Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swim Previews: Ledecky an Underdog to Win Women’s 400 Free

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2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games

Women’s 400 Freestyle

Everyone remembers the 2016 Rio Olympics where USA’s Katie Ledecky was unstoppable in the 200 free, 400 free and 800 free. 

In 2016, a 20-year-old Ledecky won by a margin of 4.7 seconds over Great Britain’s Jazz Carlin, but this year things will not be so easy for Ledecky.

20-year-old Ariarne Titmus of Australia, also known as “The Terminator,” actually tops this season’s world rankings in this event with a 3:56.90 from June. The fastest time Ledecky posted this season was a 3:59.25 from April.

Ledecky was the first woman to ever break 4:00 on the Olympic stage in this event at the Rio Olympics and since then, Ledecky has broken that mark 11 times. Titmus has done it 5 times. 

The world has seen a few close races in this event at the Olympics. Adlington won by .07 seconds over USA’s Katie Hoff in 2008, Helene Madison won over her USA teammate Leore Knight by .01 in 1932, and Germany’s Hase beat Evans by .19 in 1992.

Tokyo 2020 stands to be another historically close race between Ledecky and Titmus. 

We have also seen this World Record fall quite a few times on the Olympic stage, in 1928, 1932, 1972, 1976, 1988, 2016. Titmus’ 3:56.90 trails LEdecky’s World Record, set in 2016, by just about half a second. 

While it is not clear who will break it, that record has a high chance of falling in Tokyo.

There are a few multi-time medalists (Janet Evans, Dagmar Hase, Rebecca Adlington, Lenore Wingard), but only one other swimmer has won gold twice in this event: American Martha Norelius in 1924 and 1928.

Titmus stands between Ledecky and her 2nd gold in this event in Tokyo. No one else entered in the event has broken 4:00 between Rio and now.

I’m going to have to be absolutely at my best form to win with Katie in the field and she’s the reigning Olympic champion so it’s going to be a tough one to get my hand on the wall first,” Olympic rookie Titmus told the Examiner recently.

SwimSwam’s Pick’em entries show that 51.7 percent of voters believe Titmus will win and 48.3 percent have Ledecky winning. Fans have acknowledged Ledecky as the underdog in this race.

It’s important to note that Titmus and Ledecky have not raced each other this season. They have not had this opportunity to push each other to their limits, time-wise. Ledecky has been more quiet on the subject.

This is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic decreasing international competitions. Also, Ledecky opted out of the International Swimming League and Australia’s travel restrictions during the pandemic also prevented her from competing in the I2020 ISL season.

So far in what appears to be the race for bronze, there are many contenders. 

19-year-old Li Bingjie of China is ranked 3rd in the world this season with a time of 4:02.36 from May, but she posted a 4:01.75 at the 2017 National Games in China. She and Hungary’s Ajina Késely have each posted 4:01’s.

Kesely, also 19 years old, dropped a 4:01.31 at the 2019 World Championships to earn 4th place. While this time makes her the fourth fastest 400 freestyle since Rio, her fastest time this season was 4:07.42 from May.

Bingjie has been at the top of the field in this event for a few years now. She won bronze at the 2017 World Championships behind Ledecky and USA’s Leah Smith.

Russia’s Anna Egorova is set up for a close race with Australia’s Tamsin Cook who placed 6th at the Rio Olympics.

The women’s 400 free field is relatively new to the Olympic stage. It will be the Olympic debut for all swimmers mentioned so far besides Ledecky and Cook.

Cook took an indefinite break from swimming in 2018 after suffering a neck injury in a car crash. She made a comeback in October 2020 and has kept her momentum up since then, posting a lifetime best time of 4:04.10 in June.

At the 2021 European Championships, gold medalist Simona Quadarella of Italy beat silver medalist Egorova by about 1.5 seconds. Egorova took out the race faster but Quadarella had a stronger back half and ended up winning with a time of 4:04.66.

Quadarella has been pretty consistent. Her best time is 4:03.35 from the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow. She departed later than most other swimmers for Tokyo after suffering from gastroenteritis, but she is now in Tokyo and has said she is “fully recovered.”

Paige Madden will join Ledecky in representing Team USA. She is fresh off her lifetime best 400 free swim from the U.S. Olympic Trials Wave II, 4:04.86. 17-year-old Tang Muhan of China is also in the mix after swimming a 4:05.15 in May, but she would likely have to lower that time to make the Olympic final in Tokyo.

