The Olympics That Would Have Been: Mega-Stars Shine On Day 2

Following our “The Trials That Would Have Been” series, where we predicted how the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials would’ve played out had the event not been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, this week will feature a similar series for the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games.

Pool swimming was set to kick off on the evening of July 25 local time, with finals contested the following morning. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of Eastern time, so finals were slated to run from 9:30-11:20 pm EST. For the purpose of this exercise, each session will be published on the corresponding day those finals would’ve happened in the United States.

This will be a day-by-day trip into the hypothetical, analyzing the events that would have happened, and how they might’ve played out. Forgive me as I try to reel in my imagination and keep the times *somewhat* realistic. Feel free to add your own predictions, picks, humorous quips and more in the comments below!

After an exhilarating opening day of swimming in the parallel universe 2020 Olympic Games, Day 2 promises to bring the heat with several big names competing in individual finals including Katie LedeckyAdam Peaty and Sarah Sjostrom — not to mention the meet debut of American Caeleb Dressel.


Women’s 100m Butterfly Final

Would it be a changing of the guard, or would Sarah Sjostrom, the proverbial queen of the event over the last five years, reclaim her stead as the best in the world? Maggie MacNeil had roared home to unseat the incumbent Sjostrom at the 2019 Worlds, but the 26-year-old Swede proved she is still in her prime.

Blasting out in 25.58, Sjostrom held off the Canadian in 29.88 coming back for a final time of 55.46, edging her world record set at the Rio Olympics by .02. MacNeil, who recorded the fastest-ever second 50 in Gwangju in 29.06, came back even faster but it wasn’t enough to run down Sjostrom. The Michigan Wolverine split 26.56/28.99 for a final time of 55.55, giving her two Olympic silver medals through two nights of competition.

In the race for bronze, Kelsi Dahlia executes perfectly for a time of 56.35, out-touching Australia’s Emma McKeon (56.47). Anastasiya Shkurdai of Belarus brings her national record down for a third time at the meet, touching in 56.62 for fifth.


  1. Sarah Sjostrom, SWE, 55.46 WR
  2. Maggie MacNeil, CAN, 55.55
  3. Kelsi Dahlia, USA, 56.35

Men’s 100m Breaststroke Final

Adam Peaty once again makes the field look like they’re swimming with drag socks on in the final of the men’s 100 breast, as he continues his unprecedented run in the event. Starting at the 2015 World Championships, he hasn’t lost the event in a major final and has reset the world record five times over that span.

The trend continued tonight, as Peaty roared out to the lead in 26.28 before closing in 30.04 for a final time of 56.32, demolishing his world record of 56.88 from 2019.

Having lost his position as #2 of all-time in the semi-finals, Ilya Shymanovich of Belarus uses some tantalizing opening speed (26.78) en route to joining Peaty in the sub-58 club, putting up a 57.97 to win the silver medal. After a 58.11 in the semis, Arno Kamminga earns the Netherlands its first medal in the pool in 58.21. James Wilby, Andrew Wilson, Kirill Prigoda and Nicolo Martinenghi also get themselves under the 59-second threshold.


  1. Adam Peaty, GBR, 56.32 WR
  2. Ilya Shymanovich, BLR, 57.97
  3. Arno Kamminga, NED, 58.21

Women’s 400m Freestyle Final

Similar to MacNeil upsetting Sjostrom in the 100 fly, Ariarne Titmus had sent shockwaves around the sporting world when she dethroned Katie Ledecky in the women’s 400 freestyle at the 2019 World Championships. It was later revealed that Ledecky was dealing with illness during the meet, even causing her to withdraw from the 200 and 1500 free, but that didn’t take anything away from Titmus’ triumph.

After a statement 3:57 at U.S. Trials, Ledecky was out aggressively in tonight’s final: 1:56.90 at the 200m mark, under her world record pace. Titmus dared to go with her, just a shade back in 1:57.29, but it was Ledecky pulling away on the final 100 to defend the title. The American clocked in at 3:56.65, just off her 3:56.46 from Rio, for the second-fastest swim ever.

