Sarah Sjostrom Swims Best 100 Fly Since 2017 In Spite of Injury


In the surprise swim of the morning heats, Swedish swimmer Sarah Sjostrom posted the third-fastest time of the preliminary heats in the women’s 100 meter butterfly on Saturday evening Tokyo-time. Her 56.18 in that race is her fastest performance in the event since the 2017 World Championships and comes after undergoing surgery to repair a broken elbow earlier this year.

Sjostrom enters the meet as the defending Olympic gold medalist and the World Record holder, thanks to a 55.48 from the 2016 Olympics. Her times had been lagging coming into the Olympic year, however, which included taking silver at the most recent World Championships in 2019 and missing several International Swimming League meets in late 2020 with a back injury.

When she slipped on ice while visiting a friend in February and fractured her elbow, that left her Olympic defense in even more peril. While she was back in the world 3 weeks later after surgery, albeit without using her arms, it still appeared as though her butterfly would be a challenge. Sjostrom lost 4 centimeters of muscle mass from her injured arm due to atrophy after the injury. Besides the inherent issue with an athlete losing that much muscle mass, this resulted in an imbalance that made butterfly particularly difficult for her, even while her freestyle looked pretty good in her first few meets back.

Sjostrom was non-commital about whether she’d swim this 100 fly right up to the last days before the Olympics, but eventually said she would, with a goal of getting under 57 seconds. Now that she’s well under 57 seconds, a medal is a real possibility.

The first day’s prelims session has been fairly slow overall. Barring a few standouts, the ‘field’ has overall struggled. Swimmers, like Sjostrom, who are ‘on’ can find themselves on podiums even if they don’t swim best times.

Sjostrom’s first 50 meters didn’t have the same speed as we’re used to from her, splitting just 26.55 going out, but she had the fastest back 50 split (29.63) of the entire field. Semi-finals on Sunday morning will bear out whether that front-end can be corrected with some confidence after that prelims swim.

This canary in her first swim will make Sjostrom even more encouraged for her sprint freestyle races later in the meet. If she were to go a same-time-period-since-2017-best-time in the 50 free or 100 free, that would be very close to a World Record. Neither women’s sprint freestyle event has a clear favorite in the event, so even if she’s not quite at that level, the Swede could still find herself atop a podium in spite of the injury.

This also renews Sweden’s dreams for a 400 medley relay medal later in the meet. Thanks to Michelle Coleman’s National Record in the 100 backstroke in June, the Swedes’ uncertain leg suddenly became their superstar, Sjostrom, on the anchor. If she can split even a 52 to end that relay, which is not a tall ask by her standards, Sweden will be easily battling Canada for the bronze medal in that relay.

Projected Swedish 400 Medley Relay + 2021 Best Time

  • Michelle Coleman – 59.62
  • Sophie Hansson – 1:05.69
  • Louise Hansson – 56.73
  • Sarah Sjostrom – 53.47
  • Aggregate – 3:55.51
  • Medal Time at 2019 Worlds – 3:53.58 (including relay starts)

How Sjostrom, one of the world’s most accomplished female swimmers, was to perform in this meet was already a major storyline, but this early mark catapults her back into the Olympic eye.

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1 month ago

Our Queen

1 month ago

Never underestimate the heart of a champion

Iambic Pentameter
1 month ago

Go Sarah! Rooting hard for her!

1 month ago

She is amazing

Lex Soft
1 month ago

Now I can expect in 50m free and 100m free too.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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