The Olympics That Would Have Been: Seto Leads Strong Start For Japan On Day 1

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. Feel free to add your own predictions, picks, humorous quips and more in the comments below!

Today would’ve marked Day 1 of a long, exciting eight-day marathon of Olympic swimming in 2020. Viewers in the U.S. would’ve woken up to some prelim action from Tokyo, where it would be evening, with the first finals session set to go at night.

With the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the event until 2021, we thought we’d still speculate, celebrate, enjoy what was supposed to be the most anticipated week of the quad in the swimming universe with a day-by-day fantasy recap of what could’ve happened in Tokyo.

The Day 1 schedule features finals in the men’s 400 free and 400 IM, the women’s 400 IM and 4×100 free relay, and semi-final action in the women’s 100 fly and men’s 100 breast.

Day 1 Finals

Men’s 400m Individual Medley Final

Having been on a tear for the better part of the last two years, including lowering the short course world record and becoming the fifth-fastest all-time in long course with a 4:06.09, Japan’s Daiya Seto was in full control throughout the course of the men’s 400 IM.

Blasting out to the lead on the fly, turning under world record pace in 54.26, Seto flew to the gold medal in a sizzling time of 4:04.91, becoming just the second man to crack 4:05. Seto’s countryman Kosuke Hagino, the defending champion from 2016, uses a 27.36 final length to run down American Chase Kalisz for silver in 4:06.94, sending the home crowd into a frenzy with a 1-2 on the opening event.

Kalisz takes bronze in 4:07.15, right on where he was at Trials, while up-and-coming Greek swimmer Apostolos Papastamos (4:09.13) edges out American Jay Litherland (4:09.34) and Great Britain’s Max Litchfield (4:09.67) for fourth.


  1. Daiya Seto, JPN, 4:04.91
  2. Kosuke Hagino, JPN, 4:06.94
  3. Chase Kalisz, USA, 4:07.15

Men’s 400m Freestyle Final

Essentially an unstoppable force in this event since 2012, only succumbing to rival Mack Horton at the 2016 Olympic Games, the final of the men’s 400 freestyle felt just a little bit strange with the absence of Sun Yang.

With Sun out due to his eight-year ban, it was Lithuanian Danas Rapsys who took the race by storm. At the 2019 World Championships, the top-four finishers (Sun, Horton, Italy’s Gabriele Detti and Rapsys) all negative-split the final. Rapsys opted for a different approach here, turning in a blazing 1:49.45 at the 200 to open up a significant lead on the pack. 26-low coming home brought him into the wall in 3:41.67, moving to #8 all-time.

Defending champ Horton pulled clear of Elijah Winnington on the penultimate 50 and picked up silver in 3:42.49, while Winnington edged out Italy’s Gabriele Detti (3:43.37) for bronze in 3:43.23. Horton and Winnington had prevailed in a wild race at Aussie Trials against Jack McLoughlin.

The field was rounded out by Russians Aleksandr Krasnykh and Martin Malyutin, and Americans Zane Grothe and Kieran Smith. It marked the first time in history a heat of eight men were all under 3:45.


  1. Danas Rapsys, LTU, 3:41.67
  2. Mack Horton, AUS, 3:42.49
  3. Elijah Winnington, AUS, 3:43.23

Women’s 400m Individual Medley

It wasn’t quite the start she had in Rio, but Hungarian Katinka Hosszu opens her Tokyo program with a successful title defense in the women’s 400 IM, clocking a time of 4:27.92. Though known for her strong front-half, it was the breaststroke leg where Hosszu pulled away from Japan’s Yui Ohashi, splitting 1:15.71, en route to the #2 swim of all-time. Ohashi gives the home nation three medals through three finals with a silver in 4:30.56.

2012 Olympic champion Ye Shiwen of China used her incredible breast/free combo to run down Canadian Sydney Pickrem for the bronze, touching in 4:31.68 to Pickrem’s 4:32.70. Canada’s Emily Overholt (4:34.33) repeats her fifth-place finish from Rio, edging American Melanie Margalis (4:34.66).


  1. Katinka Hosszu, HUN, 4:27.92
  2. Yui Ohashi, JPN, 4:30.56
  3. Ye Shiwen, CHN, 4:31.68

Women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay

The Australian women have reigned supreme in the women’s 4×100 free relay in recent years, having won two straight Olympic golds and two of the last three World titles, thanks in large part to the formidable sister duo of Cate and Bronte Campbell. Things didn’t change in Tokyo.

It was a three-horse race between the Aussies, Americans and Canadians, just like it was in Gwangju, and it was ultimately the Campbell sisters who kept the title down under.

After Emma McKeon gave them a slight lead on the opening leg, Taylor Ruck unloaded a massive 52.07 second split to give Canada the edge by almost a full second. Bronte cut the Aussie deficit down to two-tenths coming into the anchor, and then it was Cate with another signature anchor leg (51.38) to give Australia a new world record in 3:29.99.

Simone Manuel also produced a fourth-leg under 52 seconds for the U.S., going 51.92, but Penny Oleksiak held her off to earn Canada the silver in 3:30.72. The United States takes bronze in 3:30.87, and the Dutch women took fourth with notable legs from Femke Heemskerk (52.61) and Ranomi Kromowidjojo (52.80).

