Let's Tweak the Olympic Schedule -- August 23, 2012

Guest editorial by John Craig

PHOENIX, Arizona, August 23. THERE is no perfect schedule for a weeklong meet that avoids all potential conflicts. For versatile swimmers like Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin, there have always been difficult choices in choosing an Olympic schedule.

But for most freestylers, it's always seemed odd that the middle distance events both come at the beginning of the week and both sprints come at the end. For the women, it's the same except that all those events happen a day later.

With the current schedule, the heats and finals of the men's 400 free are on day 1. The heats and semifinals of the 200 free are on day 2, and the finals of the 200 are on day 3. Two all out 400s can take a lot out of you, and many of the middle distance freestylers are no longer at their best by day 3.

In London, neither Sun Yang nor Tae Hwan Park could do manage a best time in the 200 free after having swum two 400s on day 1. (Nor could Ryan Lochte, who had also swum two hard 400s the first day, although his were IMs.) Yannick Agnel opted out of the 400 the first day despite having gone a 3:43 the previous year, and was therefore better rested on day 3.

The sprinters, on the other hand, don't get to swim an individual event until day 4, halfway through the meet. Then, they swim for four days straight until the finals of the 50 free on day 7.

Why not switch the 200 free and 50 free? There are no 400 freestylers who also swim the 50 free. The only conflict would be that the finals of the 200 free would go off on the same day as the heats of the 1500. This year that would have been a problem for both Sun and Park, but they are exceptionally versatile. Other than them, there have been no swimmers in the past several Olympiads who swam both events.

Making this switch would give the middle distance freestylers a break after the grueling 400. And it would allow the sprinters to start earlier. Admittedly, the sprinters would still have to swim four days straight, but it's a lot easier to start your second event when you've only swum one 50 the day before than when you've swum two 400s.

The only other conflict would be that on the second day, the 50 freestylers who also swam for countries with competitive 400 free relays could have to swim up to four times on day 2. But as it is, any 200 freestyler with enough speed to help his country's 400 free relay, either in heats or finals, (like Ricky Berens, Lochte, or Phelps in '08) has to swim three or four times that day, and two of those swims are 200s instead of 50s.

With women, it is basically the same schedule, a day later. They have both heats and finals of the 400 free on day 2, followed by heat and semis of the 200 free on day 3, then the finals of the 200 on day 4. Sprinters don't even start to swim individually until day 5, at which point they swim for four days straight.

So why not switch the 50 and 200 free for women as well? This would give the Schmitts and Muffats and Pellegrinis a break in between their events, and the sprinters would get to start earlier. It would mean that the women's 800 final would occur on the same day as the 200 free heats and semis, but that wouldn't have been a conflict for a single swimmer in London. (Adlington didn't swim the 200, and neither Muffat nor Schmitt swam the 800.) There have been swimmers in the past who have swum both, like Shane Gould and Laure Manaudou, but those two were versatile enough to have had potential conflicts with any possible schedule.

Since the women's 400 free relay comes on day 1, and the 200 free doesn't start till day 3, switching the 50 and 200 frees wouldn't present any conflict at all for the women sprinters.

One argument against this proposal is that swimmers who specialize in the 100 and 200 free wouldn't get to swim until the second half of the meet. But these days it seems there are more swimmers who are 400/200 types and 50/100 types than there are 100/200 types.

In London, for the men, there were two 400 finalists who were also 200 finalists. There was one swimmer who made the final of both the 50 and 100 (Cesar Cielo). And there were no swimmers who made it to the finals of both the 100 and 200.

For the women, there were three 400 finalists who made it to the finals of the 200 (Schmitt, Muffat, and Pellegrini). There were four 100 finalists who were also 50 finalists (Kromowidjojo, Herasimenia, Halsall, and Hardy). But there was only one who made it to the finals of both the 100 and 200 (Franklin).

Given that trend, switching the 50 and 200 frees for both men and women would do more good than harm.

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