5 Lingering and Unanswered Questions Following the Olympic Games; Look For Caeleb Dressel-Kristof Milak Rivalry

Jul 31, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Caeleb Dressel (USA) and Kristof Milak (HUN) react after placing first and second in the men's 100m butterfly final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

The Olympic Games are now two weeks in the rearview mirror, the competition at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre providing plenty of highlights amid an extremely different competitive environment. The lack of spectators was an unfortunate aspect of the Games, but a necessary decision given the COVID-19 challenges facing Japan.

The typical post-Olympics lull that we are currently experiencing in the sport will come to an end shortly, thanks to the start of the third season of the International Swimming League in Naples. As we turn our attention to the resumption of action in the pool, here are five questions to contemplate, the answers to be revealed in due time.

1. Will Ahmed Hafnaoui Bolster An American College Program?

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN) celebrates after winning the men's 400m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher — USA Today Sports

One of the surprise performances of the Tokyo Games was turned in by Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui, whose triumph from Lane One in the 400-meter freestyle brought energy to the first morning of finals. Hafnaoui became just the second Tunisian to capture Olympic gold in the pool, joining Ous Mellouli, the titlist in the 1500 freestyle at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Following his triumph, Hafnaoui suggested he will bring his distance-freestyle skills to the United States next year and join a collegiate program. Where will Hafnaoui land? That is the question that remains to be answered. What is known is this: Whichever school secures the services of the 18-year-old will significantly bolster its roster with an Olympic champion with a huge upside.

2. Will the European Women Bounce Back?

Out of the 42 medals available in the individual women’s events in Tokyo, only four were claimed by European athletes – and none were gold. That was a major dropoff from the 17 medals won by European women at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the 14 medals earned by Europeans at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

sarah sjostrom, olympics, Aug 1, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Sarah Sjoestroem (SWE) with her silver medal during the medals ceremony for the women's 50m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

In Tokyo, the Europeans’ four medals all came from freestyle events, which means the continent was shut out in the stroke disciplines. Credit must be given to Sarah Sjostrom, whose silver medal in the 50 freestyle was collected on the heels of the Swede suffering a fractured elbow during a fall that prompted surgery and intense rehab just to compete at the 2020 Games.

Sure, cycles are a part of the sport, and all nations – and continents – go through ups and downs. Look at Australia. In Tokyo, it rebounded from a pair of sub-par Olympics to shine. Consequently, it is a matter of time until the European women rally. The question: How soon?

3. Can Kristof Milak Catch Caeleb Dressel In the 100 Butterfly?

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kristof Milak (HUN) in the men's 200m butterfly final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

In the 200 butterfly, Hungarian Kristof Milak knows no peer. He owns the four-fastest times in history and won Olympic gold by more than two seconds over Japan’s Tomoru Honda. Moving forward in the 200 fly, it seems Milak is racing the clock, and chasing his world record of 1:50.73.

But, can he catch Caeleb Dressel in the 100 fly?

As Dressel roared to a world record of 49.45 in the shorter distance in Tokyo, Milak became the No. 2 performer of all-time with a European record of 49.68. That Milak demonstrated that type of speed augurs well for his future and sets up some exciting duels between Dressel and the Hungarian in the future, the next big clash hopefully arriving at the 2022 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

4. Can Katinka Hosszu Muster a Final Hurrah?

Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Katinka Hosszu (HUN) during the women's 400m individual medley heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network

Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro — USA Today Sports

Five years ago, Hungarian Katinka Hosszu was the headliner of the women’s competition at the Olympic Games. In Rio, Hosszu grabbed gold medals in both individual medley events and the 100 backstroke and added a silver medal in the 200 backstroke.

In Tokyo, Hosszu had a tough time, and her Iron Lady persona was dented. The 32-year-old finished fifth in the 400 medley, seventh in the 200 I.M. and failed to advance out of the prelims of the 200 backstroke. The undefeated Father Time might have caught up with Hosszu, who also lacked her former pop in the leadup to the Games.

Maybe Hosszu will rebound and put together another top-tier run. Or, maybe the end of international contention has arrived.

5. When Will a 2:05 200 Breaststroke Appear?

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Izaac Stubblety-Cook (AUS) celebrates after winning the men's 200m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Heading into the Olympic Games, there was considerable discussion about the possibility of seeing a sub-2:06 performance in the men’s 200 breaststroke. With several athletes going 2:06 during their Olympic preparation, the barrier seemed in threat. Ultimately, Australian Zac Stubblety-Cook prevailed in an Olympic-record time of 2:06.38, but not one else cracked 2:07.

Surprisingly, world-record holder Anton Chupkov was off the podium in fourth place, and more than a second off his global standard of 2:06.12. Meanwhile, Japan’s Shoma Sato – under 2:07 on multiple occasions – was more than two seconds off his best and failed to advance to the final.

Perhaps the pressure of the Olympic Games affected some of the major players, but the event did not meet expectations. There is certainly plenty of talent in the event and the 2:06 threshold is within reach, but when will that day arrive?

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Fok Yu

    Hopefully China and Russia will start to make gains and eventually dominate the medals table at every event. It would be awesome see both the winning and complaining/suspicion of doping

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