Potential Wrinkles & Doubles in Newly-Expanded Olympic Lineup

With the release of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic swimming schedule earlier today, it’s time to take an early look at some of the potential doubles and wrinkles of the new format.

You can view the new schedule here. The lineup was changed to include the three new Olympic events: the women’s 1500 free, men’s 800 free and a mixed-gender 4×100 medley relay. Those three events are slotted in, and the men’s 50 free was pushed back one day to accomodate the change.

Here’s a look at some potential doubles and wrinkles with each lineup change:

Women’s 1500 Free

Potential conflicts:

  • 200 free heats/finals
  • 200 IM heats/finals
  • 200 fly semifinals

The 1500 looks to have the biggest conflicts associated with it – and perhaps one for the top medal-winner of the 2016 Olympics: Katie Ledecky.

The women’s 1500 slots into heats on day 3, which was originally the lightest event session. It previously only featured the women’s 200 free, men’s 200 fly and women’s 200 IM. But the 200 free/1500 free could be a problem for rangy athletes like Ledecky, who is expected to swim both.

We mentioned briefly in our first story that one emergent strategy could be to go after world records and times in the 1500 heats, trying to cruise the earlier 200 free heats to just sneak into the top 16. (In Rio, it only took a 1:57.7 to make semifinals, so that strategy could work for Ledecky, who went 1:55.0/1:54.8/1:53.7 in her three individual 2016 Olympic 200 free swims). Then in finals, Ledecky would have a decent block in between the two events: a men’s 200 fly final, two women’s 200 fly semis, two men’s 200 breast semis and a women’s 200 IM final.

Those 200 flys could cause an issue for Mireia Belmontewho was the 2017 Worlds silver medalist in the 1500 and gold medalist in the 200 fly. She’d have to qualify top 8 out of semis in the 200 fly, then come back potentially just three heats later to swim finals of the 1500. Hungary’s Boglarka Kapas could be in this boat – she’s won international medals in both the 200 fly and 1500 free, but last summer gave up the 1500 while winning gold at Euros in the 200 fly.

Any 200 IM/1500 free combos don’t seem super likely, and that’s a good thing, as they’d be pretty brutal – those two events are back-to-back in both heats and finals.

Men’s 800 Free

Potential conflicts:

  • 4×200 free relay heats
  • 100 free heats/finals

The biggest issue with the men’s 800 free can probably be avoided through some prelims relay substitutions, at least for swimmers from the top few nations. 800 free heats come directly after heats of the men’s 4×200 free relay. Looking back to 2017 World Championships results, there were a few men who contested both of those events (which were not back-to-back in the Worlds lineup): Italy’s Gabriele Dettithe United States’ Zane Grothe and Clark Smiththe Netherlands’ Ferry Weertman and Egypt’s Ahmed Akram.

A few more who could conceivably swim that double in Tokyo: Australia’s Mack Horton and China’s Sun YangThe U.S. and Australia could probably find a way to get through prelims without their distance men. So, too, can Italy, which didn’t need Detti to win bronze in this relay at Euros last summer.

There isn’t exactly a Ledecky on the men’s side who can contend from the 800 down to the 100. But if there ever was, he’d have to face a double with the 100 free and 800 free at either end of the heats and finals sessions.

Mixed 4×100 Medley Relay

Potential conflicts:

  • Men’s 100 fly heats/finals
  • Women’s 200 back heats/finals
  • Men’s 50 free semifinals
  • Women’s 50 free semifinals
  • Women’s 800 free finals

This was always going to be the hardest one to fit into the lineup for two reasons: (1) there were already relay events on 6 of the 8 days of competition and (2) most of the swimmers who would compete on this relay already have event schedules further crowded by other relay and individual events.

Most of the wrinkles on this relay are going to compound what are already intriguing lineup choices. The nature of the mixed relays gives nations some tough calls – where to maximize a stroke advantage in one gender or cover over a stroke weakness in a particular gender. Now, lineups for prelims and finals will also be shaped by the potential doubles around this relay.

The most obvious come in the men’s 100 fly, where the top swimmer from each nation has a very strong probability of making either prelims or finals of the mixed medley. In heats, the men’s 100 fly comes just two events before the mixed relay, with the 200 back in between. In finals, the gap is somewhat considerably wider.

The toughest call could be with 50 free/100 fly types like Caeleb Dresselwho could face a 100 fly finals/50 free semis/mixed medley relay finals triple on that night. But the U.S. can probably win that relay without Dressel, or may at least try.

In day 7’s finals session, almost every relay is going to struggle with the meet-ending trio of men’s 50 free semis/women’s 50 free semis/mixed medley relay finals. Most of the top anchor options (Dressel, Simone Manuel, Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell, Kyle Chalmers, Yuri Kisil, Vladimir Morozovetc.) will potentially be coming off of a 50 free semi, along with the multi-stroke specialists like Michael Andrew, Taylor Ruck, Rikako Ikee or Sarah Sjostrom). Of course, we have no idea if any of these swimmers will make the Olympics in the 50 free, be top options for relay legs or even have their nations enter a mixed medley relay. But the odds are pretty high that at least someone will be coming off of a 50 free to anchor this relay.

The other two conflicts for women are with the 200 back heats and finals and the 800 free finals. The latter isn’t super likely to be even an outside issue for anyone but Ledecky, who just might have enough range to be an anchor option were she not in the 800 shortly before the relay. The 200 back might affect good two-distance backstrokers like Kathleen Baker, Emily Seebohm or Kylie Massethough the preferred strategy continues to be stacking male legs on back and breast to get clean water, with female legs on fly and free. (See: 2018 Pan Pacs, where both Australia and Japan beat the U.S. with man/man/woman/woman lineups. Or Asian Games, where all three medal-winning relays used that order.)


While there are conflicts in this lineup, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a lineup that doesn’t create a double for at least a few athletes. The mixed medley relay didn’t really have any other options than day 6/7 – the first two days already feature prelims and finals of the 4×100 free relays, days 7 and 8 already feature single-gender medley relays for heats (day 7) and finals (day 8). Swimming the mixed medley on day 3 would double up with finals of the 100 back for men and women, day 4 would conflict with the men’s 4×200 and men’s 100 free semis, and day 5 would double with the women’s 4×200, women’s 100 free semis and men’s 100 free finals.

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1 year ago

Challenge for some athletes and coaches.
Joy for audience.
Everything will be gravy.

1 year ago

Will USA Trials have this same format (except no relays)? Prelims at night and finals/semis the next morning?!?

Reply to  Superfan
1 year ago

More than likely no because it wasn’t done with Rio , London, or Beijing as I recall. Usually it’s swum as a regular schedule and then the athletes adjust to the time difference at the training camp

1 year ago

Adam Peaty was asked today at the British Championships if it bothered him that the 100 and 50 breaststroke were so close together (yesterday and today). He didn’t care whatsoever. “I’d swim them on the same day if that were the lineup. And it wouldn’t change the way I race.”
Sure, it sucks for some, but it’s never going to be perfect for everyone.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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