The Five Best Swimming Stats From The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

The swimming competition in Tokyo gave us a little bit of everything. Shocking upsets, superstars putting their dominance on display, and some incredibly exciting, razor-thin finishes that brought us out of our seats.

It was also a very fast meet. Sure, there weren’t a ton of world records, but stacking it up against other major international competitions that have taken place recently, the 2020 Olympics produced some incredibly quick times.

And then there were some long winning streaks snapped, some that stayed alive, and some extended droughts were busted.

Now that we’ve all had almost three weeks to digest what went down at the Olympic Aquatics Centre, here are the five best, most interesting, sure-to-surprise statistics from Tokyo.

1. Three Individual Gold Medalists Weren’t At The 2019 World Championships

Much was made of how the one-year Olympic postponement helped some of the younger swimmers progress and gain ground on the established names, and that rings true for Ahmed HafnaouiLydia Jacoby and Bobby Finke more so than anyone else.

None of those three swimmers qualified to even compete at the 2019 World Championships, and they went on to win individual gold at the Olympics.

In Hafnaoui’s case, his country of Tunisia didn’t even field a team at the pool swimming competition in Gwangju. The only Tunisian athlete at the 2019 World Championships was Ous Mellouli—who Hafnaoui is, in many ways, following in the footsteps of—who only competed in the men’s 10km open water event.

One month after those 2019 Worlds, Hafnaoui was in action at the World Junior Championships in Budapest, where he didn’t even make the final in the 400 freestyle (placing 10th in 3:52.05), the event in which he ultimately won Olympic gold (clocking 3:43.36).

Jacoby, who was only 15 in the summer of 2019, won the U.S. Junior title that August in the women’s 100 breaststroke in a best time of 1:08.12. She then chipped her PB down to 1:07.57 in November 2020, and then progressively knocked almost three seconds off of that to win Olympic gold in a time of 1:04.95.

Finke is the only one of the three that was in a position to be a contender at the 2019 Worlds, swimming faster times in the 800 and 1500 free—the events he ultimately won in Tokyo—than both of the American entrants in Gwangju at the 2019 U.S. Championships at Stanford.

The University of Florida Gator still showed drastic improvement in two short years, however, as he was almost six seconds faster in the 800 Olympic final than he was in 2019 (7:41.87 compared to 7:47.58) and more than 11 quicker in the 1500 (14:39.65 compared to 14:51.15).

In addition to these three individual champions, below find a list of swimmers that won Olympic gold as part of a relay team that weren’t at the 2019 World Championships:

And here are the individual silver and bronze medalists from Tokyo that didn’t compete at the 2019 World Championships:

It’s also worth noting that China’s Zhang Yufei won gold in the women’s 200 butterfly after only finishing 26th in the event at the 2019 Worlds. Two other champions, Tom Dean (men’s 200 free) and Emma McKeon (women’s 50 free), were in Gwangju but didn’t race those specific events.

2. Emma McKeon Makes History

The accolades came pouring in for Emma McKeon as the week went on in Tokyo, as the 27-year-old Australian emerged from the Games with a staggering seven-medal haul, including four golds.

McKeon won the women’s 50 and 100 freestyle individually, and added two first-place finishes on the Australian women’s 4×100 free and 4×100 medley relays. She added three bronze medals in the 100 butterfly, 4×200 free relay and the mixed 4×100 medley relay, giving her a total of seven medals, two more than the next-highest athlete from any sport, which happened to be fellow swimmer Caeleb Dressel.

Here’s a list of some of McKeon’s accomplishments from her seven-medal performance:

3. Bronze Medal-Winning Time Faster Than 2019 World Gold In Seven Events

There were seven events on the program that required a time faster than what it took to win the World Championship title in 2019 to simply get on the podium.

Event 2021 Olympic Bronze 2019 World Gold
Men’s 200 free 1:44.66 1:44.93
Men’s 100 back 52.19 52.43
Women’s 100 back 58.05 58.60
Women’s 100 fly 55.72 55.83
Women’s 200 fly 2:05.65 2:06.78
Women’s 4×200 free relay 7:41.29 7:41.50
Mixed 4×100 medley relay 3:38.95 3:39.08

The men’s 200 IM also came close to joining the list, with a time of 1:56.17 required to win bronze in Tokyo and 1:56.14 winning in Gwangju.

The opposite was also true in two races, the men’s 400 and 1500 freestyle. At the 2019 World Championships, it took respective times of 3:43.23 and 14:38.57 to win bronze, and at the Olympics, clockings of 3:43.36 and 14:39.65 won gold.

There were also six events that had a faster bronze medal-winning time compared to the time needed to win Olympic gold in 2016.

