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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Line
1 month ago

Is the Canadian girl, Summer McIntosh, not swimming? If Grimes is the youngest in the field.

Jane
Reply to  Line
1 month ago

She’s swimming and is the youngest at 14.

Dave
1 month ago

I feel that the Biggest problem Ledecky has is Ledecky. She is scheduled to swim 200 / 400 /800 / 1500 / and 800relay leg. This schedule includes all the “distance” events and thus the most meters in preliminary races. Katie is special, But I hope that she has not taken on too much. Her Monday schedule includes a 200/400 and 1500 meter swims.MP was “only” swimming 100 and 200m races. I’m rooting for Katie!

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Dave
1 month ago

That has never been an issue for Katie Ledecky at the FINA World Aquatics Championships. Have you been living underneath a rock since calendar year 2013?

Last edited 1 month ago by Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Bobo Gigi
Reply to  Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
1 month ago

She’s not 15 anymore! And unfortunately she doesn’t train with Bruce Gemmell anymore.

Jay
1 month ago

8:07.27 was Ledecky’s fastest time since 2016, not 8:10

CanSwim13
1 month ago

Grimes is not the youngest. McIntosh younger by half a year

Last edited 1 month ago by CanSwim13
Veritas
Reply to  CanSwim13
1 month ago

It says “2nd youngest”

Troyy
Reply to  Veritas
1 month ago

They probably corrected the article.

Jane
1 month ago

TITMUS will score a WR in the 200 and 400, and may also beat Ledecky in the 800. She wants three gold and Ledecky’s time is up.

DJTrockstoYMCA
Reply to  Jane
1 month ago

I agree with you about Ledecky being on the downside of her career BUT ever if she can. only muster an 8:10 to 8:12, should be fast enough to win. She might blow up mentally after getting crushed in the 200 and 400 which could open the door to 8:15 or slower which would not win.

Chris
Reply to  DJTrockstoYMCA
1 month ago

Downside? Ledecky won four Oly Trials races–the 1500 by 10 seconds, and two of the other three by wider margins than at 2016 Trials. How’s that for meet management? Meanwhile, in 2019, 18yo Titmus couldn’t take 31yo Pellegrini (is she on downswing too?) thru three rounds in the 200 Free despite the illness and withdrawal from that race of Ledecky, McKeon, and Ruck. 

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  DJTrockstoYMCA
1 month ago

Yet not one female swimmer, outside from Katie Ledecky, has broken 8:14.63 since the final of the women’s 800 meter freestyle at the 2012 Summer Olympics (03 Aug 2012).

Jane
Reply to  DJTrockstoYMCA
1 month ago

Just some crazy, fun predictions. I want Katie to prove me wrong. I want her to go out there and dominate, but I think that time is over. She could still win, but it’s looking very unlikely. I love the American spirit and how they all disliked my comment. I hope they’re right!

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Jane
1 month ago

Stop trolling!

Jane
Reply to  Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
1 month ago

I’m not trolling, I’m posting. Stop getting upset over an honest opinion.

TeamDressel
Reply to  Jane
1 month ago

Ledecky will win the 800

TeamDressel
Reply to  Jane
1 month ago

200 and 400 will be a good race

Robbos
Reply to  TeamDressel
1 month ago

Titmus v Ledecky, Dressel v Chalmers.
Go Timus & Chalmers. We just differ TeamDressel.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
1 month ago

Ledecky in the 800/1500 should be one of the surest bets for any event on the women’s side.

Things might get spicy if Titmus demolishes the WR (and Ledecky) in the 400 and 200, and gets into Ledecky’s head. I doubt that a warrior like Ledecky would be unsettled, but you never know. Stranger things have happened in Olympic swimming.

Jack

Titmus has a sore shoulder, she wins nothing. Left it all in the short pool of Adelaide.

Sub13
Reply to  Jack
1 month ago

Was the Adelaide pool not Olympic length? Do you just make stuff up when people from other countries swim fast?

Tokyo21
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

They were not short… But take a look at the world record line in the 200m free for women… And see how deceiving everything was.

commonwombat
Reply to  Tokyo21
1 month ago

WR lines are far from exact, merely a projection

Sub13
Reply to  Tokyo21
1 month ago

What does the WR line have to do with it? She swam the time in a FINA sanctioned event.

dddddddd
Reply to  Tokyo21
1 month ago

yes

Not Tapered
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

49.3845m

Sub13
Reply to  Not Tapered
1 month ago

Lol what?

Charge
1 month ago
Honest Observer
Reply to  Charge
1 month ago

Thanks for that, that was fun. Seems like such a long time ago.

Sub13
1 month ago

When Ledecky broke the WR in Rio she had swum 1.4km prior, and had a full day rest before the heats, and between the heats and finals. This year, the amount of rest is similar, but she will have swum 4.4km already, more than triple Rio. Based on that, I’m not expecting her to get close to her record time.

I see Katie floating between 8.10 and 8.12, meaning that it’s possible one of the women between 8.12 and 8.15 could rise to the occasion.

I still say Katie is the safest bet in this event but it’s no certainty.

Old Swim Coach
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

Katie is not a great racer, she is a GOAT against the clock. If she was coached
properly she would even split her race and lay off the legs. She will have to be able
to finish the last 100 with the monster 6 beat kick she showed when was younger.
The only event at trials her body position and stroke looked excellent was the 1500.
With her moderate 2/4 beat kick she is still able to get out in a time that will put a
lot of hurt on Titmus and will be able to finish with her legs to hold her off.