Rio 2016 Olympic Preview: Japan Primed For 1-2 Finish In Men’s 400 IM

Men’s 400 IM

Like the backstroke events, the 400 IM is an event the American men have dominated internationally for the last 20 years. The legacy of five straight titles from the names of Dolan, Phelps and Lochte finds itself in serious jeopardy this year with a formidable duo from Japan: Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto.

Hagino comes in as the favorite as the only returning Olympic medalist from London in this event, despite the fact he’s picked up zero LC World Championship medals in the event since London. Hagino paid the consequences of a monstrous schedule in 2013, losing a race that should’ve been his on the last 50, while he skipped the 2015 Championships altogether with an injury. He swam a personal best of 4:07.61 in early 2013, and did two more 4:07s in 2014. He leads the world rankings this year with his 4:08.85 from the Japanese Olympic Trials, and has been putting up consistent times in the lead-up to the Olympics. He’s posted times of 4:10, 4:09 and 4:11 all within ten days of each other in early June, signalling he is ready to go for Rio. It would be an upset if he didn’t win.

Though Hagino would have to be considered the favorite, Seto has been the best swimmer in this event since the last Olympics. He has won all four World Championship titles (2 LC, 2 SC) that have taken place since London, beating Hagino head-to-head on three of those occasions. His wins in 2012 and 2013 over Hagino were impressive, but it seemed the 2014 Short Course World Championships would be where Hagino, after swimming so well throughout the long course season, would beat his countryman on the big stage. Seto would have none of it. He obliterated the field, beating runner-up Hagino by nearly five seconds and just missing the world record. He backed everything up winning his fourth world title in four years last summer in Kazan. Though Hagino has consistently beaten Seto handily in-season, Seto always turns up when it matters most, and this summer should be no different. With the added benefit of this event being on the opening day of the competition rather than the last day like it is at Worlds, we could see both men drop some fast times.

Though the Americans streak of five straight wins is seriously under fire, their streak of seven straight medals in the event is in good hands with North Baltimore’s Chase Kalisz. Kalisz has won consecutive medals at the World Championships with a silver in 2013 and a bronze last year, and is coming off the biggest win of his life taking the US Olympic Trials in 4:09.54. He’ll need to drop at least two seconds from his lifetime best of 4:09.22 to contend for the gold, but is a good bet for a medal as one of only two men under 4:10 this year.

Joining Kalisz in Rio representing the United States is his fellow Georgia Bulldog Jay Litherland, who ran down defending Olympic champion Ryan Lochte at the Olympic Trials to leave the two-time world champion out of the event. Litherland won the gold medal in this event at the World University Games last year in 4:12.43 thanks to a blazing 56.42 final 100m, and improved his best time down to 4:11.02 at Trials to sit 4th in the world this year. Litherland should easily give the US two men in the final, but will likely be battling for 4th behind Hagino, Seto and Kalisz. However, if he’s within striking distance of a medal with 100m to go, you never know.

Another guy who knows how to bring home the freestyle leg of a 400 IM is German Jacob Heidtmann, who finished 5th at the World Championships last year thanks to a speedy final 50 of 27.13 to move past two men. Heidtmann has seen some major improvements over the last two years and has posted consistent results this year including two runner-up finishes to Hagino on the Mare Nostrum Tour in June. Heidtmann figures to be a finalist, but like Litherland will be in tough to surpass the perennial top three.

Last summers World silver medalist David Verraszto will also be in the hunt after cracking 4:10 for the first time in Kazan (4:09.90). He has few 4:12s under his belt already this season indicating he’s on good form, though a medal is a tall task. He’ll almost certainly have to lower his best time by at least a second to contend for a medal.

