Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Previews: Ledecky Chasing 3rd-Straight W 800FR Gold

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2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

WOMEN’S 800 FREESTYLE

Official SwimSwam Tokyo 2020 Preview Index

Katie Ledecky has imposed her will on the rest of the world in the women’s 800 free over the last 9 years in a manner we have rarely, if ever, seen in the sport. The 800 is Ledecky’s bread and butter, and it’s the event where Ledecky made her debut on the world stage back at the 2012 Olympics in London. Ledecky is the 2x defending Olympic champion and 4x defending World champion in the event, having won the 800 at every major international competition since the 2012 Olympics.

In addition to her win streak in the event, Ledecky holds the World Record and Olympic Record in the event, both of which sit at 8:04.79. Her record swim came in the final of the 800 at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Most impressively, Katie Ledecky holds the 24 fastest performances of all-time in the women’s 800 free, and 30 of the top 31 swims of all-time.

Women’s 800 Freestyle – All-Time Top Performances
Rank Time Name Team Meet Name Meet City Meet Country Date
1 8:04.79 LEDECKY Katie USA Olympic Games Rio 2016 Rio de Janeiro BRA 12/08/2016
2 8:06.68 LEDECKY Katie USA ST Arena Pro Swim at Austin 2016 Austin USA 17/01/2016
3 8:07.27 LEDECKY Katie USA Indianapolis PSS 2018 Indianapolis USA 19/05/2018
4 8:07.39 LEDECKY Katie USA 16th FINA World Championships 2015 Kazan RUS 08/08/2015
5 8:09.13 LEDECKY Katie USA 13th Pan Pacific Championships 2018 Tokyo JPN 09/08/2018
6 8:10.32 LEDECKY Katie USA U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming Omaha, NE USA 02/07/2016
7 8:10.70 LEDECKY Katie USA TYR Pro Swim Series Bloomington Bloomington USA 19/05/2019
8 8:10.91 LEDECKY Katie USA U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming Omaha, NE USA 01/07/2016
9 8:11.00 LEDECKY Katie USA 2014 Woodlands Senior Invite Shenandoah USA 19/06/2014
10 8:11.08 LEDECKY Katie USA Santa Clara PSS 2018 Santa Clara USA 09/06/2018
11 8:11.21 LEDECKY Katie USA ST TXLA Arena Pro Swim Series 2015 Austin USA 17/01/2015
12 8:11.35 LEDECKY Katie USA 12th Pan Pacific Championships 2014 Gold Coast AUS 21/08/2014
13 8:11.50 LEDECKY Katie USA 2017 Summer National Champs Indianapolis USA 27/06/2017
14 8:11.70 LEDECKY Katie USA Indianapolis PSS 2018 Indianapolis USA 16/05/2018
14 8:11.70 LEDECKY Katie USA Indianapolis PSS 2018 Indianapolis USA 16/05/2018
16 8:11.98 LEDECKY Katie USA USA National Championships (50m) Irvine USA 25/07/2018
17 8:12.68 LEDECKY Katie USA 17th FINA World Championships 2017 Budapest HUN 29/07/2017
18 8:12.86 LEDECKY Katie USA Olympic Games Rio 2016 Rio de Janeiro BRA 11/08/2016
19 8:13.02 LEDECKY Katie USA Arena Pro Swim Series – Mesa 2015 Mesa USA 18/04/2015
20 8:13.20 LEDECKY Katie USA Mesa PSS 2016 Mesa USA 16/04/2016
21 8:13.25 LEDECKY Katie USA 16th FINA World Championships 2015 Kazan RUS 04/08/2015
22 8:13.58 LEDECKY Katie USA 18th FINA World Championships 2019 Gwangju KOR 27/07/2019
23 8:13.64 LEDECKY Katie USA TYR Pro Swim San Antonio 2021 San Antonio USA 06/03/2021
24 8:13.86 LEDECKY Katie USA 15th FINA World Championships 2013 Barcelona ESP 03/08/2013
25 8:14.10 ADLINGTON Rebecca GBR Olympic Games Beijing 2008 Beijing CHN 16/08/2008
26 8:14.24 LEDECKY Katie USA TYR Pro Swim Series Richmond USA 10/04/2019
27 8:14.40 LEDECKY Katie USA Winter National Championships 2018 Greensboro USA 28/11/2018
28 8:14.48 LEDECKY Katie USA Longhorn Aquatics Elite Invite & Time Trials Austin USA 21/05/2021
29 8:14.59 LEDECKY Katie USA USA Winter National Championships (50m) Atlanta USA 04/12/2019
30 8:14.62 LEDECKY Katie USA US Olympic Team Trials – Wave II Omaha USA 19/06/2021
31 8:14.63 LEDECKY Katie USA Olympic Games London 2012 London GBR 03/08/2012