Titmus’ gutsy swim earned her silver, touching in 3:58.04 for a Commonwealth Record, while China’s Wang Jianjiahe (4:01.40) got by Ajna Kesely (4:01.69) and Leah Smith (4:01.76) in a competitive bronze battle.


  1. Katie Ledecky, USA, 3:56.65
  2. Ariarne Titmus, AUS, 3:58.04
  3. Wang Jianjiahe, CHN, 4:01.40

Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay

There was a certain buzz throughout the night, not only in the arena, but also on the NBC broadcast, not only for Ledecky’s first final, but for the meet debut of Caeleb Dressel. After seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships, and then a six-gold, eight-medal haul in 2019, the hype for Dressel’s 2020 Olympic program was in the vicinity of what Michael Phelps experienced prior to 2004.

The American men had reclaimed the men’s 4×100 free relay crown in 2016, with Dressel joining forces with none other than Phelps, and they had maintained their spot as the best in the world in this race with wins in 2017 and 2019. However, coming in there were no countries short of challenging them, including Russia, Australia, Brazil and Italy.

In Gwangju, the U.S. team of Dressel, Blake Pieroni, Zach Apple and Nathan Adrian had won by nine-tenths of a second in 3:09.06. If we swap in Dressel’s eventual time from the individual final (46.96) for his 47.63 lead-off, that theoretically would’ve placed the relay at 3:08.39. The world record? 3:08.24, from the epic swim in Beijing where Jason Lezak historically ran down France’s Alain Bernard with the fastest split ever: 46.06. In other words, the world record was within reach.

Dressel dove in alongside fellow lead-off men Evgeny Rylov, Jack Cartwright, Marcelo Chierighini, etc., and immediately took charge. Flipping in 22.27, he came in for an opening leg of 46.87, breaking Cesar Cielo‘s super-suited world record of 46.91 from 2009.

The Americans were challenged by the Russians, who received a pair of scorching 46s from the Vlads — Vladislav Grinev and Vladimir Morozov — on the middle legs, but ultimately prevailed by a half-second. Ryan Held (47.25), Blake Pieroni (47.27) and Adrian (46.94) came in for a time of 3:08.33, narrowly missing the 12-year-old world mark. Morozov threw down a 46.66 to hand a slight edge to Kliment Kolesnikov on the anchor, but Adrian came through as he always does. Russia finished second in 3:08.83.

Never really in the race for gold, Kyle Chalmers anchored the Australians with the top split in the field (46.58) to win the bronze medal, getting under the 3:10-barrier in 3:09.68.

Brazil put together four 47s to claim fourth, holding off Italy who saw a 46.90 fourth leg from Alessandro Miressi. Though Canada finished seventh in the final, another notable swim coming from this relay was Brent Hayden, who followed his 47.98 prelim lead-off with a 47.75 to signal he is ready to contend for a medal in the individual event.


1.United States, 3:08.33

  1. Dressel,Caeleb        46.87 (46.87) WR
  2. Held,Ryan               47.25 (1:34.12)
  3. Pieroni,Blake          47.27 (2:21.39)
  4. Adrian,Nathan       46.94 (3:08.33)

2.Russia, 3:08.83

  1. Rylov,Evgeny             47.72 (47.72)
  2. Grinev,Vladislav       46.98 (1:34.70)
  3. Morozov,Vladimir    46.66 (2:21.36)
  4. Kolesnikov,Kliment  47.47 (3:08.83)

3.Australia, 3:09.68

  1. Cartwright,Jack         47.82 (47.82)
  2. McEvoy,Cameron      47.55 (1:35.37)
  3. Lewis,Clyde                47.73 (2:23.10)
  4. Chalmers,Kyle           46.58 (3:09.68)

Also On The Schedule

Men’s 200m Freestyle Semi-Finals

Japan’s Katsuhiro Matsumoto and 2015 World Champion James Guy had thrown down the gauntlet in the prelims of the men’s 200 free, both dipping under the elusive 1:45-barrier. In the semis, as is usually the case, things were tightly bunched. Andrew Seliskar of the United States edged out semi 1 in 1:45.13 over Guy (1:45.31) and teammate Blake Pieroni (1:45.56), while Duncan Scott (1:44.84) led 400 gold medalist Danas Rapsys (1:45.12) and Matsumoto (1:45.24) in the second heat. Chad Le Clos flies down the opening 100 sub-50, but it proves costly late and he misses the final.