Others who will be searching for a spot in the final will be Great Britain’s Max Litchfield, Italy’s Federico Turrini and Australia’s Thomas Fraser-Holmes. Litchfield took nearly three seconds off his best time at British Trials to sneak under their automatic qualifying time by 0.03 in 4:12.05, ranking him 8th in the world for 2016. Turrini sits two spots ahead of Litchfield in the world rankings after going 4:11.95 at the Italian Championships, while Fraser-Holmes is another spot up at 5th in the world due to his 4:11.09 at the Aussie Trials. Turrini and Fraser-Holmes both swam significantly slower in Kazan then they did during the year in 2015 missing the World Championship final, something they can’t afford to do this time around. The average time to qualify for the final at the last two Olympics is 4:12.53, so all three will have to be right around their best times to ensure a spot.




Best Time (Since 2012 Olympics)

Predicted Time in Rio


Kosuke Hagino





Daiya Seto





Chase Kalisz





David Verraszto





Jay Litherland





Jacob Heidtmann





Max Litchfield

Great Britain




Thomas Fraser-Holmes




Dark Horse: China’s Wang Shun, who was ranked 2nd in the world in 2013 at 4:09.10, hasn’t really competed in the event much since, making him the ultimate dark horse. Wang did that time just a month after the World Championships were won in 4:08.69, though he didn’t swim the event at Worlds. He did finish 4th in the 200 IM in Barcelona, and won bronze in that event last year, but has been absent from the 400 IM at any high level meet until this years Chinese Championships, where he posted a 12th ranked 4:13.62. Based on where his 200 IM was last year, Wang could be a surprise medal threat that comes in and threatens Japan’s stake for a 1-2 finish.

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5 years ago

Pretty much spot on predictions. Verraszto probably a tick faster though.

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Peter
5 years ago

Kudos for not throwing out some crazy times on this one.

5 years ago

Does anyone know why Pereira isn’t swimming this? Much better medal chance for him in this than 2 im.

King in da norf
Reply to  Cassie
5 years ago

Pereira can still swim 1:56 (last year), but the last time he approached 4:10 or under was in 2013.

Pocoyo Lover
Reply to  Cassie
5 years ago

Apparently, in the podium in London, Pereira and Lochte had a talk about how neither of them was likely to swim the 400 IM again because they dislike it so much. I think he won’t medal in Rio, the 200 IM will be so competitive.

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Cassie
5 years ago

He’s scared that he can no longer compete in this event.

5 years ago

Although not as prepared or healthy/ready to race at trials, I think Lochte could have contended for the gold with a higher chance than Kalisz and Litherland. His top end is proven to be faster. Props to the new kids on the block. They earned their spots. My brain is still saying Lochte would have been better in Rio.

Reply to  PACFAN
5 years ago

Given Kalisz performances id say they are roughly equal

5 years ago

Certainly should be favoured for at least 2 spots on the podium; 1-2 certainly a viable scenario but not a certainty. Kalisz is not out of the picture but would need to “go some” to spoil the Japanese party

King in da norf
5 years ago

Emperor Hagino
Samurai Seto
Georgian Peach Kalisz

Captain Awesome
5 years ago

He did a 4.09 in 2013 and he did a 4.09 last year, both at world champs, so what large increments would they be? I’m not saying at all that he won’t drop large time, in fact I think he will, but your reasons seem flawed?

Reply to  Captain Awesome
5 years ago

you are digging your grave….he was faster two summers ago in LC than he was at Trials. he might be drop and i hope he does, but your rationale is flawed. I don’t think he can’t beat Hagino…maybe Seto if Seto is off and Chase is on.

Reply to  weirdo
5 years ago

Wow someone performing better at a world champs than Olympic trials that’s crazy!’

He Gets It Done Again
5 years ago

Everybody Wang Sun tonight

He Gets It Done Again
Reply to  He Gets It Done Again
5 years ago

*Shun. Not that he’s gonna win. But I do hope everybody has fun tonight.

5 years ago

Verraszto is the dark horse here. He learned how to compete and became very consistent with his swims. He used to swim his own race and been out-competed by his peers. If everything falls into the right place he can cause a big upset.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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