Ledecky will be chasing her 3rd consecutive Olympic Gold in the 800 free, which would mark another historic accomplishment for the 24-year-old. Winning Gold in Tokyo would make Ledecky just the 4th swimmer in history to win 3 Olympic Gold medals in the same individual event. The other swimmers on the list include Michael Phelps, who won the men’s 200 IM at 4 Olympics, Dawn Fraser (3x women’s 100 free champion), and Krisztina Egerszegi (3x women’s 200 back champion).

For Ledecky, the challenge of this race will be based around her time. She hasn’t been under 8:10 in the 800 since August of 2018, almost 3 years ago. Since setting the World Record at 8:04.79 at the 2016 Olympics, the closest she’s been to that time is 8:07.27.

Outside of Katie Ledecky, we have an incredible field of 800 freestylers. In fact, if we shifted to an alternate universe where Ledecky never existed, there would be 4 swimmers in this field within 2.33 seconds of the World Record. Prior to Ledecky bringing the record down to 8:04, the WR was held by Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington at 8:14.10. Jianjiahe Wang (8:14.64), Simona Quadarella (8:14.99), Ariarne Titmus (8:15.57), and Sarah Kohler (8:16.43) are all near that mark. However, we do live in a world where Katie Ledecky exists, and because of that, we have to discuss who could be vying for Silver and Bronze, and people who may be able push Ledecky if she’s well off her record time.

First on that list is a swimmer who we actually saw push Ledecky to the end of an 800 free at the 2019 World Championships. Ledecky fell ill in Gwangju at those World Championships, ultimately withdrawing from the 200 free and 1500 free due to that illness. In her absence, Quadarella won Gold in the 1500 handily. Ledecky returned to competition for the 4×200 free relay, and the 800 free. In finals of the 800, Quadarella stayed with Ledecky throughout the race, and even took the lead in the back half of the race. Ledecky managed to turn on the jets for the final 50, and pulled away from Quadarella, but nonetheless, Quadarella swam her personal best and an Italian Record of 8:14.99. That time stands as Quadarella’s best to this day.

Next up is Australia’s Ariarne Titmus, who most recently shocked the world with her 1:53.09 200 free and 3:56.90 400 free at the Australian Olympic Trials in June. Titmus is certainly at her most threatening to Ledecky in the 200 free and 400 free, but with her personal best 8:15.57 800 free from Aussie Trials, she poses some threat to Ledecky here as well. Titmus now holds the 2nd-fastest 400 free in history with her 3:56.90, and on top of that, we saw Titmus beat Ledecky in the 400 at 2019 Worlds.

At 2019 Worlds, Quadarella and Titmus took Silver and Bronze respectively, with times of 8:14.99 and 8:15.70. For that reason, Quadarella is our #2 pick, and Titmus our #3. Both swimmers have demonstrated an ability to swim at their best on a big, international stage.

Jianjiahe Wang, a Chinese 19-year-old, enters the meet as the #2 seed, and has the 2nd-fastest lifetime best in the field, behind only Ledecky. Wang clocked her personal best of 8:14.64 at the 2019 Chinese National Championships. Those Championships were held in March. In July of 2019, Wang swam an 8:18.57 at the 2019 World Championships, finishing 6th. Since 2019 Worlds, Wang’s fastest time has been 8:20.38, which she swam in May of this year, at China’s Olympic Trials. The best we’ve seen from Wang would probably be enough for a Silver medal in Tokyo, so if she can get back to her top form, Wang will be a medal contender without a doubt.

