Looking Back on Predictions for the Olympic Games

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports


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By David Rieder.

The Olympic Games have come to an end, and all the interested parties are back home in the United States recharging their batteries.

But before we start thinking about 2017—the World Championships will be in Budapest next July, by the way—we at Swimming World need to hold ourselves accountable.

We predicted every single medalist in the 32 pool events in Rio—and some of those predictions we actually got right!

Day One: Solid Start

For the very first final of the Olympic Games, Swimming World predicted Kosuke Hagino to win gold, Chase Kalisz silver and Daiya Seto bronze. Boom, boom and boom. (We would not have picked anyone, let alone two guys, to swim under 4:07, but who said anything about time?)

We also got the top two finishers in the day’s women’s events—Katinka Hosszu and Maya DiRado in the 400 IM, and Australia and the U.S. in the 400 free relay—spot on.

The men’s 400 free, not so much. Some of us on staff thought Mack Horton would win gold. Others picked Sun Yang. So there was a compromise prediction: James Guy.

Guy was the World Champion in the 200 free in 2015 and finished second to Sun in the 400. But it would take another massive step forward for Guy to win Olympic gold in the 400.

And so when he had a big lead through the 250, we looked like sages. Unfortunately, that did not last, and Guy missed the podium. Horton, who we ended up picking for bronze won gold. At least Sun actually got the silver, just like we predicted!

Winners picked correctly: 3 of 4

Day Two: No-Brainer World Record-Breakers

The three individual events on the docket for day two included the women’s 100 fly, men’s 100 breast and women’s 400 free. Anyone who did not pick Sarah Sjostrom, Adam Peaty and Katie Ledecky, respectively, in those three events would have simply been kidding themselves.

Sjostrom won by 0.98, Peaty by 1.56 and Ledecky by 4.77. All three broke world records. Not like we went out on a limb here.

For the men’s 400 free relay, we picked France. Without much confidence. It was quite clear that Australia or the United States could also win gold, and maybe even Russia could sneak in with Vladimir Morozov reinstated to swim in Rio at the last minute. It would just depend on which team performed in the moment.

France put typically-reliable Fabien Gilot on their finals squad—and he proceeded to split a sluggish 48.20. Australian veterans James Roberts and James Magnussen struggled mightily. Russia did not get the fast splits it needed from Andrey Grechin or Danila Izotov.

And the Americans stepped up. Caeleb Dressel led off with a best time, Michael Phelps was in vintage form, Ryan Held delivered in the biggest moment of his career, and Nathan Adrian was Mr. Consistency. So, yeah, we missed this one when we picked the U.S. to get the bronze, but call it a not-that-unexpected miss.

Winners picked correctly: 3 of 4
Cumulative: 6 of 8

Day Three: Some Twists and Turns

This one was definitely not our best. Of our gold medal picks for the four straight finals on day three, the first two did not even win a medal. In the men’s 200 free, we picked Guy to back up his 2015 World title with Olympic gold, but he barely snuck into the final in the eighth qualifying spot. He ended up fourth as Sun won gold (we picked him for silver), and Chad le Clos picked up a surprising silver medal from lane one.

Then there was the women’s 100 back, where we picked Emily Seebohm and wrote that “Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu may forego the 100 back to focus on her other races.”

Hosszu won gold, and Seebohm was seventh. Whoops.

Of the four medalists in that event (there was a tie for bronze), we predicte one: Mie Nielsen.

The men’s 100 back went better with the projected American 1-3 finish playing out, and Lilly King came through for gold in the 100 breast.

The original version of our picks had Yulia Efimova getting the bronze, but she was taken out when she was banned from the Games for her past doping violations. That, of course, changed the night before the meet when the IOC allowed her back in. The realities of journalism put that one firmly in the category of “we tried.”

Winners picked correctly: 2 of 4
Cumulative: 8 of 12

Day Four: Perfect

The women’s 200 free was hyped up as a showdown between Ledecky and Sjostrom. The race lived up to the billing, and as we predicted, Ledecky came out on top.

Phelps had his sights set on returning to the top of the podium in the men’s 200 fly after he was touched out by le Clos four years ago in London. We picked him, despite a shaky performance in the event at Olympic Trials and le Clos and Laszlo Cseh both swimming well coming in.

And Phelps indeed won it. So what that the margin of victory was four one-hundredths of a second or that the primary challengers turned out to be Masato Sakai and Tamás Kenderesi instead of le Clos and Cseh?

Hosszu figured to dominate the women’s 200 IM, but Siobhan-Marie O’Connor was hot on her heels and gave the Hungarian reason to sweat it out. But the final result was Hosszu first, O’Connor second and DiRado third—exactly how we picked it.

And then came the men’s 800 free relay, which the Americans won easily, as expected—despite a near-disaster when Phelps’ cap ripped before the race. Great Britain, on the strength of Guy’s strong anchor leg finished second—also as expected—while Japan beat Australia by seven tenths of a second for third.

Sure, we picked Australia, but they might well have won a medal if Cameron McEvoy swam this relay. McEvoy tied for the Australian national championship in the event in April, but he sat out to rest for the next day’s 100 free final (more on that in part two of the predictions analysis, coming Thursday). He sat out, Daniel Smith split 1:47.37, and Takeshi Matsuda held off Horton coming home.

Winners picked correctly: 4 of 4
Cumulative: 12 of 16

Check back Thursday for an analysis of our predictions from days five through eight.