand and ZSC

Leoyu
Reply to  Facts
3 months ago

Zsc could get better in this next year, but I’m not sure he could improve beyond his previous world record. Marchand is just overhyped, have no idea why people think he can challenge Qin in this event. He has never shown that he can swim this event with the consistency Qin does, and in fact he’s never even swum it on a serious international meet.

Verram
3 months ago

Don’t we have to wait for Doha 2024 to see who will be the “reigning” world champions are heading into Paris ? Lol

Pieter H
Reply to  Verram
3 months ago

Swimswam already put asterisk on Doha.

Verram
Reply to  Pieter H
3 months ago

Would the asterisk remain if someone happens to break a WR or CR ?

jeff
Reply to  Verram
3 months ago

now there’s a question- I wonder if any of the Doha winners at all will win the same event in Paris? Not too familiar with the other countries’ lineups but from the Americans, Douglass probably has the best shot

Verram
Reply to  jeff
3 months ago

Another question would be for those who decide to skip Doha to focus on Paris to win Olympic gold – whether it was worth it .., assuming they also won at fukuoka worlds this year

Pieter H
Reply to  jeff
3 months ago

Cam mcEvoy said he’s going to Doha.

He will have better shot than Douglas.

Swimswammer
3 months ago

Ryan Murphy will be a gold medal winner when there are no Russians competing.

Sub13
Reply to  Swimswammer
3 months ago

Possibly. He has a shot in both backstrokes but there are also non-Russians in both that could definitely beat him

snailSpace
Reply to  Sub13
3 months ago

The current WR holder in the 100 back certainly comes to mind…

Evgeny
3 months ago

Without Russian swimmers no one is a true olympic champion.

Joe johnson
Reply to  Evgeny
3 months ago

It actually means the opposite.

phelpsfan
Reply to  Evgeny
3 months ago

Agree

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Evgeny
3 months ago

Especially not in the W200 Breastroke or M200 Backstroke

Emily Se-Bom Lee
Reply to  The unoriginal Tim
3 months ago

rylov was 1.36 seconds slower than kos this year and wouldn’t have even medaled at worlds, so the 200 back is irrelevant to this discussion

Last edited 3 months ago by Emily Se-Bom Lee
Nick O
Reply to  Evgeny
2 months ago

Is Fina currently drug testing Russian swimmers consistently ?

Admin
Reply to  Nick O
2 months ago

I think so? Assume so? The FINA/AQUA testing data used to be easy to find. It may be there somewhere, but I can’t find it anymore.

oldnotdead
3 months ago

With WCs every two years (or more often recently), this achievement seems more common than if the WCs were held every four years as originally scheduled.

Pieter H
Reply to  oldnotdead
3 months ago

THE ORIGINAL schedule of World Aquatics championship was actually every two years: 1973 Belgrade Yugoslavia to 1975 Cali Colombia.

Oceanian
Reply to  Pieter H
3 months ago

And then it wasn’t….

Pieter H
Reply to  Oceanian
3 months ago

Correct.