Germany’s Sarah Kohler, 27, is another medal contender who has been well under 8:20 in the event before. Kohler was a German Olympian in the 800 free back in 2016, where she made the final, and ultimately finished 8th. At the 2019 World Championships, Kohler had a major breakthrough in the 800. Although she finished 4th in Gwangju, her time of 8:16.43 was a personal best by 4.10 seconds, taking her under 8:20 for the first time in her career.

Kohler’s 8:16 from 2019 Worlds is currently her only performance under 8:20. Since 2019 Worlds, Kohler’s fastest time came from this year, at the German Olympic Trials, where she swam an 8:23.82. Although, she hasn’t been near her 8:16 since she swam it, Kohler did display an ability to swim at her very best on the world stage against the best competition from around the globe. Kohler is among the swimmers we expect to make the final in Tokyo, and if she can go sub-8:20 again, she may just make her way onto the medal stand.

Ledecky, Quadarella, Titmus, Wang, and Kohler make up the most likely medal contenders, but there are several other swimmers who could pull an upset, if they swim lifetime bests. Australia’s Kiah Melverton had an excellent showing at Australian Trials, swimming an 8:19.05. This, of course, means she has also been under 8:20, and has done so this year. Melverton is a top contender to make the final, although it will likely take a faster time than her 8:19 to earn a medal.

Next up is American 15-year-old Katie Grimes, who enters the meet with her lifetime best of 8:20.36, which she swam at U.S. Trials. Grimes, the 2nd-youngest competitor in the field, finds herself in a very similar position to what Katie Ledecky found herself in back at the 2012 Olympics. Then 15 years old, Ledecky made the Olympic final, but wasn’t expected to win Gold, given she was going up against the World Record holder at the time, Rebecca Adlington. As a 15-year-old who is still at a point in her career where she may post multiple significant time drops in a short period of time, Grimes may just explode at these Olympics, and surprise us all.

Russia’s Anastasiia Kirpichnikova won Silver at the European Championships this May, swimming her personal best of 8:21.86. While she would have to drop quite a bit of time to earn a medal, Kirpichnikova could very well make it into the final, and at that point, anything can happen.

TOP PERFORMANCES IN 2016-2021 OLYMPIC CYCLE (1 PER PERSON)

  1. Katie Ledecky, USA – 8:07.27 (2018)
  2. Jianjiahe Wang, CHN – 8:14.64 (2019)
  3. Simona Quadarella, ITA – 8:14.99 (2019)
  4. Li Bingjie, CHN – 8:15.46 (2017)
  5. Ariarne Titmus, AUS – 8:15.57 (2021)
  6. Leah Smith, USA – 8:16.33 (2019)
  7. Sarah Kohler, GER – 8:16.43 (2019)
  8. Kiah Melverton, AUS – 8:19.05 (2021)
  9. Katie Grimes, USA – 8:20.36 (2021)
  10. Haley Anderson, USA – 8:20.51 (2021)

SWIMSWAM’S TOP 8 PICKS

PLACE SWIMMER COUNTRY BEST TIME SINCE 2016 OLYMPICS
1 Katie Ledecky USA 8:07.27
2 Simona Quadarella ITA 8:14.99
3 Ariarne Titmus AUS 8:15.57
4 Jianjiahe Wang CHN 8:14.64
5 Sarah Kohler GER 8:16.43
6 Kiah Melverton AUS 8:19.05
7 Katie Grimes USA 8:20.36
8 Anastasiia Kirpichnikova RUS 8:21.86

Dark Horse – Merve Tuncel (TUR): Turkish 16-year-old Merve Tuncel is fresh off outstanding performances at European Junior Championships. In her first race of the meet, Tuncel clocked a massive lifetime best of 8:21.91 to break the Turkish Record and the European Junior Record. Since the swim was just 2 weeks before the start of the Olympics, Tuncel will still be entered with her previous best – 8:26.06. If Tuncel comes to Tokyo in the same form she was in at Euro Jr’s, she has a chance to make the Olympic final in the 800, without a doubt.

