SwimSwam Pulse: 47.9% Would Name Women’s Sprint Free Award After Sarah Sjostrom

SwimSwam Pulse is a recurring feature tracking and analyzing the results of our periodic A3 Performance Polls. You can cast your vote in our newest poll on the SwimSwam homepage, about halfway down the page on the right side.

Our most recent poll asked SwimSwam readers who the “women’s sprint freestyle swimmer of the year” award should be named after if it came into existence:

Question: If swimming had annual awards for the best swimmer in every stroke, who would you name the women’s sprint free award after?

RESULTS

Despite having never won an Olympic gold medal in the discipline, Sarah Sjostrom was the top selection from readers when asked who they would name an annual women’s sprint freestyle award after.

We first presented this idea last week, polling the audience on the men’s sprint free award, with the legendary Alexander Popov emerging as the top selection.

Given his Olympic, World Championship and world record accolades, Popov seemed like the clear answer on the men’s side, but the women’s was much more up in the air.

Especially with the 50 free having only been added to the Olympic program in 1988, there were only a handful of strong candidates. Factoring in the 200 free, which tends to crossover much more frequently with 400-meter swimmers compared to those who race the 100 (especially on the women’s side), there were only two swimmers to ever win women’s 100 and 200 at the same Olympics, Kornelia Ender (1976) and Barbara Krause (1980), both part of the East German team that was later proven to have a systematic doping program.

(As an Olympic champion in the 50 and 100 free, along with holding world records in the 100 and 200 free, East German Kristin Otto was included in the poll, though she only received just over one percent of votes. Otto has said she was unaware she was being doped.)

Australian Dawn Fraser has a strong case, having won three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 100 free from 1956 to 1964, and she also broke the world record numerous times, bringing it down from 1:04.5 to 58.9 in a six-year span.

The other swimmer with the Olympic pedigree to truly warrant recognition is Inge de Bruijn, who not only swept the 50 and 100 free at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but successfully defended the 50 free crown four years later in Athens while earning silver in the 100 free. The Dutch native also won long course world titles in both races in 2001, defended the 50 free title in 2003, and held the world record in the 50 free for nearly eight years (2000-2008) and spent nearly four as the world record holder in the 100 free (2000-2004).

Despite the accomplishments of Fraser and de Bruijn, it was Sjostrom who earned nearly half of the votes.

The Swedish star is the current world record holder in both the 50 and 100 free, having become the first swimmer in history under 52 seconds in the 100 (51.71), and the owner of nine of the 18 fastest swims ever in the 50 (WR at 23.67).

Sjostrom has won long course world titles in the freestyle events, claiming 50 free gold in 2017 and 2022, and was the Olympic bronze medalist in the 100 free in 2016 and silver in the 50 free in 2021. She also won the short course world title in the 200 free in 2014, and held the world record in that event for seven years (2014-2021). At the 2016 Games in Rio, she also won silver in the 200 free behind Katie Ledecky, showing a range up to the 200 that some of her counterparts in the poll didn’t.

Britta Steffen (2008), Ranomi Kromowidjojo (2012) and Emma McKeon (2021) join Otto and de Bruijn in having won the 50 and 100 free at the same Olympics, with Kromowidjojo earning just over nine percent of votes and Steffen just over two.

McKeon has only emerged as one of the world’s best 50/100 freestylers in the last couple of years, having previously focused on the 200 free and 100 fly individually with the Campbell sisters holding down the sprint free spots for the better part of the last decade in Australia.

There was the suggestion that as an active swimmer, Sjostrom shouldn’t be eligible to have an award named after (hypothetical or not), though she still picked up 47.9 percent of votes.

Below, vote in our new A3 Performance Pollwhich asks: Which women’s event is the most interesting as we head into U.S. Nationals (World Trials):

Which women's event (where the U.S. has 3+ world-class swimmers) is most intriguing at Trials?

View Results

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The A3 Performance Poll is courtesy of A3 Performance, a SwimSwam partner.

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Octavio Gupta
7 days ago

It should be the Amy Van Dyken award

Tea rex
8 days ago

Problem is, when I think of Sjostrom sprint FREESTYLE isn’t even my first thought. Her sprint free legacy is overshadowed by her other worldly 50 fly

Dan
Reply to  Tea rex
7 days ago

Not sure if they will have a sprint fly category or just a fly category and Sarah have not done too many 200 fly races, her PB is 2.04.0 in SCM and she has never done a 200 fly at a major international competition (Olympics, World, Euro or similar meets).

PersonalBest
Reply to  Tea rex
7 days ago

Interesting point.
Given her world records in the sprint frees I feel people think of her as the most dominant free sprinter, but her medal record shows a less than dominant performance. Out of the sprinters in the past 15 years I see her and Cate Campbell as the two most deserving of that elusive Olympic gold in the 50/100 free.

I even am surprised when I remember Sarah hasn’t won an Olympic Gold in either free sprint or the 100m at the WCs.

WC wins or medals is distorted now that they are held every two years, so a more difficult comparison to eras past.

Sam M
8 days ago

I was saying you can’t really have an award named after yourself if you meet the qualifications to win the award. If Sarah is presented an award named after herself that’s kinda odd and if she doesn’t win the award that’s literally named after her that would be odd too.

