For a long time I’ve wondered why one specific event is not contested at the Olympic Games, or at the international level in general. I’m not a huge fan of comparing swimming events to track events, because I don’t believe they perfectly overlap, but in this case I just cant ignore it.
Let’s start by talking about some of the events in track that generate the most buzz, have the highest viewership, and are just in general more exciting than others.
If you were to ask the general track and field fan who the most prominent figure in the sport would be the answers likely wouldn’t be unanimous, but they’d be close. Any names come to mind? Usain Bolt’s should. The 100m dash phenom (yes he runs the 200m as well, but let’s be real here) burst onto the scene smashing world records by a huge margin in what seemed like every meet he competed in. This 9.5-second race is high octane, quick, but still allows for some shifting in position and a breakaway victory. Swimming’s fastest race on the Olympic/International stage is double this race time with a world record just under 21 seconds.
Now let me explain to you why the 200 freestyle relay should be contested on the world stage.
Let’s paint a quick picture…four of the “fastest” swimmers from each country swimming 50m with risky exchange times (time between hand touching wall and next relay participant leaving the block) with a packed crowd in the best shape of their life. Sounds terrible and not exciting at all right? Let’s break down a quick list of what I’d see being the most exciting races at the Olympic stage. We’ll do a top five.
200 freestyle relay
400 freestyle relay
200 medley relay
While your list might differ a bit, I bet there are some similarities, specifically in the relay department. Relays have created some of the most iconic swimming moments in the history of the sport, including the Jason Lezak comeback. Now, since swimmers are data obsessed let’s throw down some predictions about what we might see in the split department.
Leadoff splits should be pretty predictable and with the way swimming is trending we could see some big sub 21-second swims for the men and 23-mid for the women. For the more fun side of the predictions in this, the relay start splits. We could see people relay start to push the 20-second barrier with all of the stars and planets aligning, but reasonably speaking, I’d expect to see some people touching in the range of 20.3 to 20.4 for the men and for the women we could see the first 22-second split. The medley relay side of things gets a bit more interesting since we’re still trying to get stroke 50s to become a staple on the international stage and I’ll leave these splits up to the imagination.
Swimming’s come a long way since two-foot up starts, brief-only races, and slippery backstroke starts, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Definitely excited to see where the sport ends up in the next five, 10, and even 20 years.