Event 2021 Olympic Bronze 2016 Olympic Gold
Men’s 100 free 47.44 47.58
Men’s 200 breast 2:07.13 2:07.46
Women’s 100 free 52.52 52.70
Women’s 100 back 58.05 58.45
Women’s 4×200 free relay 7:41.29 7:43.03
Women’s 4×100 medley relay 3:52.60 3:53.13

4. Gold Or Nothing: Dressel Joins Elite Company With Unique Record

Just like McKeon, Caeleb Dressel‘s performance at the Games was nothing short of spectacular.

Dressel swept his individual events, claiming gold in the men’s 50 free, 100 free and 100 fly, and added two more victories in the men’s 4×100 free and 4×100 medley relays (lowering world records in the 100 fly and medley relay).

Dressel’s three individual gold medals made him the first male swimmer to do so since Michael Phelps won five on his own in 2008.

The 24-year-old Dressel also became just the fourth male swimmer to win five gold medals at a single Olympics, joining Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi.

But a less obvious record that Dressel became apart of in Tokyo involved his unique stat of having now won seven Olympic medals—all of which are gold.

Only Dressel, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, American track and field athlete Ray Ewry and Russian artistic swimmer Svetlana Romashina have won seven or more Olympic gold medals without ever claiming silver or bronze. Both Bolt and Ewry won eight career Olympic golds, while Romashina added her sixth and seventh gold medals in Tokyo as the ROC swept the artistic swimming events.

In addition to his five in Tokyo, Dressel also won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio on the men’s 4×100 free and 4×100 medley relays. And while he hasn’t stood on the silver or bronze-medal positions of an Olympic podium, Dressel has missed the medals altogether twice, placing sixth in the 100 free in 2016 and anchoring the Americans to fifth in the mixed 4×100 medley relay in 2021.

5. Finke Busts American Distance Drought, Rylov Ends Backstroke Streak

The longest gold medal medal drought in American Olympic swimming was put to an end in Tokyo by Bobby Finke.

The 21-year-old Finke won an upset gold medal in the men’s 1500 freestyle, becoming the first American victor since Mike O’Brien won in 1984.

Now, the longest dry spell belongs to the men’s 400 free, where the last victory from the U.S. also came in 1984 from George DiCarlo. (For what it’s worth, the men’s 400 free was the only event in which the Americans failed to podium in Rio, and Kieran Smith got them back on the medal stand with a bronze in Tokyo.)

As one U.S. drought ended, another vaunted streak came to an end.

The American men had won gold in both the 100 and 200 backstroke at every Olympics dating back to 1996, giving the country 12 straight victories in the discipline.

ROC’s Evgeny Rylov put an end to that run by winning both events in Tokyo, with Ryan Murphy, the double backstroke champion in Rio, falling to bronze in the 100 and silver in the 200.

More Streaks:

  • The U.S. placed fourth in the men’s 4×200 free relay, marking the first time an American men’s relay wasn’t on the Olympic podium (excluding the 1980 boycott).
  • With Yui Ohashi winning both the women’s 200 and 400 IM, it marked the seventh straight time that the female medley events were swept at the Olympics.
  • The American winning streak in the men’s 200 IM was cut at four, as China’s Wang Shun won gold after Phelps had claimed four in a row from 2004 to 2016.

Bonus: Bruno Fratus Is Oldest First-Time Olympic Swimming Medalist

Brazilian Bruno Fratus‘ bronze medal victory in the men’s 50 freestyle made him the oldest swimmer to win his first Olympic medal in history.

Fratus, 32, surpassed the record previously held by American David Plummer, who won his first Olympic medal in Rio at the age of 30.

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2 years ago

Here’s a stat for you; .09

That’s how fast ZApple’s reaction times from the 400 free and medley relays were… combined.

2 years ago

Wow Mary T would have gotten the silver by 3 tenths of a second with her ‘81 world record time. 40 years ago! I’m just going to say she would have won gold lol.

2 years ago

Some questions I’ve been looking forward to the next quad:

  • If Ledecky is still a medal contender and still #1 or 2 in the US in 2024, but no longer a realistic gold prospect in the 400free, let’s say she’s a 4:00 – 4:01 swimmer, does Ledecky still swim it? Will we see her more as a 800/1500 swimmer going forward? Surely, the best thing for her legacy is to focus on defending her 800/1500 titles.
  • If the quality of the field continues to improve in the 100free, 100fly and 50free to the point where Dressel is no longer the favorite to win in the 100free (e.g. if Popovici fulfills prophecies), and faces realistically tough competition in
… Read more »

Reply to  john26
2 years ago

I honestly think the future of Ledecky is up to debate. She said in an interview that she wasn’t sure if she was going to stay in the west coast upon finishing at Stanford or move back to Maryland which means a potential coaching change that would probably have an effect on her training. The 800/1500 are her stronger events but usually aging swimmers have a disadvantage in those events so she may decide to focus on the 200/400 especially with the motivation of reclaiming the 400 gold (which may require breaking a world record)

I feel like the back to back worlds may help her decide on her goals for 2024 but it’s pretty much very ambiguous what her… Read more »

Reply to  Dressel1234
2 years ago

I think the future of Ledecky really depends on who else comes along. I don’t see her getting faster than Tokyo.

