What if Michael Phelps swam in the International Swimming League?
The truth is, we’ll probably never know what it would be like to see Phelps in the ISL. However, we can apply ISL rules to Phelps’s past races and see how things play out. I know what you’re thinking – what’s the point of this number-crunching? Well… because we’re swim nerds and this is what we do! You clicked on this article, you knew what you were doing, take some ownership. Let’s get into it.
First off, let’s recap some of Phelps’ Olympic stats. Per the headline, Phelps was a part of 30 Olympic finals and won a total of 28 Olympic medals. We say “was a part of” instead of raced in because Phelps did not swim the 4 x 100 medley relay final in the 2004 Athens Games, giving up his spot to teammate Ian Crocker, but he cheered from the stands and won a gold medal nonetheless, but more on that later. Of that hardware, 23 medals are gold, 3 are silver, and 2 are bronze. Only twice did Phelps fail to medal in an Olympic final, placing 4th in the 400 IM in 2012 and 5th in the 200 butterfly in his Olympic debut in 200 at age 15.
Now that Phelps is covered, let’s review the ISL scoring rules.
Regular Event Scoring
- 1st = 9 points (18 for relays)
- 2nd 7 points (14 for relays)
- 3rd = 6 points (12 for relays)
- 4th = 5 points (10 for relays)
- 5th = 4 points (8 for relays)
- 6th = 3 points (6 for relays)
- 7th = 2 points (4 for relays)
- 8th = 1 points (2 for relays)
400 IM Checkpoint Scoring
- Checkpoint at 200 meters – 16 points awarded to the top 5
- 1st: 6
- 2nd: 4
- 3rd: 3
- 4th: 2
- 5th 1
Pay special attention to 200 of 400 in the men’s 400 IM. Also note that jackpot margins in the ISL were created for short course meters, and are being applied for long course swims in this analysis.
Enough talk, let’s break this down.
Michael Phelps‘ Olympic Career with ISL Scoring Applied
Total Points Scored
- 243.5 points
- 189 individual points
- 54.5 relay points
2000 Olympic Games – Sydney
Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut with a 5th-place finish in the 200 butterfly, earning 4 points, per ISL rules. Phelps was only 15-years-old in his Olympic debut in September of 2000, the same age as the Toronto Titans’ Summer McIntosh during her first ISL season (McIntosh was still 14 during the Tokyo Olympics). This race represents Phelps’ lowest finish in the Olympics, though it is not necessarily his worst Olympic race as he went a lifetime best, despite not making the podium. The 400 IM at the London 2012 Olympics, where Phelps placed 4th, is a worse race than the 200 fly in Sydney considering that he was 5.44 seconds off his best time in that race, despite the higher finish.
2004 Olympic Games – Athens
|4 x 100 Free Relay||3rd||3||3:14.62||+1.45||0|
|4 x 200 Free Relay||1st||4.5||7:07.33||0.00||N/A|
|400 Medley Relay||1st||7.5||3:30.68||0.00||3|
Phelps kicked off the Athens Olympics with a huge 27-point haul in the men’s 400 IM. Phelps earned 9 points for the victory, as well as 6 points for turning 1st at the 200-meter mark. Phelps collected another 6 points by getting checkpoint jackpots from Erik Vendt, Alessio Boggiatto, and Ous Mellouli. Laszlo Cseh, meanwhile, gets to keep his 4 checkpoint points as he only trailed Phelps by a margin of 3.48 seconds. Phelps would also jackpot the 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-place finishers at the conclusion of the race. Cseh would ultimately finish 3rd with 10 points total, while Vendt would finish 2nd though with just 7 points as Phelps jackpotted him at 200 meters.
Phelps’ hopes of beating Mark Spitz‘s 7 gold medals were dashed when the United States came in 3rd in the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay, though the relay still earned 12 points which, split 4 ways, gives Phelps another 3 points to his tally. The men’s 200 freestyle final, dubbed the “race of the century,” saw Phelps square off with Aussie legends Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett, and the “Flying Dutchman” Pieter van den Hoogenband, for whom the ISL’s current arena is named. American Klete Keller and Great Britain’s Simon Burnett were also in the race, though it was Thorpe who was victorious, holding off a late charge from Phelps. van den Hoogenband also out-touched Phelps, meaning it was another 3rd-place finish and 6 points, per ISL rules.
The men’s 4 x 200 freestyle relay was one of the most exciting races of the Athens 2004 Olympics. However, it is not an ISL event. Still, we scored it here like a normal relay, though did not bother applying a jackpot margin of our own. Sure, you could say a jackpot in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay ought to be just twice the margin set by the ISL for the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, but we’ll leave it alone for now.
Phelps dominated the men’s 200 IM in Athens, though he only receives 1 additional point, stolen from 8th-place finisher Jiro Miki of Japan. Phelps’ final individual race of the Athens Olympics was the men’s 100 butterfly, which he won by a narrow 0.04 over teammate Ian Crocker. No jackpots were to be had in the 100 fly though, resulting in another 9 points for Phelps.
It is worth pointing out that Phelps did not swim the final of the men’s 4 x 100 medley relay, giving up his spot to teammate Ian Crocker. Though Phelps was still awarded a gold medal for his contribution in the prelims he was not part of the winning foursome at night, therefore, there is an argument to be made that these 7.5 points should not go to Phelps’ total.
