Swimming World Staff Picks: Top Races to Watch in 2020

Katie Ledecky - Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Swimming World Staff Picks: Top Races to Watch in 2020

The 2020 Olympic year is finally here. Athletes from around the globe have started the push toward Tokyo and  excitement is mounting for what could happen at the Games beyond the thrills and spills of trials for each country that will keep the sport abuzz from now until the Closing Ceremony in August.

With so many stars and so many showdowns looming, members of the Swimming World staff selected a moment among many they are most looking forward to. Will it be a breaststroke showdown, the sprints, distance, butterfly, backstroke or IM? Or perhaps a relay? Trials or the moment all the work has been for?

Check out what some of the Swimming World staff selected:

Craig Lord – Editor-In-Chief: Katie Ledecky’s Shot At the Triple Crown Club

Women’s (400) 800 (1500m) Free, Tokyo 2020

I’m looking forward to history that makes the hair stand up in the back of your neck and, by its very nature, transcends the moment unfolding. Much to choose from.

8:04.79: one of the most outstanding World Records in swimming history, a time that reflects a rare dominance, the likes of Adam Peaty’s 56.88 100m breaststroke another performance from the current shoal of pioneers that stands head and shoulders above the rest of cream-of-crop excellence. Peaty is another obvious choice for what we might all look forward to in 2020, on a number of levels including what it means if he keeps the crown, in what time and with what dominance might he do so – and how will the rest of the best of breaststroke respond to the might and magnet of the man?

How will the rest of the world respond to the might and magnet of the woman who has topped the league of outstanding women’s performances ever since she claimed the Olympic 800m free crown when 15 at London 2012?

Watching Katie Ledecky is to have a ring-side seat for history in the making that speaks to history awaiting the next post to the Pantheon.

Olympic gold and a Kangaroo in her pouch

Dawn Fraser – Photo Courtesy: Dawn Fraser Collection

It is 56 years since Dawn Fraser claimed the third of her 100m free titles at Tokyo 1964 and founded the Triple Crown Club in the pool. Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi joined the Australian in 1996 with a third win over 200m backstroke at Atlanta 1996.  Olympic boycotts robbed the sport of possibilities, Vladimir Salnikov‘s 1988 win over 1500 after his first victory in 1980 left with question marks hanging over a missed 1984 and the challenge missing from 1980, American Brian Goodell on a stunning 15:02 at the helm of an epic three-way fight four years earlier but denied a shot at repeat gold and what may have been the moment he, not the Russian, became the first man inside 15mins.

As the 20th Century and the Millennium drew to a close, Kieren Perkins fell 5.26sec shy of becoming the first man to join the club when he sought a third 1500m free crown. Eight years on and the man who denied Perkins, Aussie teammate Grant Hackett,  came closer than any man had ever been when falling just 0.69sec shy of Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli and his 14:40.84 African-record victory in Beijing at a times of shiny suits that would be sunk for the good of swimming and swimmers a little over a year later beyond the last-hurrah circus of 42 World records in eight days at the Rome 2009 World Championships.

Enter Michael Phelps: and how! Quick recall on some of the most outer-orbit achievements all-time, all sports in Olympic or other fields of engagement: after the seven medals of Athens 2004 and the eight golds of Beijing 2008, the London 2012 Swansong that wasn’t  delivered this:

  • July 31: founding male membership of the Triple Crown Club with gold in the 4x200m free with USA mates
  • August 2: solo founding membership of the Triple Crown Club with gold in the 200IM
  • August 3: founding member of the Double (and with relay triple) Triple  Crown Club in the 100m butterfly
  • August 4: a fourth stamp in his Triple Crown Club  as the USA claimed 4x100m medley gold, Phelps in the mix for a third time after Athens and Beijing gold.

And then it was done. Not. At Rio 2016, Phelps added a Triple Crown stamp, albeit two peaks a relative trough and another peak long, in the 200m butterfly and founded the swimmers’ Quadruple Crown Club with two fourth straight triumphs in the 4x200m free and then, in the last race of the stellar career to outshine them all, the 4x100m medley.

They say records are there to be broken. True. Not one for prediction on the whole, I say this: Phelps’ towering tallies will live as the high bar beyond my years – and very possibly his.