Sam M
Reply to  Sam M
8 days ago

Kinda would be like if popovici won a caeleb dressel award. Just saying 🤷🏻‍♂️

Sam M
8 days ago

100 fly is going to be a tight one considering how many women have been under 58 this season

Taa
8 days ago

There is a definite lack of competition when Fraser swam. If we had the equivalent womens NCAA system in place at the time she wouldn’t have won anything.

Joel
Reply to  Taa
8 days ago

See Jimmyswim’s notes below. I don’t think you have any idea about Dawn Fraser Taa.
I very much doubt that an American would have beaten her. She was way ahead of her time in training and racing.

Last edited 8 days ago by Joel
Taa
Reply to  Joel
8 days ago

His statement proves my point. My opinion is that if someone can break a record 10 times than it wasnt that difficult in the first place.

Jimmyswim
Reply to  Taa
8 days ago

“The fact that her achievements are so good proves that they weren’t hard, we should celebrate someone who achieved less because it means they had to work harder” lol. You are the Simone Biles of mental gymnastics.

dawser
Reply to  Taa
7 days ago

That would imply because Ledecky exists, no other woman has ever taken the 800 and 1500 seriously.

Sub13
Reply to  Taa
7 days ago

Phelps broke the 4IM record 8 times. By your logic that’s not really impressive, it just means the competition was bad.

Jimmyswim
8 days ago

Dawn Fraser is the only woman to have won gold in the 100m freestyle at more than one Olympics, and the only swimmer of either gender to win 3. She lowered the world record 10 times, more than anyone else in history, male or female.

Sjostrom is great, but she has broken the 100 free and 50 free WR once each and never lowered it again, and has never won an Olympic gold in either. Sjostrom’s combined total of 50 Free and 100 Free gold medals at Olympics and Worlds is 2.

Dawn Fraser is by far the most successful 100 freestyler of all time for either gender. I think she is being ignored because the 50 free didn’t exist… Read more »

snailSpace
Reply to  Jimmyswim
8 days ago

I think the most significant reason she is being ignored is because most people don’t even know who she is. The 50s and 60s was a long time ago even for a swim fan. Like, I didn’t know who she was until I’ve read this article.

Yozhik
Reply to  Jimmyswim
8 days ago

W100FR world records were broken 7(!) times in 1956 when Dawn Fraser came to the prominence first time. It was completely different era in swimming 67 years ago. You are trying to compare apples to oranges. But the question by itself was stupidly provocative at first place and you took the bate.

Sub13
Reply to  Yozhik
7 days ago

And following that, Fraser held it for 15 years straight from 1956 to 1971.

Whatever way you spin it, ten world records and 3 Olympic golds is better than one world record and zero Olympic golds. No question.

Robbos
Reply to  Sub13
7 days ago

That will be very difficult for Yozhik to argue!!!!

Even in 1971 that WR was only broken by another Aussie freak of nature Shane Gould.

avery stirling
8 days ago

dara torres deserves a mention

Torchbearer
8 days ago

To name it after someone who has never won a WC or Olympic 100m Gold medal is just strange.
Dawn Fraser took 5.6 seconds off the world record and won 3 Olympic Golds!

snailSpace
Reply to  Torchbearer
8 days ago

She is the current world record holder in the two sprint free events though by quite a margin. Sjostrom is a sprint legend. But there most likely is a recency bias.

Jimmyswim
Reply to  snailSpace
8 days ago

Her margins on the world records aren’t that crazy.

50 Free – 23.67 to 23.73 (0.06)
100 Free – 51.71 to 51.96 (0.25)

The 50 free margin is actually the smallest margin of the four women’s 50s. Her margin on the 100 is impressive, but not crazy different to the other 100s (Back 0.12, Breast 0.22, Fly 0.11).

I would say a sprint butterfly award, or even an overall sprint award, would be Sjostrom’s hands down. But if we’re just talking sprint free, it should very obviously be Fraser.

Dan
Reply to  Jimmyswim
7 days ago

I think they included the 200 Free as a sprint event and Sarah was an okay 400 Freestyler into her early 20’s (4.06.0 in 1994 when she was going to turn 21).
When looking at other modern sprinters I am not sure how many have that range 50-200 (sprint category) and when Dawn swam they did not have the 50 or 200 free (although she was in the final of the 400 free including 1 medal at the Olympics) so she would probably done well in the 200 free (she set world records in the 200 between 1956 and 1960).

theloniuspunk
Reply to  Torchbearer
8 days ago

But how many ISL skins races did Dawn Fraser win?!

(I voted for de Bruijn, but I agree that Dawn Fraser would make sense.)

Dan
Reply to  Torchbearer
7 days ago

I think a % comparison is a much more fair/correct way to look at it because if Sarah was going to lower the WR in the 100 Free by 5.6 seconds we would end around a 46.4 (about half a second faster than the men’s record). Dawn lowered the record by about 8.7% (which would be the same as Sarah lowering the 100 free to 47.54). The reason I used Sarah as the example is that she was the last one to lower the world record (52.06 to 51.71 in 2017).
Sarah is one of my favorite active swimmers and it is neat to see how good she is at sprinting because when she was younger people said she… Read more »

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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