Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Previews: Sjostrom’s 100 Fly Title & WR in Jeopardy

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Women’s 100 Butterfly

If there is one event in swimming that has gotten faster each year, even with the 2010 super-suit ban and the 2020 pandemic, it’s the women’s 100 fly. The winning, 3rd place, and 6th place times in the Olympic final and the qualifying time to make the 100 fly final have improved every year since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The winning times from the 2012 and 2016 Olympics both were both sub-56 world records. Meanwhile, the third-place finisher has been sub-57 after the 2008 Olympics, which featured the now-banned full-body super-suits. Likewise, it took sub-58 to qualify for the Olympic final after the 2008 Olympics.

Winning Time 3rd Place 6th Place Semifinals QT
2008 Beijing 56.73 57.25 58.06 58.39
2012 London 55.98 56.94 57.35 57.79
2016 Rio 55.48 56.63 57.05 57.51

Emma McKeon, Maggie MacNeil, Sarah Sjostrom  (photo: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol)

After Canadian Maggie MacNeil became the third woman to break 56 seconds by defeating the current world record-holder at 55.83 at age 19, three more women broke 56 seconds following the COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2020, 23-year-old Zhang Yufei of China ripped a monster 55.62 Asian record to threaten the 55.48 world record. Fast forward to just last month, both Aussie veteran Emma McKeon (55.93) and 18-year-old American Torri Huske (55.66) broke the 56-second barrier virtually hours apart at their respective Olympic Trials meets.

Scrolling down the official Olympic psych sheets, the top 4 seeds are all sub-56. Highlighting the top of the psych sheet are Zhang and Huske, both separated by four one-hundredths of a second while MacNeil is seeded a tenth ahead of McKeon. 16-year-old American Claire Curzan and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, defining the top 6 cutline at 56.20 and 56.22, respectively. Swede Louise Hansson‘s post-pandemic best time of 56.73 from the 2021 Swim Open Stockholm and Belarusian Anastasiya Shkurdai‘s national record swim of 56.95 from the 2020 Belarus Open Cup bring the top 8 seeds all under the 57-second barrier. If the entire top 8 seeds qualify into semifinals and swim as fast as their entry times, it could take sub-57 to qualify for the Olympic final for the first time in history.

The top two seeds (Zhang/Huske) are separated by five years in age while the next two fastest seeds (MacNeil/McKeon) are separated by six years in age. No. 5 seed Curzan enters this meet two one-hundredths ahead of world record-holder Sjostrom, who is 11 years older than the world junior record-holder.

Top 8 Tokyo Entry Times

1 Zhang Yufei (23) CHN 55.62 2020 Chinese Championships
2 Torri Huske (18) USA 55.66 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials
3 Maggie MacNeil (21) CAN 55.83 2019 World Championships
4 Emma McKeon (27) AUS 55.93 2021 Australian Swimming Trials
5 Claire Curzan (16) USA 56.20 2021 TAC Titans LC Primier Meet
6 Sarah Sjostrom (27) SWE 56.22 2019 World Championships
7 Louise Hansson (24) SWE 56.73 2021 Swim Open Stockholm
8 Anastasiya Shkurdai (18) BLR 56.95 2020 Belarus Open Cup

Looking at the official preliminary start lists, Curzan, the current world junior record-holder, and MacNeil, the current Canadian national/former Americas record-holder, are set to swim side-by-side in the first circle-seeded heat. At the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, Curzan did not best her 56.20 lifetime best, hitting 56.43 to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Likewise, MacNeil enters this meet with a 2020-2021 season best of 56.14, just six one-hundredths ahead of Curzan but three-tenths over her 2019 lifetime best.

In the second circle-seeded heat, Huske, the current American/Americas record-holder, will face-off for the first time against European/world record-holder Sjostrom in the middle lanes. Sjostrom announced recently her decision to swim this event in Tokyo, entering the meet with a 2020-2021 season best of 57.34, which ranks 10th in the world and 8th among other participants’ current season bests. In February 2021, Sjostrom got an elbow injury and had only begun to swim butterfly in May.

On a different note, Huske has an extremely high chance of either breaking the world record and/or earning a medal. If Huske were to win the Olympic final, she would be the fourth American to win a 100 fly Olympic title in 37 years, succeeding Mary T. Meagher (1984), Amy Van Dyken (1996), and Dana Vollmer (2012). If Huske (and/or Curzan) were to medal in this event, that would make it a fourth consecutive Olympics an American woman medalled in the 100 fly. Before Vollmer’s back-to-back Olympic medal performances, Christine Magnuson took silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

However, if Sjostrom were to advance to the final and at least medal, she would be the third woman in history to remain on the podium at the Olympics following their title. Dutchwoman Inge de Bruijn won the 2000 Olympic title and then took bronze in 2004 while American Dana Vollmer followed suit by winning the 2012 title and earning bronze in 2016. In the possibility Sjostrom were to win the Tokyo Olympic title, she would be the first woman in history to successfully defend her 100 fly Olympic title.

Yufei Zhang

Yufei Zhang (photo: Mike Lewis)

In the final heat, Zhang, the current Asian record-holder, and McKeon, the current Australian/Oceanian record-holder, will face-off for the first time in person. While Zhang hit 55.62 in September 2020, she was able to pull off a second sub-56 performance of 55.73 at the 2021 Chinese Nationals, a mere 0.11s over her current 2020-2021 season/lifetime best. If Zhang were to win this Olympic title, she would be the first Asian/Chinese woman to win the 100 fly Olympic title in 29 years since China’s Qian Hong won the 100 fly Olympic title at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. If Zhang were to break the world record, she would be the first Chinese woman to ever hold the 100 fly world record.