Women’s 100m Breaststroke Semi-Finals

While this segment of the session lacked the finger-wagging we saw four years ago, Lilly King was business as usual as she set the tone in the first semi in 1:05.06, surging on the back half after a breezy opening length. China’s Yu Jingyao breaks into the 1:05s for the first time in second. In heat 2, Yuliya Efimova claimed lane 4 for the final with a 1:04.89 performance, followed by Annie Lazor (1:05.75), Reona Aoki (1:06.08) and Martina Carraro (1:06.39).

Men’s 100m Backstroke Semi-Finals

Russia’s Evgeny Rylov didn’t mess around in semi-final 1, going sub-52 for the second time in his career in a time of 51.98. Defending gold medalist Ryan Murphy (52.25) and Rylov’s countryman Kliment Kolesnikov (52.79) were second and third. Xu Jiayu did one better in the next heat, setting a new world record time of 51.82. Mitch Larkin (52.48) touched second to lead a group of three others also under 53.

Women’s 100m Backstroke Semi-Finals

Similar to Dressel, much was made of the first Olympic appearance (following her prelim swim) of American teenager Regan Smith on day two, though she would only be swimming a semi-final. Smith eased her way to the top seed in the prelims in 58.36, and then promptly threw down an Olympic Record 57.42 in the semis following her WR at Trials. Two-time world champion Kylie Masse (58.29) was second to Smith in that heat, while Australia’s Minna Atherton (58.18) led Taylor Ruck (58.47), Kaylee McKeown (58.60) and Kathleen Baker (58.67) in the first semi.

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5 months ago

Z. Apple would’ve gotten them the WR!

Aussie Crawl
Reply to  PhillyMark
5 months ago


Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
5 months ago

Dahlia won’t medal in 100 fly.
Shymanovich won’t medal in 100 breast. Kamminga wins silver.
Kesely medals in 400 free.

Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
5 months ago

I think Kesely will break 4 minutes too.

Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
5 months ago

I would put my money on McKeon for the bronze…she is a big time performer.

Reply to  torchbearer
5 months ago

I don’t put my money on any female Australian at an individual event at the Summer Olympics.

Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
5 months ago

I predict Dahlia won’t even make the team. Make way for Huske and Curzan in the women’s 100 meter butterfly.

Woke Stasi
5 months ago

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited two other world leaders to be his guest at the second day’s final: US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Abe and Trump wore business suits, while Trudeau — true to form — came dressed as a Samurai warrior, complete with sword. Trump made his way over to the US swimming section to congratulate the American members of Day 1’s victorious women’s 4×100 free relay (Abby Weitzeil, Simone Manuel, Donna de Varona, and Jenny Thompson). These ladies were all smiles as they mugged for the cameras with the US President. The session’s big surprise winner was Michael Andrew’s upset of defending champion Adam Peaty of Great Britain (57.23 to 57.51) in… Read more »

Reply to  Woke Stasi
5 months ago

Michael Andrew won’t make the team in the 100 breast let alone cut over a second and a half and beat peaty

Reply to  Jax
5 months ago

did you pick up on nothing in that comment

Reply to  25BACKSTROKE
5 months ago


Reply to  Woke Stasi
5 months ago

“These ladies were all smiles as they mugged for the cameras with the US President.”
Yeah right! 😂

Justin Thompson
Reply to  Breezeway
5 months ago

They’ll have the same opportunity next year 😜

Reply to  Justin Thompson
5 months ago

Probably 🤣

Woke Stasi
Reply to  Breezeway
5 months ago

@Breezeway: Actually, the ladies were smiling all the way to the bank! In this alternate reality, they had performance clauses in their equipment sponsor contracts stating that if they got photographed wearing their branded gear with a world leader at a major competition, then additional six-figure financial incentives would kick in!

Corn Pop
Reply to  Breezeway
5 months ago

They walked out of the arena on hearing the US anthem . The Donald took their place on the podium.

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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