Tokyo Flashback: Wang Shun Storms to Gold in 200 IM; Michael Andrew Fades Badly to Fifth (Updated)

Jul 30, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Wang Shun (CHN) celebrates after winning the men's 200m individual medley final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

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Tokyo Flashback: Wang Shun Storms to Gold in 200 IM; Michael Andrew Fades to Fifth

One year has passed since the Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to COVID-19, unfolded in Tokyo. To celebrate what went down in the Japanese capital, Swimming World is revisiting the championship finals – each on their one-year anniversary – by once again running the stories that were posted after the medals were decided.

Could Michael Andrew do enough on the closing freestyle leg to capture the gold medal? That was one of the prevailing questions concerning the 200-meter individual medley heading into the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The answer? No. And, even if Andrew delivered a solid finish, it might not have mattered.

Rising to the No. 3 performer in the history of the event with an Asian record, China’s Wang Shun bested the field in the 200 I.M. with a time of 1:55.00. Only Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps have been faster, each with multiple sub-1:55 efforts. The silver medal went to Great Britain’s Duncan Scott in 1:55.28, with the bronze medal claimed by Switzerland’s Jeremy Desplanches in 1:56.17. Japan’s Daiya Seto (1:56.22) was fourth, with Andrew finishing fifth in 1:57.31.

It was a disappointing showing and finish for Andrew, who starred at the United States Olympic Trials by qualifying for the Tokyo Games in three individual events. But the Games have been difficult for the 22-year-old. He just missed the podium in the 100 breaststroke, placing fourth, and now the medley – his best chance at gold, or a solo medal – fell apart down the stretch. Before the Games, Andrew encountered controversy when he admitted he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. Although he was supported in some corners, that revelation brought plenty of negativity.

Heading into Tokyo, Andrew was the heavy favorite for gold in the 200 medley, following a 1:55-low marker at Trials. There, he flashed brilliance through the first three legs of the event, building advantages that no one could close. At the Games, Andrew has not been as sharp and his gap on the opposition is obviously narrowed.

Andrew took the lead on the opening butterfly leg, splitting 24.21. But on the backstroke leg, Andrew dropped back to fifth, a surprise development. The American rallied on the breaststroke leg, splitting an eye-popping 32.11 to give him an edge of more than a second over Wang. The freestyle leg, though, was a disaster, as Andrew split 30.69, the pain of the last lap showing with every stroke and the breakdown of his technique.

“It hurt really bad,” Andrew said. “I think it hurt worse than it looked, and it looked pretty bad. It’s just disappointing. Obviously we’ve been working really hard on that. But now we go back to the drawing board and we figure out what we can do three years from now, if I swim that event three years from now. It’s one of those races where I knew I had to be fast to the 150.”

Andrew’s freestyle leg was more than a second slower than the seventh-fastest split in the final, and it was bettered by more than three seconds by Wang and Scott. The way the race unfolded for Andrew will surely reignite debate over his loyalty to the Ultra Short Race Pace Training (USRPT) approach that he has embraced for years. While USRPT has certainly benefited Andrew, elevating him to Olympian status, has it inhibited his ability to finish races?

At least one man in the know has an opinion.

“I just think to swim a good 200, you have to train for the 400,” said Phelps during the U.S. Trials. “To swim a good 100, you have to train for a 200. So, when you see somebody who has an amazing 150 and their stroke—I say ‘fall apart’ in the nicest way possible at the end of the race. I know how it feels. When you’re slipping water like that, I feel like that’s a training error. You’re not giving yourself that chance to have repetitions in training that you’re going to feel the last 25 meters.”

For his part, Wang was sensational, maintaining the Chinese momentum that developed the previous day when Zhang Yufei won gold in the 200 butterfly and also helped the women’s 800 freestyle relay to a world record. The bronze medalist in the event at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and twice a bronze medalist at the World Championships, Wang put together the race of his career at the perfect moment.

“The key lies in unity,” Wang said of China’s strong performances. “We have one single target and objective to achieve. Under such a structure, we have a lot of motivation to achieve this…I was only competing against myself. The opponent is me. No matter how others have performed, it shouldn’t concern me. I just focus on myself.”

Third after the butterfly leg, Wang moved into first on backstroke. Against Andrew and his blistering breaststroke pace, Wang dropped back to second on the third 50, only to blaze down the final length. He covered the last lap in 27.37, out-splitting the 27.46 of Scott, who is known for his finishing power. Scott’s freestyle performance propelled him from fifth at the 150-meter mark to the second step on the podium. He is only the second British man to medal in an Olympic medley event, joining Neil Cochran, who won bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Games in the 200 I.M.

“Initially, I was just really gutted,” Scott said of his silver medal, the color he also won in the 200 freestyle. “The times at this meet, and in an Olympic final, almost go out the window for me. I haven’t really had time to think about it a bit more and let it sink in. It’s a massive personal best again. I’ve dropped over a second and a half in this event this year, and I’m still learning it a lot. But just not enough, again.”

Desplanches is Switzerland’s second male Olympic medalist in the sport, joining Etienne Dagon in the men’s 200 breast from the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

“The last 50m I just gave everything I had — I gave more than I had, and I think I’m going to be sick for two weeks now,” Desplanches said. “It is my first Olympic final and first Olympic medal, so I can say it’s a good start.”

World Record: Ryan Lochte, United States, 1:54.00 (2011)
Olympic Record: Michael Phelps, United States (2008)

Final Results

1. Wang Shun (China) 1:55.00
2. Duncan Scott (Great Britain) 1:55.28
3. Jeremy Desplanches (Switzerland) 1:56.17
4. Daiya Seto (Japan) 1:56.22
5. Michael Andrew (United States) 1:57.31
6. Kosuke Hagino (Japan) 1:57.49
7. Laszlo Cseh (Hungary) 1:57.68
8. Lewis Clareburt (New Zealand) 1:57.70