LANE ONE: Is the Tokyo swimming schedule better for Katie Ledecky or Caeleb Dressel?

American swim superstar Katie Ledecky

/Updated: see Endnote/ Now that the Tokyo organizers have released much of the detail of the 2020 Olympic sports schedules, it’s finally possible to see what some of the projected stars of the Games might be able to accomplish.

This is especially so in swimming, where the added events and relays create a dizzying set of opportunities, especially for American superstars Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel.

Ledecky, of course, is a distance freestyler who dabbles enough in the 100 m Free to allow her a spot on the American 4×100 m relay team, Dressel is a pure sprinter, but who is also working on his 200 m Free performance to try and get onto the U.S. 4×2 relay squad if he can.

How heavy are the workloads? Heavy, for sure. Remember also that the swimming finals will all be in the morning, with the first session starting at 10:30 a.m. The evening programs will begin at 7:00 p.m.

For Katie Ledecky: 13 swims across 8 days

As a distance swimmer, Ledecky is going to have to swim a lot of laps in Tokyo. Certainly her program is being aimed at the 200-400-800-1,500 m Frees and the relays, and she has two brutal days in which she will swim her shortest and longest events in the same session. The schedule:

25 July: 7:00 p.m.: 4×100 m Free Relay heats

26 July: 10:30 a.m.: 4×100 m Free Relay final
26 July: 7:00 p.m.: 400 m Free heats

27 July: 10:30 a.m.: 400 m Free final
27 July: 7:00 p.m.: 200 m Free heats + 1,500 m Free heats

28 July: 10:30 a.m.: 200 m Free semis

29 July: 10:30 a.m.: 200 m Free final + 1,500 m Free final
29 July: 7:00 p.m.: 4×200 m Free heats

30 July: 10:30 a.m.: 4×200 m Free final
30 July: 7:00 p.m.: 800 m Free heats

1 August: 10:30 a..m.: 800 m Free final

The exertion of the 200 m and 1,500 m heats on the 27th will be increased exponentially two days later, when she will have the 200 m Free final at about 10:45 a.m. and the 1,500 m final at about noon. Ouch!

However, this challenge could be lessened if her expected rival, Australian teenager Ariarne Titmus, skips the 1,500 m. She doesn’t have to commit yet, but she told reporters earlier this month, “Katy [sic] I think will have the 800 covered at the Olympics, she is just that far ahead. Whereas the 200 and the 400, I think I’m a bit more in the mix.”

If so, Ledecky could concentrate most of her energy on the 29th into the 200 m Free at the start of the session and still have enough left to win the 1,500 m, where there is no one to challenge even a tired Ledecky at present.

Ledecky also get a break in the schedule near the end, with a full day of rest between the 800 m heats on 30 July and the final on 1 August.. That will help prep her for a showdown with Titmus.

Ledecky’s schedule could also be shortened somewhat if the U.S. opts not to swim her in the prelims of the 4×100 m and 4×200 m Free Relay events. That would give her more rest after the 200/1500 m doubles on two of the prior three days.

Unless something strange happens, Ledecky is in line for a shot at six medals: if she won gold in all six, she would tie East Germany’s Kristin Otto, who won six in 1988 in Seoul. American Natalie Coughlin also won six medals (1-2-3) in 2008 in Beijing; no other female swimmer has ever won six in a single Games.

Now, if Ledecky is in a state of fitness never before seen in swimming – with her work ethic, it’s possible – might the U.S. coaches throw her into a prelim of the Mixed 4×100 m Medley or Mixed 4×100 m Free to get her a historic seventh medal? That is certainly possible.

For Caeleb Dressel: 17 swims across 8 days

Embed from Getty Images

Where Ledecky will swim at least 6,300 m at the Games if she is in all four distance Frees and the relays (that’s 3.9 miles!), Dressel is a sprinter and could cover just 1,450 m (about 0.9 miles) in seven events. His possible schedule:

26 July: 7:00 p.m.: 4×100 m Free Relay heats

27 July: 10:30 a.m.: 4×100 m Free Relay final

28 July: 7:00 p.m.: 100 m Free heats + 4×200 m Free heats

29 July: 10:30 a.m.: 100 m Free semis + 4×200 m Free final

30 July: 10:30 a.m.: 100 m Free final
30 July: 7:00 p.m.: 100 m Butterfly heats + Mixed 4×100 m Medley heats

31 July: 10:30 a.m.: 100 m Butterfly semis
31 July: 7:00 p.m.: 50 m Free heats + 4×100 m Medley heats

1 August: 10:30 a.m.: 100 m Butterfly final + 50 m Free semis + Mixed 4×100 m Medley final

2 August: 10:30 a.m.: 50 m Free final + 4×100 m Medley final

Remember that Dressel won seven golds at the 2017 World Championships in the 50-100 m Frees, 100 m Fly and four relays. For Tokyo, he will likely be one of the favorites in all three of those events, but might be able to medal in five relays if he is able to – as he says he wants to – make the U.S. 4×200 m Free team.

In that case, Dressel might be able to win eight medals to tie Michael Phelps (2004 and 2008) and Soviet gymnast Alexander Dityatin (1980) for the most medals won in a single Games.

His schedule above could be shortened by not having to swim in the heats of the 4×100 m Free, 4×100 m Medley or Mixed 4x100m Free or Medley relays. The U.S. has lots of talent in the sprints and if he can skip those and swims in only one of the 4×200 m Free relays – he has said he’d be happy just being in the prelims – he would be down to 13 swims in eight days.

But will have a challenging day on 1 August, with three pressure swims in two hours: the 100 m Fly final, the 50 m Free semis and the 4×100 m Medley final. This assumes that he is able to hold off the charge of not only the rest of the world, but star teen Michael Andrew of the U.S., who has been stroke-for-stroke with Dressel this season.

In fact, Andrew could compete in exactly the same program as Dressel, but perhaps also in the 200 m Medley, where he just beat reigning World Champion Chase Kalisz at last weekend’s Tyr Pro Swim Series in Richmond? (The 200 m Medley final is on 31 July.)

Embed from Getty Images

Is that case, Andrew might be the one with a chance for eight medals … or he and Dressel could both do it! How crazy would that be?

We’ll get a preview at the FINA World Championships in Korea later this summer, but the actual starting point will be at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha in June of 2020. Can’t wait!

Rich Perelman
Editor

/Update: Olympic statistics star Dr. Bill Mallon notes that while Ledecky would win the most medals ever by a female swimmer in a single Games if she were to earn seven, it would not be the most ever by a woman in a single Games. Russian gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya won seven (2-5-0) in the 1952 Games./