She might find those times are good enough to sweep 4/8/15 in Paris (and potentially LA) – only Titmus was in the same postcode in the 4 in Tokyo – equally someone (Sullivan/Macintosh/who knows) comes along and does what Ledecky did to Adlington

Terry Watts
2 years ago

Why can’t we do this every year?!?

tea rex
2 years ago

I wonder if it will become the norm for the same swimmer to win the 800 and 1500, like in the women’s IMs. I’m actually okay with that, considering how inflated sprinters’ medal counts can be. Instead of the mixed MR, I’d rather see a distance relay.

M d e
Reply to  tea rex
2 years ago

They’re very similar events it would be weird if they didn’t have similar fields and podiums.

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  tea rex
2 years ago

I’d like to see a mixed 4 x 400, just like track.

Reply to  Awsi Dooger
2 years ago

That would be boring… Track 4×400 is equivalent to pool 4×100 anyway as 400m running and 100m swimming are more or less the same in every aspect(race time, type of effort, etc.).
Plus you’d have to bring in some extra relay only swimmers which would inflate the number of competitors even more.

I think the big excitement about relays is seeing how much faster 4 swimmers can swim than one swimmer over the same distance.
In sprints, the difference is huge. In longer events it becomes closer and closer… What would the times over a 4×400 be, considering it’s very unlikely for a single nation to have 4 elite 400s? 4×3:47 for the men(15:08)? 4×4:05 for the women(16:20)?… Read more »

Last edited 2 years ago by Bud
Reply to  Bud
2 years ago

Sorry, math mistake. The mixed time would be 15:34 which further cements my point- that’s not even a competitive time over 1500 for men, wouldn’t even win the women’s 1500, and is slower than a hypothetical 1600 WR if there were to be one.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bud
tea rex
Reply to  Bud
2 years ago

Relays aren’t about times, they’re about racing. Who wouldn’t want to see Ledecky chase someone with a 5-second head start?

Reply to  Bud
2 years ago

Australia has more than 4 elite male 400s: Winnington, McLoughlin, Horton, Neill, Short

Reply to  Bud
2 years ago

How many countries could beat prime Ledecky in a relay mile?

Reply to  tea rex
2 years ago

Men’s 800 and 1500 free weren’t won by the same person at the last three world championships.
2015: Sun won 800, Paltrinieri won 1500.
2017: Detti won 800, Paltrinieri won 1500.
2019: Paltrinieri won 800, Wellbrock won 1500.

Reply to  tea rex
2 years ago

Mixed 4×200 free would be interesting though

Reply to  tea rex
2 years ago

Based on WC, yes, they are usually very similar podiums. I’m not personally a huge fan of having both, because they seem like essentially the same race to me, but oh well.

Reply to  Sub13
2 years ago

The men’s podium at last two world championships were not similar at all.
Budapest 2017 – Detti, Wojdak, Paltrinieri on podium in 800 free. Paltrinieri, Romanchuk, Horton on podium for 1500 free.
Gwangju 2019 – Paltrinieri, Christiansen, Aubry on podium in 800 free. Wellbrock, Romanchuk, Paltrinieri on podium for 1500 free.
Only Paltrinieri made both.

2 years ago

The American streak in the 2IM? Did you mean the Michael Phelps streak?

tea rex
Reply to  Justhereforfun
2 years ago

I prefer to think of it as “extending the American streak of a disappointing 5th in the 2IM”

Last edited 2 years ago by tea rex
2 years ago

Worth noting that Ray Ewry was a perfect 8 for 8 in Olympic competition giving him the record (by a decent margin) for the most gold medals from someone who never lost an event.


I just checked and now it looks like Svetlana Romashina is 7 for 7, so you can scratch that “by a decent margin” part.

Last edited 2 years ago by frug
2 years ago

Some interesting stats there.

Also very interesting that, had Dressel swam the 4×200, him and McKeon would have swam the exact same 7 events, and both been the standout performer of their gender.

Reply to  Sub13
2 years ago

Had Dressel swam the 4×200, he wouldn’t have won the 100 free.

Both Chalmers & McKeon swam the 4 X 200 free, but were off their best to save themselves for the 100 free the next day. This may have cause Australia to lose the silver in the Men’s 4×200 & gold in the women’s, together with the poor coaching decision in the woman’s 4×200.

Both Chalmers & McKeon more proven 200 metres swimmers then Dressel.

Last edited 2 years ago by Robbos
Steve Nolan
Reply to  Robbos
2 years ago

You think Chalmers and McKeon purposely held back in the 4×2? That seems…highly unlikely.

Reply to  Steve Nolan
2 years ago

I doubt if they deliberately held back. But I could imagine it happening sub consciously.

Reply to  Robbos
2 years ago

Yes that’s quite possible, but even without it he’s still the standout male of the meet.

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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