In fifth, Sweden was led by individual world record holder Sarah Sjostrom, who blazed down the pool on the second leg in 51.55.


1.Australia, 3:29.99 WR

  1. McKeon,Emma          52.83 (52.83)
  2. Throssell,Brianna     53.46 (1:46.29)
  3. Campbell,Bronte       52.32 (2:38.61)
  4. Campbell,Cate           51.38 (3:29.99)

2.Canada, 3:30.72

  1. Sanchez,Kayla             53.23 (53.23)
  2. Ruck,Taylor                52.07 (1:45.30)
  3. MacNeil,Maggie        53.14 (2:38.44)
  4. Oleksiak,Penny         52.28 (3:30.72)

3.United States, 3:30.87

  1. Comerford,Mallory  52.91 (52.91)
  2. Brown,Erika               53.25 (1:46.16)
  3. Weitzeil,Abbey          52.79 (2:38.95)
  4. Manuel,Simone        51.92 (3:30.87)

Also On The Schedule:

Women’s 100m Butterfly Semi-Finals

Sjostrom, the defending champion, looks to assert herself after being upset by MacNeil at the 2019 World Championships. The Swede puts up the top time of the semis in 56.05, followed closely by American Kelsi Dahlia (56.33), MacNeil (56.45) and McKeon (56.50). Belarusian Anastasiya Shkurdai (56.64), Sweden’s Louise Hansson (56.93) and France’s Marie Wattel (57.06) also have standout swims to advance.

Men’s 100m Breaststroke Semi-Finals

As per usual, Adam Peaty makes it look easy in the men’s 100 breast. After cruising to a 58.08 in the heats, the Brit knocks down a 57.06 from semi-final 2 for a new Olympic Record and the top qualifying spot by over a second. Dutchman Arno Kamminga becomes the #2 swimmer of all-time from the same heat in 58.11, and Italian Nicolo Martinenghi hits 58.49 for third in the heat and overall. American Andrew Wilson (58.66) edges Belarus’ Ilya Shymanovich (58.69) in semi 1.

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2 years ago

What a difference a year makes

Fraser Thorpe
Reply to  Monkeyseemonkeydoodoo
2 years ago

Who knew the fly times would be so conservative- and Rapsys and Seto both gone.

3 years ago

Concur with your gold medallists but differ with some of your podiums.

M400IM: Think lower two steps may be a lottery, certainly not too confident re Hagino

M400FR: A tough race to call but can go along with yr Rapsys call. One AUS medallist is quite plausible but 2 looks rather optimistic.

W400IM: Fine with Hosszu gold and Ohashi on podium but think other podium spot very open

W4X100: AUS 3 peating and new WR fairly sound bet as is the composition of this podium unless injury/illness takes out one of the Campbells. Given Throssell will have already had 3 previous swims that day, I can see Wilson as 4th member and arguably faster than 53mid …… likewise McKeon who… Read more »

3 years ago

The 🇨🇦 women 4*1 are by no means a lock to upend the still favored 🇦🇺 followed by 🇺🇲. However based on their ages, previous performances and upside it certainly cannot be considered an upset. If Penny remains consistent from her renewed 2019 speed, if Kayla and Maggie make even just a little progress (at 18 and 19 last summer that’s not inconceivable), and maybe the biggest IF, if Taylor can return to her 51.7 2018 speed then they will be right in the hunt. They all have to be “on” and will also need a 5th/6th teammate to drop 53 highs or 54 lows at worst to help them advance from heats with an inside lane.
From 2019… Read more »

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
3 years ago

I won’t be surprised if Katinka wins but I’d be pretty shocked if she breaks 4:28 to do it.

3 years ago

A day by day medal tally would be good….otherwise great picks.
I think the women’s 4×100 and 4×200 are going to be REALLY close between AUS, USA and CAN….I don’t think the AUS team is a sure thing at all (and I’m AUS)!

3 years ago

Thanks Swim swam

3 years ago

In the 4×100 McKeon would’ve been faster than that and so would Australia’s #2 split with Madison Wilson already swimming a 53.50 in season in March. Would see her going a 53 flat split at the slowest. I also think the other teams will have faster splits.

3 years ago

My picks:
MEN’S 400 IM: Seto blazes to a 4:04.7, leading start to finish. For 2nd, it’s a close race, with Litherland storming home on the free leg, ahead of 3rd-place Wang Shun and teammate Qin Haiyang (4th) followed by Clareburt, Verraszto, Papastamos and Litchfield. This morning, it was a nail-biter just to make the final. Kalisz just missed the final, along with Heidtmann, and Hagino.
MEN’S 400 FREE: I agree with Swimswam for top 2, Detti takes 3rd. They’re followed by De Tullio, Winnington, Smith and Da Costa.
WOMEN’S 400 IM: Katinka dominates with a 4:28. Ye Shiwen is 2nd (4:31.) Margalis runs down Ohashi on the breast leg to take the bronze, and Sydney Pickrem… Read more »

Reply to  swimfan210_
3 years ago

Totally disagree re Taylor Ruck– she’s a relay beast. Last year, she was off her best at Worlds and still split 52.19, third fastest split across all teams. She will be sub-52 (which she has done before) in Tokyo.

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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