2008 Olympic Games – Beijing
|4 x 100 Free Relay||1st||4.5||3:08.24||0.00||0|
|4 x 200 Free Relay||1st||4.5||6:58.56||0.00||N/A|
|400 Medley Relay||1st||4.5||3:29.34||0.00||0|
Scoring out the 2008 Beijing Olympics with ISL rules is pretty straightforward since Phelps won all 8 of his race, though there were a few jackpots to take into account.
Phelps’ first jackpot swim of the Beijing games came in the 400 IM, though this time he picked up 21 total points. These include 9 points for winning, 6 for turning 1st at 200 meters, 6 for jackpotting the 7th- and 8th-place finishers, as well as 1 for jackpotting Italy’s Luca Marin at the 200-meter checkpoints. Similarly, Phelps steals 3 points from Brazil’s Thiago Pereira who placed 8th, earning 1 point, but who also turned 4th at 200 meters, which earned him another 2 points.
Phelps’ next jackpot came in the 200 freestyle as he stole the points from the 7th- and 8th-place finishers. His next and final jackpot would be the 200 IM where he steals the points from the 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-place finishers. If Phelps’ goggles hadn’t filled up with water during the 200 butterfly, perhaps he would have stolen points from a couple of the other men in that race, but a gold medal and a world record is still pretty solid.
Though we already mentioned that we’re not bothering with creating our own jackpot margin for the 4 x 200 freestyle relay, the United States was so dominant in that race in Beijing, it’s tempting to reverse on that decision. The squad from Team USA finished over 5 seconds ahead of the silver medalists from the Russian Federation, not to mention nearly 15 seconds ahead of the team from South Africa, but, since it’s not an ISL event we’re just going to say USA gets 18 points.
2012 Olympic Games – London
|4 x 100 Free Relay||2nd||3.5||3:10.38||+0.45||0|
|4 x 200 Free Relay||1st||4.5||6:59.70||0.00||N/A|
|400 Medley Relay||1st||4.5||3:29.35||0.00||0|
The London 2012 Olympic Games showed a much different side of Michael Phelps than the world was used to seeing. The man who seemed invincible in 2008 had told the world that, win or lose, this would be his final Games. Things got off to a rocky start in London and it wasn’t until Phelps’ 4th event, the 4 x 200 freestyle relay, that he won a gold medal. Similarly, when ISL scoring rules are applied we see Phelps claim only 3 jackpot points.
Ryan Lochte dominated the men’s 400 IM at the 2012 London Olympics, swimming a 4:05.18 to win the gold medal by nearly 4 seconds. Phelps, meanwhile, finished off of the podium in 4th. Missing an Olympic medal hurts, especially for the two-time defending champion and world record holder in the race, though the outcome of this race isn’t quite so negative when ISL scoring rules are applied. Phelps earns 8 points for the 400 IM in London, picking up 5 points for his 4th-place finish as well as 3 points for touching 3rd at the 200-meter checkpoint. Lochte comes away with a total of 16 points: 9 for winning, 6 for touching 1st at the 200-meter checkpoint, and 1 for jackpotting Italy’s Luca Marin, who finished 8th.
Phelps’ second individual event, the 200 butterfly, resulted in a shocking upset as South African Chad le Clos got his hands on the wall 0.05 ahead of Phelps, leaving Phelps with just 7 points. Phelps won the 200 IM and earned his 3 jackpot points, stealing them from Great Britain’s James Goddard and Germany’s Markus Deibler. Phelps was also golden in the 100 butterfly and 4 x 100 medley relay finals, pulling in his final 13.5 points of the 2012 Olympics.
2016 Olympic Games – Rio de Janeiro
|4 x 100 Free Relay||1st||4.5||3:09.92||0.00||0|
|4 x 200 Free Relay||1st||4.5||7:00.66||0.00||N/A|
|400 Medley Relay||1st||4.5||3:27.95||0.00||0|
After coming out of retirement in 2014, Phelps’ final Olympic Games were to be the first-ever Olympics held in South America. Phelps was the biggest star of Rio 2016: 31-years-old, engaged and with a 3-month-old baby (Boomer), Phelps had grown up from a singularly-focused bachelor and turned into a dad with just as much excitement going on outside of the pool as in. Focusing on a slimmed-down schedule, Phelps swam just the 100 fly, 200 fly, and 200 IM individually, and thanks to some fast time trials in the pre-Olympic training camp, he was added to the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 freestyle relays.
Phelps’ first race of the 2016 Games was also Caeleb Dressel‘s Olympic debut: the 4 x 100 freestyle relay. The United States won the gold medal, defeating the 2012 gold medalists from France in the process–one gold medal and 4.5 points for Phelps. The 200 butterfly was another tense rematch between Phelps and le Clos, though Phelps managed to eek out the victory–9 points added to the haul. The United States dominated the 4 x 200 freestyle relay, as expected, and Phelps put his foot down to win the 200 IM by nearly 2 seconds.
Phelps’ final individual event final, the 100 butterfly, resulted in a 3-way tie for 2nd place between Phelps, Cseh, and le Clos. Therefore, we add up all the points that would be awarded to the 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-place finishers and divide that number by 3. This leaves 6 points per man.
The United States won the 4 x 100 medley relay and came close to the super-suited world record. In fact, Ryan Murphy did break the world record in the 100 backstroke leading off the relay. Ultimately, Phelps finished the 2016 Rio Olympics with 37.5 points, scored with ISL rules.