It is time for a Women’s Olympic 1500 meter Freestyle

by SwimSwam 62

August 14th, 2015 International, News, Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send them to [email protected]

This SHOUT FROM THE STANDS is courtesy of an anonymous college swimming coach

The Robin Williams movie Jumaji is an absolute classic (R.I.P., sweet prince). Now you may have just read that line and thought “He’s not wrong, but what on earth does this have to do with swimming?” One of the most memorable lines in the movie (thanks to the popularity of an internet meme) is when Robin Williams’ character Alan is finally released from the game and he begins asking frantically “What year is it?!”

What year is it? It’s 2015. We have things like pizza topped with mini pizzas, wristwatches that can connect to the internet and make phone calls, and cars that can drive themselves. Gay marriage is legal nation-wide. We have elected a black President…twice. So why, in a world where we seem to be progressing and evolving so profoundly in a variety of ways, are we still having our men and women compete in different lengths of distance freestyle events?

What year is it?!

It’s not 1912, when Women’s swimming was finally added to the Olympics after 18 years of only Men’s events in the Games. They were “allowed” to compete in only two freestyle races, the 100m freestyle and the 4 x 100 freestyle relay. Meanwhile, the Men’s events included the 100m, 400m, 1500m freestyle, the 100m backstroke, the 200m and 400m breaststroke and the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. I guess they didn’t want any of those gals’ dainty little arms to get tired. Yes, 1912 was a different time back then. We were still 8 years away from the 19th Amendment in the US, giving women the right to vote. But come on, two events?!

It’s not 1920, when Women’s events were expanded to include the 300m freestyle. (Oh…a third event!) Still 100m shorter than the men’s freestyle equivalent of 400m. They just can’t quite give them that extra 100m in case they started to cry. I guess after Sybil Bauer broke the men’s 440m backstroke world record in 1922 they realized they better give the women another stroke to compete in because in 1924 backstroke and breaststroke were added to the women’s lineup. Still, the event total was 6-5 in favor of the Men. Because 6 events would have gotten too difficult for those lasses.

It’s not 1956 when butterfly was included as an Olympic event. And it was so nice of them to add butterfly as an option for both men and women in the same Olympics. Except for the fact that they added it as a 200m race for the men and a 100m race for the women. Wouldn’t want them to get too tired now, would we?

It’s not 1968 when the women were finally awarded a freestyle race over 400m long in the form of the 800m. A little more than half of the length of the Men’s longest freestyle event. Still, it wasn’t until 8 years later in the 1976 Games that the number of events offered to both Men and Women was first made equal at 13 a piece. It would stay this way each until 1984 when the number of events went back in favor of the Men at 15-14 with the difference being an additional relay. By 1996, after the addition of the Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle relay as well as the 50m Freestyle for both sexes, the number of events was even at 16.

In 2008 we adopted the 10km marathon swim and the 34-event lineup that we operate with today was finalized. And so now, in 2015 Men and Women have the same event program with only one exception: the Men swim the 1500m freestyle while the Women compete in the 800m Freestyle.

But, why? What year is it?!

In a sport that is constantly evolving and a society that is progressing before our eyes, why have we somehow managed to retain one of the most ridiculous disparities in our sport? Are we trying to protect our women from something? Is it because Women can’t physiologically handle the extra 700m? Tell that to Katie Ledecky, whose current 15:25.48 would be ranked 90th in the world for men. Let me remind you she is an 18-year old woman. I bet she was really struggling through that final 700m.

How do we fix this problem?

Just nix the 800m and open the 1500m to all competitors? Possibly. But maybe a better idea would be to keep both events and allow both Men and Women the option to swim the 800m as well as the 1500m. Because after all, it’s 2015. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see Katie Ledecky in one more Olympic event? That’s what I thought.

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6 years ago

Frankly, I’m astonished 89 men in the world can beat her. If they went head to head (as in, if she actually had a competitive race), I bet she could beat another 25 of them.

Reply to  swimdoc
6 years ago

Apparently, some of the male 1500 swimmers ranked 65-89 didn’t like my comment.

Nate L2
Reply to  swimdoc
6 years ago

Swimdoc, how can you be astonished? Think of Pamela Radcliffe’s 2:15 marathon or any other stellar female performance in just about any event. The number of male athletes bettering the top female’s time isn’t counted on hands and feet. Katie is absolutely a once-in-a-generation athlete. That the women aren’t swimming the 1,500 in every major meet is laughable.

6 years ago

Being a distance fan, I would love to see them add each distance for both men and women (800 and 1500 for each). But otherwise agree, 800 is an odd distance that is a relic of the past for women. They do the 1650 in college, it should be the 1500 m for Olympic competition.

Reply to  James
6 years ago

I don’t think what the NCAA does has any bearing on FINA or the IOC.

6 years ago

If the mile is being opened up to women, then it’s also time to add in the 800 for the men. In my opinion, the Men’s 800 free world record is at roughly the same level of difficulty as the 200 free. The only difference is that the 800 free is never contested seriously at any meet other than Worlds, where it is usually won by Sun Yang who seems to be using it as a warm-up for his mile.

Reply to  800ForMen
6 years ago

Just the way you said this made me laugh. Sun Yang is such a troll

6 years ago

Am I the only one who would rather they eliminate the 1500 for men instead?

Reply to  Gaash
6 years ago

Eliminating the 1500 would be like dropping the 50 – neither make sense to do

Patrick Last
6 years ago

And time for 50s in all 4 strokes at Olympics too

Reply to  Patrick Last
6 years ago

Or maybe the 400 of each stroke?

Reply to  Patrick Last
6 years ago

theres the 50 free and if you want you can swim any of the four strokes in it

Reply to  Patrick Last
6 years ago

That’s a tougher sell because of the number of medals in each sport being a bit out of whack. It isn’t a good reason, for me… but it’s their reason and they seem to be sticking to it.

This is why I want the US to value World Champs more… it’s such a better ‘swim’ competitions. 800/1500 for both genders and 50s of strokes.

6 years ago

Strangely, Katie Ledecky’s 800 free world record would place her only 120th among men this year. This is strange when you think that many males don’t take the the 800 free as seriously because it’s not an Olympic event. This makes Katie L’s accomplishment in the 1500 free all that much more impressive. I can only wonder how she’d do in open water events.

Reply to  Catherine
6 years ago

Open water is ANOTHER sport.A lot of swimmers without much success in the pool shine in Open water(Okimoto,DaCunha). The salt helps small bodies in the sea.

Reply to  DDias
6 years ago

DDIAS, firstly not all open water races are swum in salt water! Secondly in some swimmers cases there pool skills lack I.e poor turners. And there are tactics that come into play in open water. KL would obversly kill it in open water. I have seen great 800/1500 pool swimmers jump into a lake and fail and I’m not sure it had much to do with salt water.

6 years ago

Ledecky herself said she wanted the 1500 added, but not if it replaced the 800, because of the historical aspect. I agree with her, but I doubt FINA would approve adding two new distance events, since they already added the two open water events, and the trend appears to be going toward the sprints.

Lane Four
6 years ago