The United States have won every individual (pool) event included in the current swimming Olympic program – with the obvious exception of the men’s 800 freestyle and women’s 1500 freestyle, which will make their debut in Tokyo next summer.
There are some events in which the United States have a long winning streak, such as the men’s 100 and 200 backstroke, where the last U.S. defeat in both came in 1992.
But there are some other events that the American swimmers have not been able to win for multiple decades. Instagram’s Swimming Stats page has published the longest current U.S. gold medal dry spells in Olympic individual events.
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(Note that the marathon swimming event, introduced in 2008, is not taken into account. By the way, the United States have never won a gold medal in the 10 km in Olympics.)
Considering the 26 individual events contested in the 2016 Olympics, the United States has won 17 of them at least once in the last two Olympic Games. So, there is not much room for many extended dry streaks.
But, there are a few of them.
The last time American swimmers won the men’s 400 free, the men’s 1500 free and the women’s 200 IM was in 1984 – 37 years ago.
These are not the longest dry spells of the United States in swimming individual events in Olympic history. No American swimmer won the women’s 200 breast from 1924 – the event’s Olympic debut – until 1968. In other words, the event didn’t have an American swimmer on the top of the podium for 44 years.
What are the odds for the USA to repeat those 1984 victories?
In the women’s 200 IM, Kathleen Baker and Melanie Margalis swam in the 2:08 territory in 2019, and the only one who has cracked 2:08 since then has been Katinka Hosszu. If the Iron Lady is not at her best in Tokyo, the Americans might have a shot.
A gold medal in the men’s distance events, however, is more unlikely. The fastest swimmer in the 400 free has been Zane Grothe, but he will have to swim significantly faster than his 3:45 from the 2019 World Championships to even reach the podium. In the 1500 free, Bobby Finke has been the fastest American with a 14:51, and probably it will take a sub 14:40 to medal in Tokyo.
It has been a while since we saw American swimmers at the top of the world rankings in the men’s distance events. And, given today’s scenario, it seems that won’t be changing anytime soon. So, it is not going to be a surprise if the United States do not win gold medals in the men’s 400 and 1500 free (and the 800) in 2021 and 2024. If this happens, the longest U.S. dry spell in swimming will be equaled.
On the other hand, since 1984 on the women’s side, we’ve seen the emergence of athletes like Janet Evans, Brooke Bennett, and Katie Ledecky – some of the greatest distance swimmers of all time, each of them having won three Olympic gold medals in the 400 and 800 free.
These numbers show the huge gap between the much-decorated female distance swimmers from the United States in the last couple of decades and the not-so decorated male swimmers. What can be done for the American male swimmers to reach the top of the podium once again in the distance events?