The Longest Current American Gold Medal Drought In Olympic Individual Events

by Daniel Takata 89

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
4 months ago

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

Troyy
Reply to  Eula Moore
4 months ago

3:40

Nope

ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  Eula Moore
4 months ago

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

Swimgeek
Reply to  Eula Moore
4 months 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
4 months ago

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

DCSwim
Reply to  swimfast
4 months ago

Me me I do I do

Swimmer
Reply to  swimfast
4 months 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
4 months 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 4 months ago by swimfast
Swimmer
Reply to  swimfast
4 months 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
4 months ago

Haha. Good one.

AnEn
Reply to  Eula Moore
4 months 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
4 months ago

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

DCSwim
4 months ago

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

Rafael
Reply to  DCSwim
4 months ago

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

Max Hardie
Reply to  Rafael
4 months 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
4 months 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
4 months 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
4 months 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
4 months 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
4 months 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
4 months ago

200IM we also have mckeown now

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Rafael
4 months 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 4 months ago by Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
flex tape cant fix that
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
4 months ago

cough*Hali Flickinger*cough

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
4 months ago

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

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
4 months 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, …..

PNW
4 months ago

Don’t sleep on Jordan Wlimovsky. He took 4th in Rio in the 1500.

AnEn
Reply to  PNW
4 months ago

Sleep for what? Surely you don’t mean for a medal?

Dudeman
Reply to  AnEn
4 months ago

Well one of the medalists (Yeager) isn’t returning and he was 4th, not a wild prediction for him to snag a bronze

Caleb
4 months ago

Call me crazy, but I think Bobby Finke has a puncher’s chance in the 1500. His best is 14:48 (not 14:51) and that was a few years ago; he’s dropped his 1650 quite a bit but hasn’t had a chance to swim tapered in the big pool for two years. In the short pool, he’s cruising 14:12s like it’s nothing… For this summer. 14:40 or faster doesn’t feel like a big stretch and that should be in the mix to win.

Marklewis
Reply to  Caleb
4 months ago

Yes, he’s the best distance swimmer the USA has this time around.

To get on the podium he’ll need an American record, something like a 14:37 or better.

He’ll have to near the leaders most of the way. The last WCs came down to nearly a sprint finish.

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
Reply to  Caleb
4 months ago

The problem is he’s going to need to be significantly faster then 14:40. Paltrinieri and Wellbrock I predict will be at 14:32 or 14:31.

Caleb
Reply to  SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
4 months ago

“Puncher’s chance” doesn’t mean I think he’s the favorite… it means it wouldn’t be shocking to go 14:35 with a great race, and those guys might be a couple seconds off and then who knows?

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
Reply to  Caleb
4 months ago

Personally, it would be quite shocking to see him go 14:35.

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
4 months ago

And would be a little shocking if both Paltrinieri and Wellbrock are not faster than 14:35.

Last edited 4 months ago by Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
AnEn
Reply to  Caleb
4 months ago

Do people who upvote comments like that even follow (international) swimming?

ONLY 3 MEN IN HISTORY HAVE GONE 14:35 OR FASTER.

Wellbrock, Romanchuk and Mellouli never went 14:35, but Finke going 14:35 wouldn’t be shocking …

Maxharde
Reply to  SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
4 months ago

In my opinion Grgic we will earn gold, silver for Welbrock and bronze for Romanchuk. Paltrinieri out of podium, as well as Finke. There is no American swimmer with the stroke efficiency of these 3 swimmers (less than 30 strokes per pool) or Sung Yang the cheater. Maybe Kieran Smith, but unsure he will qualify for the 400

DLswim
Reply to  Maxharde
4 months ago

Paltrinieri’s turnover is crazy, something like 35 strokes per length.

Max Hardie
Reply to  DLswim
4 months ago

I would say 40 at least

AnEn
Reply to  Maxharde
4 months ago

Not sure what part of your comment earned you so many downvotes, but Grgic could definitely win gold. At this point it is impossible to tell where he is at. He might break the world record in Tokyo or not make the final.

Max Hardie
Reply to  AnEn
4 months ago

Don’t know either, I think it has to do with my opinion that Europeans and Aussies tend to have a nicer and more efficient style.

Max Hardie
Reply to  Maxharde
4 months ago

Grgic swam 14.46 in 2019, at 16 years old! He has just turned 18, would like to see how fast he goes in Tokyo.

Comet
Reply to  Caleb
4 months ago

I think Finke will be around 14.41 at the trials and 14.36 at the Olympics

AnEn
Reply to  Caleb
4 months ago

14:40 will realistically only be in the mix if bot Romanchuk and Grgic won’t have their expected level, otherwise it will likely take 14:36 or faster to medal. If you still wouldn’t be shocked by Finke dropping at least 12 seconds and clearly breaking the american record, then it certainly takes a lot to shock you.
For reference: Lukas Märtens went 14:49 this year already and is more than 2 years younger than Finke, but i would never consider giving him a “puncher’s chance” to medal.

Last edited 4 months ago by AnEn
ClubCoach
Reply to  Caleb
4 months ago

He hasn’t swum a tapered/uninjured 1500 since 2018 Pan Pacs where he went 14:48.70. That was before he got to college. His 1650 that year (2018) was 14:37.49..

Honest Observer
4 months ago

Kieran Smith has an outside shot in the 400. He doesn’t have a time which makes him an “official” contender, but if you look at his pattern of improvement, at his early season 3:47+, his 200 LCM of 1:46-low from 2019, and his pair of 4:06’s for the 500, it’s pretty apparent that the potential is there.

DLswim
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

Ugh, LCM >> SCY.

Will 37
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

I agree that Kieran is probably the best shot for the US, but I do think that SCY 500 translates better to 200 in the LCM instead of the 400.

AnEn
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

I don’t think he has an outside shot at gold, but maybe he can go 3:43 and challenge for bronze.

Marklewis
4 months ago

Maybe Flickinger will win the 200 fly gold.

It’s a wide open event. So a 2:03 or so.

Rafael
Reply to  Marklewis
4 months ago

So flickinger would casually be faster than jiao and specially zige who is the only one with a 2:04 flat textile. And only them went sub 2:04:5

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Rafael
4 months ago

Best Times
Women’s 200 FL
Flickinger – 2:05.87 (07/25/2018)
Hasegawa – 2:05.62 (08/29/2020)
Yifan or Yufei – 2:05.49 (01/01/2021)

HJones
4 months ago

I don’t see any of the droughts on the men’s side ending in Tokyo.