The Longest Current American Gold Medal Drought In Olympic Individual Events

by Daniel Takata 95

April 26th, 2021 National, SwimmingStats

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.

(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?

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Eula Moore
12 days ago

Zane goes hot and cold. I could see him going 3:40 or 3:54 in the 400.

Troyy
Reply to  Eula Moore
12 days ago

3:40

Nope

ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  Eula Moore
12 days ago

More like 3:44-3:46 when rested.
Non rest meets don’t mean anything.

Swimgeek
Reply to  Eula Moore
12 days ago

Huh what? Or he’ll go 3:44-3:46 but that’s probably not good enuf for a medal

swimfast
Reply to  Eula Moore
12 days ago

Ok but also who thinks Phelps could’ve won gold if he took the 400 fr seriously..

DCSwim
Reply to  swimfast
12 days ago

Me me I do I do

Swimmer
Reply to  swimfast
12 days ago

Maybe in 08, no other year, but then we wouldn’t have seen a 4.03 from him which to me, is far more impressive than 3.41

swimfast
Reply to  Swimmer
12 days ago

I think a combo of a 4:03 ability with his 47.5/1:42.9 freestyle would equate to something far better than 3:41…

Last edited 12 days ago by swimfast
Swimmer
Reply to  swimfast
12 days ago

Unfortunately we will never know. Both 400s are conducted on the same day, so hard to imagine anyone pulling that crazy double.

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Eula Moore
12 days ago

Haha. Good one.

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Eula Moore
12 days ago

lol 3:40

AnEn
Reply to  Eula Moore
12 days ago

Seriously? You realize that only three men have been 3:40 (Biedermann, Thorpe and Yang) and Yang was the only one to do it in textile … ?
Also: Biedermann at 22 years of age was the oldest one to ever go 3:40, Yang went 3:40 twice at 19 and 20, Thorpe went 3:40 three times at 17, 18 and 19.
Noone older than 25 has ever gone faster than 3:42.44 (Yang at 27), noone older than 27 has ever gone faster than 3:43.84 (Hackett at 28), noone at 29 or older ever went faster than 3:45.19 (Rosolino at 29). Grothe turned 29 last week.

Commonwealths>Pan Pacs
Reply to  AnEn
11 days ago

Thorpe may have been in full body suit, but it was also a textile swim.

DCSwim
12 days ago

The US drought in those events would’ve been longer if Salnikov was in LA

Rafael
Reply to  DCSwim
12 days ago

Yes
Salkinov was to be The first men to Win 3 golds on same event

Max Hardie
Reply to  Rafael
12 days ago

No we was not. He won gold in 1500 in 1980 and 1988. The first one to win 3 was Phelps in 200 IM in London 2012 (and then 4 in Rio 2016).

Dudeman
Reply to  Max Hardie
11 days ago

I feel like you didn’t read all of the words that Rafael typed out, the “was to be” implies he would have been the first to win 3 in a row

Ecoach
Reply to  DCSwim
12 days ago

Although the world record holder in the 400 Free Peter Szmidt from Canada was there. Not at the top of his game like in 1980 unfortunately. Interestingly also Thomas Fahrner in the consolation heat went 3:50.8 or something like that and was faster than George Di Carlo’s gold medal time. Both would have beaten Salnikov in the 400 in his prime. Salnikov was a great miler. Not as good in the 400. I believe this is the first and only time the Olympics had a consol final.

DCSwim
Reply to  Ecoach
12 days ago

Salnikov went 3:49.27 at the Friendship Games held concurrently with the Olympics and was the world record holder with a 3:48.32 from the year before, so I assume he would’ve won in LA in the 400 too

PhillyMark
12 days ago

Each of the 4 aforementioned women’s events have a strong possibility (maybe a little ambitious in 4IM) of USA gold this summer

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  PhillyMark
12 days ago

Best Times
Women’s 200 IM
Margalis – 2:08.70
Ohashi – 02:07.91

Best Times
Women’s 400 IM
Margalis – 4:32.53
Ohashi – 4:30.82

I would not bet against the Japanese on home soil.

Rafael
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
12 days ago

200IM we also have mckeown now

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Rafael
12 days ago

The USA failed to medal in the women’s 200 meter individual medley and the women’s 400 meter individual medley at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships.

As for the women’s 200 meter butterfly, I’ll wait to see what time Regan Smith posts at the 2021 TYR Pro Swim Series – Indianapolis, IN that’s if Regan Smith shows up for the event.

Last edited 12 days ago by Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
flex tape cant fix that
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
12 days ago

cough*Hali Flickinger*cough

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
12 days ago

Baker was coming off the rib fractures at 2019 Worlds. Would not count her out.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
12 days ago

The women’s 200 IM has become a total crapshoot at the 2021 Olympic Team Trials. Not one single swimmer has put down a marker in calendar year 2021: Baker, Cox, Forde, Margalis, Walsh (Alex), Huske, …..