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The unoriginal Tim
10 months ago

I hope Ledeckey can win. I would like to see her get the three peat. Whether the addition of the 1500 means there are just too many meters in her program I don’t know. She has done it at WCs in her prime.

Last edited 10 months ago by The unoriginal Tim
Bobo Gigi
10 months ago

Kaitie’s stroke looks worse and worse since Rio.
If she keeps swimming until Paris 2024 I hope she leaves Stanford to be back with Bruce Gemmell or funny idea try to cross the ocean and train with Philippe Lucas. I’m sure he would have loved to train her during her prime.

Bobo Gigi
10 months ago

I still don’t get why Katie Ledecky swims the 200 free in Tokyo.
She has no gold medal chance. And even a medal will be tough to win.
Useless waste of energy.

The smart swimmer
10 months ago

If Ledecky is so dominant why hasn’t she won the European championships?? Take that America!

Swimfan
Reply to  The smart swimmer
10 months ago

Why didn’t peaty swim the 800 free then as well 🤦‍♂️

Gambler
10 months ago

Bovada Odds To Win Gold

Ledecky -350
Titmus +350
Quadarella +1000
Jianjiahe +1600
Grimes +2800
Kirpichnikova +4000
Melverton +4000
Tuncel +5000
Kohler +6600

Looks like the thread is a little bearish on Ledecky,as am I. Do you see value elsewhere on the board?Can Titmus figure out how to properly swim this race?Will Quadarella be over her stomach issues?What about the chronically undervalued Chinese swimmers?Grimes to pull a Ledecky London 2012 at 28-1?How about Kohler at 66-1?That would be a great payoff.

Im a little lost with this race. My lean is to take a stab with Jianjiahe at 16-1.

Troyy
Reply to  Gambler
10 months ago

Wang has been off this year so far. Failed to even qualify in the 400 for instance.

Gambler
Reply to  Troyy
10 months ago

good to know. Do you like Ledecky as a huge favorite?

AnEn
Reply to  Gambler
10 months ago

Melverton, Kirpichnikova and Tuncel ahead of Köhler is absurd. Grimes and Wang ahead of Köhler is debatable.

Jamie5678
Reply to  Gambler
10 months ago

One factor is that Ledecky will take it out and dictate pacing.

So whether Titmus can figure out how to properly swim the race is not as important as whether Titmus or any of the others can live with Ledecky’s attempts to break the field through 600m.

There’s a number of swimmers in this category, I’d argue. Swimmers who set their best times in basically a time trial and not in a race and as such are perhaps capable of a drop and are arguably undervalued in the odds.

So it will be interesting to see what Titmus, Tuncel and possibly even someone like McIntosh can do in the context of a 800m race where they are not… Read more »

Gambler
Reply to  Jamie5678
10 months ago

McIntosh is 80-1 right now on bovada. You think she can win gold if everything breaks right?

Jamie5678
Reply to  Gambler
10 months ago

Not really!

She went about 8.30 at the Canadian trials I think. Given she’s a 1.56 at 200 and 4.05 at 400 I reckon she’s capable of considerably faster in a race situation (I think her priority at trials was the A standard). It’s a long, long way down though to even medal contention.

This said, we don’t really know what she’s capable of and it might be an interesting ride. But I wouldn’t bet my house on it.

Not Tapered
10 months ago

8:09.5 and good 3 seconds ahead of the field

AnEn
10 months ago

I don’t see Titmus going faster than 8:12, so if Ledecky is even close to her best, she should be fine. If Quadarella indeed was ill, then she shouldn’t be able to challenge the top 2 and might even miss the podium.

STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
10 months ago

The relevant question is whether Ledecky will be remotely close to her best. If she is, she’ll win it. But her best in the last three years has been an 8.10. This is still an outstanding time and probably good enough to win. But let’s say Titmus wins the 200/400. She will go into the 800 super confident, a little bit fresher than Ledecky and with nothing to lose. At the Australian trials she negatively split the race. In Tokyo she’ll be able to pace herself off Ledecky and this could pull her through to a time around 8.10 or even better. I still expect Ledecky to win but just like the 400 this race has the potential to be… Read more »