Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 is the most iconic performance in Olympic history, arguably one that put the sport of swimming on the map for millions of people across the globe and took the sport to a completely different level.
As we gear up for the 2020 Olympics, we have started to look back and wonder if it was possible to replicate that performance, in the current state of the sport.
The best way to consider the sport’s progression would be to analyze the NCAA men’s 50 freestyle, so let’s not waste any time and get right into the data…
2007 Men’s NCAA Division I (FULL BODY ERA):
1- Cesar Cielo Filho - 18.69a
2- Matt Targett - 19.08
2- Ben Wildman-Tobriner - 19.08
2- Albert Subirats - 19.08
Note: 16th after prelims was a 19.62, which wouldn’t have qualified this year by nearly 0.2 seconds.
2012 Men’s NCAA Division I:
1- Jimmy Feigen - 19.01
2 - Vlad Morozov - 19.08
3- Jason Schnur - 19.46
Note: 16th after prelims was a ALSO a 19.62, which wouldn't have qualified in 2019 by nearly 0.2 seconds.
2018 Men’s NCAA Division I:
1- Caeleb Dressel - 17.63
2- Ryan Held - 18.64
3- Bowen Becker - 18.90
4- Pawel Sendyk - 18.94
5- Zach Apple - 18.97
5- Ryan Hoffer - 18.97
Note: 16th after prelims was a 19.20 and the time of 19.62 from 2012 and 2007 would’ve been T-38th after prelims.
The high-end depth takeaway from these stats are obvious and staggering, but not to be overshadowed are the simply insane progressions in depth.
Looking forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, factoring in the depth at the U.S. Olympic Trials and the Olympic stage is necessary. With sport progression, however, comes the addition of new events like the mixed relays and stroke 50s. These events in particular play heavily into the favor of sprinters like Caeleb Dressel and it’s no secret…
Not sure where he gets that 7th gold then (assuming 50/100 free, 100 fly + all 3 single-gender relays). Haven’t heard anything about a decision to swim 200 free/IM individually. Think the fashion that CD wins those matters too. Phelps 7/8 WR, with 2fly OR, matters a lot.— Vadim Jacobson (@VadimGunKelly) May 20, 2019
If all 7 will be Olympic events, definitely as impressive. Otherwise....(stroke 50s I’m looking at you).— Jeremy Press (@JeremyPress1) May 20, 2019
Mixed relays tho— James Boone (@JamesThomasBoon) May 20, 2019
We polled the swimming community as well to get their opinion as a whole and the results might be surprising…
Would 7 gold medals from Dressel be as, less, or more impressive in 2020 than the 8 from Phelps in 2008?— Kyle Sockwell (@kylesockwell) May 20, 2019
All of the medal hype aside, it’s no question that Phelps kicked off the excitement and Dressel is keeping it alive along with help from names likes Ledecky, Peaty, and more. Just over a year away from the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials and the anticipation for the meet and the Olympics to follow it are already high.
Do you think seven gold medals in Tokyo would be possible for Dressel? Eight? Nine? Forty-seven? Come join the conversation on Twitter and add to the hype.