Top Performances in 2016-2021 Olympic Cycle (1 Per Person)

  1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) – 3:56.90 
  2. Katie Ledecky (USA) – 3:57.94 
  3. Leah Smith (USA) – 4:01.29 
  4. Ajna Kesely (HUN) – 4:01.31
  5. Li Bingjie (CHN) – 4:01.75
  6. Jianjiahe Wang (CHN) – 4:03.14 
  7. Simona Quadarella (ITA) –4:03.35 
  8. Sarah Kohler (GER) –4:03.96 
  9. Tamsin Cook (AUS) – 4:04.10 
  10. Anna Egorova (RUS) – 4:04.10 

Top Times in 2020-2021 Season 

2020-2021 LCM Women 400 Free

AriarneAUS
Titmus
06/13
3:56.90
2Katie
Ledecky
USA3:59.2504/10
3Li
Bingjie
CHN4:01.5707/25
4Erika
Fairweather
NZL4:02.2807/25
5Summer
McIntosh
CAN4:02.7207/25
View Top 26»

Top 8 Predictions

Place Swimmer Country Best Time Since 2016 Olympics
1 Ariarne Titmus AUS 3:56.90 
2 Katie Ledecky USA 3:57.94 
3 Li Bingjie CHN 4:01.75
4 Anna Egorova RUS 4:04.10
5 Simona Quadarella ITA 4:03.35 
6 Ajina Késely HUN 4:01.31
7 Tamsin Cook AUS 4:04.10
8 Paige Madden USA 4:04.86

Dark Horse: Summer McIntosh, Canada – McIntosh blasted a 4:05.13 in May to establish herself as the 12th fastest 400 freestyler in the world this season and fastest 14-year-old in the event in history. While she’s not alone in being an Olympic rookie, she already dropped nearly 10 seconds in total in this event this year. She went from 4:15.43 in early May to her 4:05.13 just 20 days later.

If McIntosh can lower her 4:05 in Tokyo she stands a chance at making the Olympic final. Cook swam a 4:04.36 to squeak into the Rio final as the 8th seed.

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Wow
7 days ago

The key for Katie will be the the 250-400m and especially that final 50.

Togger
7 days ago

After a successful betting run in the Tour de France, I’ve backed Katie hard in this with the winnings. She’s fantastic value, praying she pulls it off.

Stephen
Reply to  Togger
7 days ago

Should spent your money on one of Bob Baffert’s drug horse.

Ketman
Reply to  Stephen
7 days ago

Why is it that Titmus’ left shoulder rotator cuff injury and her three-month out of the water “extraordinary treatment and rehab” by an ex-pro rugby trainer Jeremy Hickmans (as reported in Australia) by Julian Linden always go unmentioned? Seems like it’s quite relevant to betting decisions and whether she can go the distance in tough multiple rounds of her events.

Robbos
Reply to  Ketman
7 days ago

Titmus went 4.04.9 in the prelims in the trials, should make finals with this time in Tokyo.
She went 1.5572 in 200 free prelims at trials & the still backed it up with Australian record in 800.
So I don’t think going the distance is a issue in 200/400.
Jeremy is a strength coach for a Rugby League team in Australia, no issues there, Julian Linden writes for daily Telegraph, who’s bread & butter is Rugby League, so any way he gets this sport a plug even in discussing Olympics, he will.

Jimmy P
Reply to  Robbos
7 days ago

I just looked at the Linden article. Hickmans is given very specific credit for the “careful management of Titmus’ shoulder” after Titmus coach Boxall reached out to him.The Linden article from April is headlined “Top Rehab Team Gets Titmus Firing-‘Arnie’ Calls In Big Guns For Tokyo.” Looks like Hickmans actually left pro rugby’s Brisbane Broncos in 2019.

dresselgoat
Reply to  Stephen
7 days ago

Pipe down Stephen

TeamDressel
Reply to  Togger
7 days ago

Letsss goooooo

Mr Piano
7 days ago

If you posted this title back in 2016, everyone would think you’re absolutely insane. I love this sport.

ShamrockSwimmer
7 days ago

I do think Ledecky will substantially improve upon her 4:01 from trials but I don’t see a situation where she goes sub 3:58 whereas I am more confident at Titmus creeping toward the WR and a 3:56 low.

Swim nerd
Reply to  ShamrockSwimmer
7 days ago

Ledecky has been 3:59 earlier this season, I’d be shocked if she doesn’t go at least 3:57 high.

Mr Piano
Reply to  Swim nerd
7 days ago

In recent years she doesn’t seem to drop much from in season.

