Which Swimmers Are Heavy Favorites to Win Olympic Gold?

Leon Marchand of France celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 200m Individual Medley Men Final during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 27th, 2023.
Leon Marchand -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Which Swimmers Are Heavy Favorites to Win Olympic Gold?

Just two-and-a-half weeks remain until Olympic swimming begins, and there are plenty of races expected to come down to the wire in Paris. In the women’s backstroke events, defending champion Kaylee McKeown of Australia will take on resurgent American Regan Smith, while McKeown is also part of a likely-tight 200 IM with Canada’s Summer McIntosh and American world champions Kate Douglass and Alex Walsh. Aussies Ariarne Titmus and Mollie O’Callaghan have both broken the world record in the 200 freestyle.

For the men, Adam Peaty goes for a three-peat in the 100 breaststroke against China’s Qin Haiyang while Ryan Murphy will aim to take down world-record holder Thomas Ceccon in the 100 back and reclaim the Olympic gold he previously won in 2016. A pair of Australians plus Germany’s Lukas Martens are pushing the 3:40-barrier in the 400 free while Caeleb Dressel is lurking in both his individual events but no longer the dominant force he was three years ago.

But in several events, there is no doubt as to the identify of the favorite. Not to say all of these swimmers are locks for gold, but it would be a major surprise if a competitor knocks them off in an Olympic final. We have identified strong favorites in six out of 28 individual events, ordered based on their positioning in the Olympic swimming schedule.

Men’s 400 IM: Leon Marchand

In his first final of a home Olympics in Paris, no one is beating Leon Marchand. The 22-year-old Frenchman has been quiet in recent months since leading Arizona State to its first-ever team title in men’s swimming, but based on his performance at every championship meet since the Tokyo Games, Marchand will be ready. Respect to American Carson Foster and the world-leading time of 4:07.64 he clocked at the U.S. Olympic Trials, but Marchand’s world record is five seconds faster.

In 2023, Marchand broke Michael Phelps’ final individual world record with a mark of 4:02.50 at the World Championships. He could again beat that and perhaps even threaten 4:00 as he looks for his first Olympic gold.

Women’s 400 IM: Summer McIntosh

summer mcintosh

Summer McIntosh — Photo Courtesy: Michael P. Hall/Swimming Canada)

We will see plenty of Summer McIntosh throughout the Paris Games, with the 17-year-old Canadian set to contend for medals in five individual events. But in the 400 IM, thanks to butterfly and freestyle legs that are the best in the world and among the best ever, she is so far clear of anyone else in the world. McIntosh has shattered the world record twice in the past two years, getting down to a mark of 4:24.38 that is two seconds quicker than the second-fastest woman in history.

Only one other swimmer who will be in Paris has ever broken 4:30, and Kaylee McKeown even swim the 400 IM. The next-quickest best time in the field belongs to American Katie Grimes, whose top mark of 4:31.41 is a whopping seven seconds back.

Men’s 200 Freestyle: David Popovici

David Popovici was magical in 2022 as he broke a 13-year-old world record in the 100 free and became the fastest swimmer ever in a textile suit over 200 meters. But in 2023, he struggled mightily at the World Championships, failing to win a medal. Would the real Popovici please stand up?

Well, the 19-year-old has shown clearly that he is back in top form in advance of Paris. In his debut Olympics in Tokyo, he missed the podium by just four hundredths in the 200 free, but already this year, he clocked 1:43.13 in the event at the European Championships. No one other active swimmer has ever broken 1:44, and simply repeating his European Champs performance in Paris would surely be sufficient for gold. Popovici will also be in the 100 free mix alongside Pan Zhanle and Kyle Chalmers, but no one is at his level in the 200.

Women’s 1500 Freestyle: Katie Ledecky


Katie Ledecky — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Beating Katie Ledecky in the 30-lap race? Basically impossible. Even with an Olympic Trials performance that was well off her own best form (17 seconds shy of her world record), Ledecky clocked 15:37.45, faster than anyone else in history and 10 seconds ahead of anyone else’s best effort thus far in 2024. If Ledecky can approach the mark she clocked to win last year’s world title (15:26.27), this will be a blowout.

Women’s 800 Freestyle: Katie Ledecky

Ledecky is not as unstoppable in the 800 free, coming off her first defeat in the event in more than a decade earlier this year, and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus actually did post a faster winning time at the Australian Olympic Trials then Ledecky did at her selection meet. But just looking at this year’s results does not tell the full story of the event: Ledecky beat the field by four-and-a-half seconds at last year’s World Championships, even as Li Bingjie and Titmus became the second and third-fastest women ever, respectively, in their medal-winning performances.

Women’s 50 Freestyle: Sarah Sjostrom

She might compete in only one individual event this time around, but Sarah Sjostrom is the big favorite for Olympic gold in the 50 free, having broken her own world record last year and owning a best time more than three tenths ahead of anyone else in the field, a huge margin in the one-lap event. Sjostrom has previously won four Olympic medals, one of each color in 2016 and then 50 free silver in 2021 when she was just months removed from a wrist injury. Now, it would take a major upset to deny her this gold.

Just Missed

In addition to his 400 IM world record, Leon Marchand went undefeated at last year’s World Championships, but he will have some tough rivals to get through this time as he faces defending Olympic champions Kristof Milak in the 200 fly and Wang Shun in the 200 IM. As for the 200 breaststroke, Qin set a world record of 2:05.48 last year, but what can Marchand provide in his global debut in the event at the Olympics?

On the women’s side, Gretchen Walsh took down the 100 fly world record at the U.S. Olympic Trials, but Torri Huske, Zhang Yufei and Maggie Mac Neil sit within striking distance. Ariarne Titmus sits well ahead of her competition in the 400 free as the only woman to ever break 3:56, but the racing abilities of Summer McIntosh and Katie Ledecky leaves a sliver of doubt in the outcome.

Meanwhile, China’s Tang Qianting scared the world record in the 100 breast this year, but can the 20-year-old repeat that effort with past champions Lilly King and Ruta Meilutyte plus South Africa’s Tatjana (Schoenmaker) Smith among those in pursuit?

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1 day ago

My Fantasy Women’s 800m Freestyle



Ledecky Gold
Titmus Silver
Pallister or anyone else Bronze

But that said, if Ledecky (pronounced Leh-Dets-Skee) is off her game and Titmus peaks for a few seconds PB, then it might be an Aussie Gold and US Silver!

17 hours ago
Reply to  Kanga1

me too

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