While post-pandemic sub-56 breakers Zhang and Huske repeated their barrier-breaking performances, McKeon swam her 55.93 national record during the Australian Olympic Trials final. Therefore, McKeon not only has a high chance of pulling off her second sub-56 performance in Tokyo, but could easily overwhelm a two-tenths drop and threaten Zhang/Huske in the final. McKeon were to win, she would break a 2-Olympic-long title drought in this event since Petra Thomas and Libby Trickett‘s back-to-back titles in ’04 and ’08. If McKeon were to at least medal, she would break an Olympic-long medal drought since Alicia Coutts‘ bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.


Place Swimmer Country Best Time Since 2016 Olympics
1 Maggie MacNeil CAN 55.83
2 Zhang Yufei CHN 55.62
3 Emma McKeon AUS 55.93
4 Torri Huske USA 55.66
5 Sarah Sjostrom SWE 56.22
6 Claire Curzan USA 56.20
7 Louise Hansson SWE 56.73
8 Anastasiya Shkurdai BLR 56.95

Dark Horse Threat: Lana Pudar (BIH), 57.37 — The Bosnian and Herzegovinian teen is currently one of the best junior and senior European swimmers in this event. Pudar tore up her current lifetime best and national record of 57.37 at the 2021 Serbian Open in March, breaking Amina Kajtaz’s 2019 BIH national record (59.08) and the first BIH FINA “A” cut swim in the event. Pudar also won the 2021 European junior title at 57.56 by a half second, which would have won bronze at the senior European meet. She is currently in a three-way tie for 3rd on the 2021 European rankings with 2021 senior European co-champions Marie Wattel (FRA) and Anna Ntontounaki (GRE). Pudar is also tied as the 12th seed on the psych sheets, yet is the 4th-fastest teenager in the top-16. With all these points, Pudar could build massive momentum if qualified into the semifinals and potentially carve her own spot into the Olympic final at age 15.

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2 years ago

I’m an Aussie and McKeon is one of my favourites but I don’t really see her medaling unless she improves even more on her trials times, which is a big if.

I think Huske and Sjostrom are going to make the podium.

Reply to  Sub13
2 years ago

I reckon McKeon will get gold or silver. I’m sticking my neck out I know, She’s been working on her underwaters – heard that on a podcast.

2 years ago

Nobody actually knows what Sarah Sjostrom is capable of this season in 100BU. The only information that we have is that she hasn’t practice full stroke for long time in spring and that there were some rumors that only freestyle races would be in her program. Then we had more than three months since then and she suddenly announced her participation in 100 fly race. It can be just for the sake of good spirit without no real intention for medal competition. Her prelim races can be just practice exercise not to get rusty before main freestyle competition at 100 and 50 distances.
But it can be something completely different and she is ready to compete to the end… Read more »

2 years ago

Huske for me. She has that same underwater as coughlin in Beijing (dolphin kick on the side which according rowdy the most efficient/power)

Not Tapered 🏊
Reply to  Swimfan
2 years ago

Thankful to have Rowdy in the booth for another Olympics. 🎙️

2 years ago

McNeil for me, with Huske & McKeon for podium.

2 years ago

MacNeil and Zhang 1-2 in no particular order.
Huske and McKeon 3-4 in no particular order.
My Dark horse(s): Curzan. Was off at trials, still qualified. Been 56.20 this year. Also, Shkurdai.

Last edited 2 years ago by wow
2 years ago

I feel like Sjostrom will make a significant comeback and go 55 high-56 low which may not be enough to media. Then again she could also absolutely pop off and go a personal best while breaking her own world record. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see

Reply to  TeamDressel
2 years ago

Love Sarah but she’s definitely not breaking her WR

Jón Bjarnason
Reply to  TeamDressel
2 years ago

Well, she was the fastest home in heats.
She looked very pleased and surprised.. it’s as if you know something that the rest of us don’t 🙂

2 years ago

Heart wants Sarah to win this or at least medal; head tells me this will be a tall order.

Think the win is between Zhang, McNeill and maybe Huske. If its swum in 55higher, then McKeon enters the medal picture.

  1. Zhang 2. McNeill 3. Huske but with no great confidence
Reply to  commonwombat
2 years ago

You have any worries on Huske lack of experience & youth?

Reply to  Robbos
2 years ago

A reasonable quotient however her time puts her right in that equation.

Those are the 3 (in the absence of Sjostrom) that I see are the prime candidates in anything other than a slower than expected race. In all honesty, the order could be any which way.

I can see McKeon potentially dropping maybe 0.1 – 0.2 but sceptical of anything more hence I see her needing a slightly slower final.

Reply to  commonwombat
2 years ago

I tend to agree.

M d e
Reply to  commonwombat
2 years ago

I think McKeon will medal but not win.

I trust her to be more consistent than any of the other top swimmers, I don’t think she is likely at all to underperform.

But she probably needs all the other top swimmers to be a little slower than their best to win. Only needs 1 to be a little off to medal.

Reply to  M d e
2 years ago

Wouldn’t be surprised if she does medal and would be happy if she does but I think its freestyle where I see her doing most damage if she’s “on” for a great meet.

Jordan Chan
2 years ago

Congrats on finishing all the previews!! Kudos to everyone on the SwimSwam team!!

About Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro

Nick has had the passion for swimming since his first dive in the water in middle school, immediately falling for breaststroke. Nick had expanded to IM events in his late teens, helping foster a short, but memorable NCAA Div III swim experience at Calvin University. While working on his B.A. …

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