TeamDressel
Reply to  Swim nerd
7 days ago

I think it’s gonna be a very tight one that is going to be decided by the last 50

dude
7 days ago

My guess goes to Titmus, but Ledecky is a gamer. Titmus has the better top end speed. I am also predicting that whoever wins doesn’t break 3:57.

PFA
Reply to  dude
7 days ago

That’s kinda what I was thinking that it could be similar to the men’s 500 free at NCAA’s earlier this year.

TeamDressel
Reply to  dude
7 days ago

Yeah totally possible. Titmus had 2 “golden” swims at trials. She may not go as fast in the Olympics

Robbos
Reply to  TeamDressel
7 days ago

Some of you are hoping other countries choke for your country to win.
Or
All the Americans will swim so much faster then their trials swims & every other country, especially Titmus will swim much slower, so that the American wins!!!!

Torchbearer
Reply to  Robbos
7 days ago

Yes, it gets a bit tedious…. Titmus has always been a big time performer. At the 2019WC she did a PB in the 200/400 and 800m for example.

TeamDressel
Reply to  Robbos
7 days ago

I’m not hoping that Titmus or any other swimmer chokes. I also don’t think that Titmus will be much slower than she was at trials. I just don’t see her really improving on her trials times. I see her going 1:52 high-1:53.6 in the 200, 3:56-3:57 in the 400 free, and 8:12 in the 800 free

M d e
Reply to  TeamDressel
7 days ago

That 200 and 400 will all but certainly be enough to win gold medals.

Piotr
7 days ago

I love Katie Ledecky, but after nearly decade of starts, it is a lot to expect from her peak swimming from Rio, and that may be a necessity to win a gold on 400m free.

That being said, she’s freakin Katie Ledecky, I’ll never cross her out until proven otherwise, even if AT is a favorite.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Piotr
7 days ago

That she is, in fact, still Katie Ledecky is the biggest reason I’m not completely counting her out here.

The reasons I am counting her out: never had huge taper drops, is way behind Titmus in relation to their trials performances.

But!

Could very easily see Titmus go 3:57high, 3:58low and even a not-huge taper drop KL can beat her there.

And of course she could also bust out a 3:55 something.

Not very optimistic on KL’s chances in the 200 – I think it’s just as likely she’s off the podium than wins gold there – but I’m probably more optimistic for her 400 than I expected to be.

reliable source
Reply to  Steve Nolan
7 days ago

definitely not betting against Katie but Titmus probably wasn’t fully rested for trials

TeamDressel
Reply to  reliable source
7 days ago

Katie was essentially not rested at all according to her performances being slower than in season times

Tyson
Reply to  reliable source
7 days ago

Titmus had like a 3 day half taper according to her coach where they were still pushing the pace so I don’t think she was to rested either

TeamDressel
Reply to  Tyson
7 days ago

But maybe that was the perfect amount of rest for her. Some people do better on less taper/rest

Robbos
Reply to  TeamDressel
7 days ago

How do you know? Maybe she can taper & even go better.

TeamDressel
Reply to  Steve Nolan
7 days ago

I agree with you on the 400 but if she’s gonna swim the 200 she’s certainly going to be shooting for gold and I see be at least medaling

BilesnoGravity
Reply to  TeamDressel
7 days ago

Everyone talking about Katie’s relative lack of speed seems to be forgetting that she’s already been 53 this season and has been 52 on a few relays.

I too feel like AT is a ‘favorite’ *on paper*. I am, however, very excited to see what Katie can do with a real race on her hands. She did win gold against sprinters in Rio.

TeamDressel
Reply to  BilesnoGravity
7 days ago

Well said

Jack
Reply to  Steve Nolan
7 days ago

I kind of like KL’s chances in the 200. It’s clear Titmus is the favorite, but Ledecky’s had her best in-season 100’s this year. I think her taper may just bring out some top-end speed we didn’t even see in 2016. A 1:52 would not stun me from either of them.

Troyy
Reply to  Jack
7 days ago

Ledecky’s best in season 100 is still 53.75 from January 2016.

TeamDressel
Reply to  Jack
7 days ago

Yesss finally

SwimJon
7 days ago

Yeah Titmus trials swim was awesome – no doubt – but Ledecky underdog in the 400…? It is the olympics – she knows what to do.

TeamDressel
Reply to  SwimJon
7 days ago

Someone’s gotta say it

mara
7 days ago

Quadarella isn’t going to swim this event. Only 800-1500