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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breaststroker
2 months ago

It’s crazy how much faster the 2 fly women’s bronze medal was than the world champ in 2019

swimfan210_
Reply to  breaststroker
2 months ago

Weird observation: since the supersuit era ended, the women’s 200 fly seems to peak in the Olympic years and somewhat regress in other years. https://swimswam.com/looking-at-the-last-decade-of-the-womens-200-fly/

Corn Pop
Reply to  swimfan210_
2 months ago

Women want to preserve their shoulders ? Maybe its like the marathon before pharma boosters , whereit was said you only have X amount of marathons until your brain seizes up & says no more.

Adelaide
2 months ago

Most surprising stat on Emma McKeon is that, never having won a freestyle race at a World Championship or Olympics and never having even reached a podium in a World or Olympic freestyle race below a 200m race–and coming off of shoulder problems–she became at age 27 (in her first shot at it) the sprinting winner of both the Olympic 50m Free and 100m Free. Granted, she benefitted from the Sjostrom injury, Manuel setback, relative lack of covid restrictions, and yes the Campbell sisters had blocked her somewhat, but still…

Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Adelaide
2 months ago

I won’t say she benefited from Sjostrom and Manuel’s setbacks. She’s the first women ever to break 52 in an individual 100 free. I don’t think Sjostrom and Manuel are very likely to do it even at their best.

jeff
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
2 months ago

I mean Sjostrom has the world record and Manuel is like a twentieth off of sub 52. I doubt either of them would’ve gone faster then McKeon, but it would’ve at least been competition and probably would’ve affected McKeon psychologically to some extent, although her 100 free times from Tokyo were super consistent anyway

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  jeff
2 months ago

Sjostrom’s starts were not explosive. That was the curious aspect. She was finishing fine but lagging her norm at 15 meters. The only race she got off reasonably well was 50 final.

Troyy
Reply to  Adelaide
2 months ago

It’s becoming apparent that she should’ve trained as a 50/100 sprinter sooner rather than focusing on the 200.

Dressel1234
Reply to  Troyy
2 months ago

I’ve noticed that older swimmers are usually stronger in sprint events than distance so it was smart of McKeon to switch to the sprint races as she aged

torchbearer
Reply to  Adelaide
2 months ago

McKeon didn’t get any easy races, she more-or-less broke the OR or WR or AR or qualified fastest in every swim (even the 4×200 with the bronze!)….she didnt need to benefit from any outside factors except her own performance.

Nick
Reply to  torchbearer
2 months ago

To me, an interesting statistic is that two female Australians with fairly recent shoulder problems (McKeon and Titmus) collected 11 medals combined for Australia. It has been publicly reported that Titmus (who did not swim a LCM race for 16 months after 2019 World Champs) hired an ex-pro rugby trainer (Jeremy Hickmans) to oversee an extraordinary recovery that took her from being largely out of the water for three months (Dec-Mar 2021) with a subscap rotator cuff issue to setting two near WRs at AUS Trials just a few months later. Few details have been given however. Even less is known about McKeon’s progression from a 200 Free/100 Fly swimmer with shoulder issues to an Olympic sprint sensation. It would… Read more »

Robbos
Reply to  Adelaide
2 months ago

Geez, how many excuses has Manuel got? She surfed on the back of Campbell to win Olympics 5 years. won from lane 1 in last WC, with a time she had not gone close to before or after.
McKeon has 9 swims below 52.5, while Manuel only 2. Think you should be looking at Manuel more then McKeon.

Dressel1234
2 months ago

This makes me curious about how Dressel will fare at the Paris Olympics. At an older age, will he remain consistent and be ambitious for more, or will he fall off? It seems like many stars of the Rio games fell off this year, so who knows what will happen.

Observer
Reply to  Dressel1234
2 months ago

Send him to train with Fratus or Hayden

FratusWinsGoldInParis
Reply to  Dressel1234
2 months ago

He should keep his explosion nicely for the next 3 years.

I’d like to see him have fun at 2022 worlds and do the 4×200 relay and an off event

Dressel1234
Reply to  FratusWinsGoldInParis
2 months ago

Seeing Milak’s surge, he may have to watch out for him in the 100fly

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Dressel1234
2 months ago

Ooh, keeping the stats going – he won the 100 fly and 100 free by a combined 0.29s, won the 50 by 0.48.

Definitely has way less margin for error in those 100s, the field is just so much better. (The rest of the 50 field isn’t any better the field in 2016 or 2012, but Milak and Chalmers et al are huge steps forward.)

Eagleswim
Reply to  Steve Nolan
2 months ago

Considering the errors he made in the fly, I’d say his margin for error is larger than the final times would indicate. A big chunk of possible error is already baked in there

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Eagleswim
2 months ago

If Milak were in his late 20s I’d agree with you, but he should keep improving there as well. But unless MA moves into the event I don’t really see anyone else going under 50 for a while, so they’re both way ahead of the field…

…unlike the 100 free, where just making the dang podium is gonna get insane. Dressel is 25 and two years older than Chalmers, the NEXT oldest person from the 100 free final in Tokyo. Two guys are 22, two are 21, and the last two were 18 and 16.

I tend to hate predicting any one swimmer going from like a 47 high to a 47.0, but given how many there are there’s… Read more »

Spectatorn
2 months ago

good article! Lots of surprise and great races in Tokyo.
I recall hearing or reading (in SS comment) that Dressel has another first by wining 50m Free, 100 Free and 100 Fly in the same Olympic… can someone confirm if that is the true?

Last edited 2 months ago by Spectatorn
Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Spectatorn
2 months ago

I’m sure de Bruijn did that in 2000.
On the men’s side perhaps yes. 50 free was added to Olympics program in 1988, and as far as I can remember, none of the men’s 50 free champions also won 100 fly. Biondi was once very close to this achievement but lost by 0.01 to Nesty who is now coaching Dressel. That’s pretty interesting.

Last edited 2 months ago by Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Steve Nolan
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
2 months ago

I don’t think Nesty is coaching Dressel.

Sub13
2 months 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.

Robbos
Reply to  Sub13
2 months 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 months ago by Robbos
Steve Nolan
Reply to  Robbos
2 months ago

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

bigNowhere
Reply to  Steve Nolan
2 months ago

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

Sub13
Reply to  Robbos
2 months ago

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

frug
2 months 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.

Edit:

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 months ago by frug
Justhereforfun
2 months ago

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

tea rex
Reply to  Justhereforfun
2 months ago

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

Last edited 2 months ago by tea rex
tea rex
2 months 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 months 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 months ago

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

Bud
Reply to  Awsi Dooger
2 months 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 months ago by Bud
Bud
Reply to  Bud
2 months 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 months ago by Bud
tea rex
Reply to  Bud
2 months 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?

Troyy
Reply to  Bud
2 months ago

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

Penguin
Reply to  Bud
2 months ago

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

susuly
Reply to  tea rex
2 months 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.

Dressel1234
Reply to  tea rex
2 months ago

Mixed 4×200 free would be interesting though

Sub13
Reply to  tea rex
2 months 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.

whever
Reply to  Sub13
2 months 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.

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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