Katie Ledecky – Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

And so we come to the arrival of a girl bound of outer-orbit swimming herself: Katie Ledecky. At London 2012, she was just 15 when she claimed gold in the  800m freestyle ahead of Mireia Belmonte, the Spanish all-rounder four years out from becoming her country’s first Olympic swimming champ among women, over 200m butterfly, and the double distance Olympic champion of Beijing 2008, Rebecca Adlington, the Brit whose dominance of the 800m in China remains one of the outstanding wins of 21st Century Olympic swimming.

At Rio 2016, Ledecky more than lived up to her billing: gold in the 200, 400 and 800m free made her the first to achieve that triple feat since fellow American Debbie Meyer nailed the sweep to her mast at the first Olympics where that was possible, Mexico 1968. There was also gold in the 4x200m free, after she overhauled Australia with a 1:53 split to deliver the win for the USA, and silver in the 4x100m free.

Tokyo 2020 can only be seen through the prism of U.S.trials for Americans facing the most competitive meet-wide pre-Games challenge to be found anywhere in the world. Let’s assume Ledecky makes it on all fronts: 200, 400, 800 and now, for the first time for women, the 1500m. Plus relays. Huge program. The 800m is the one that offers the Triple Crown membership this year.

All of that and the challenge others such as Ariarne Titmus, of Australia, Simona Quadarella, of Italy, among others, will bring a year after Ledecky collected her fourth straight 800m World title in a manner that showed us a new angle on the depth of her determination, provide the alchemy of thrill, spill, spike of hair on neck and tingle down spine all who love swimming and many who tune in once every four years know well.

Pro Series: Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

John Lohn — Associate Editor-in-Chief: Men’s 200 IM at U.S. trials

I’m looking forward to the final of the men’s 200 individual medley at the United States Olympic Trials. It is shaping up to have several angles: Chase Kalisz looking to cement his current status as the top guy in the U.S.; Ryan Lochte looking for one last Olympic hurrah; Carson Foster looking to further his identity as a rising star. Obviously, others will also be involved, but those three individuals alone provide some terrific storylines.



Swimming World Staff Picks: Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Dan D’Addona — Managing Editor: Women’s 100 Back at U.S. trials

I am most looking forward to the women’s 100 backstroke at the U.S. trials because between world record holder Regan Smith, Olympic gold medalists Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker and National Champion Amy Bilquist … two of them aren’t going to make it (and that is of course if Phoebe Bacon and some other upstarts don’t crash the party). It has been my favorite event to cover over the years with signature performances from Natalie Coughlin, Missy Franklin among others, and this might be the deepest the event has ever been.



Swimming World Staff Picks: Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Andy Ross — U.S. Correspondent: Women’s 200 Free at Olympics

I am looking forward to the women’s 200 free at the Olympic Games the most. We don’t know what the field will look like but it is likely to be stacked with reigning World champ Federica Pellegrini (Italy), reigning 400 champ Ariarne Titmus (Australia), and Worlds bronze medalist Sarah Sjostrom (Sweden). Add in Siobhan Haughey (Hong Kong), Emma McKeon (Australia), Katie Ledecky (U.S.), Penny Oleksiak (Canada) and Taylor Ruck (Canada), it’s bound to be a fantastic, can’t miss race in Tokyo.
Federica Pellegrini of Italy celebrates after winning in the women’s 200m Freestyle Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 24 July 2019.

Swimming World Staff Picks: Federica Pellegrini. Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Ian Hanson — Oceania Correspondent: Distance events at Australian trials

The inclusion of the women’s 1500m freestyle onto the Olympic program has allowed another opportunity for the progression of women’s swimming and Australia’s exciting group of distance divas have grabbed this opportunity with both hands.It has guaranteed a level of competition across the middle to marathon distances never ever seen before – and all for six places on the pool team for Tokyo. The battle to qualify for two spots in the 400, 800 and 1500 is as intriguing as it gets, with a world champion and world record holder, two training partners, the daughter of a former champion who is also her coach and one who is already on the team but wants another event. In a perfect world it would be ideal if all the major players qualified for the team.

The marathon spot in the 10km event has already been taken with Sunshine Coast revelation Kareena Lee under the guidance of master coach John Rodgers qualifying with her world championship top ten finish in Korea this year – but she will now turn her attentions to the pool in an attempt to add the 1500m to her repertoire. It is expected that Australia’s number one distance girl, double LC and SC world champion and SC word record holder over 400m, Ariarne Titmus will by-pass the 30-lap 1500m in favour of the 200, 400 and 800m.

So that still leaves four Aussies – Maddy Gough (Ranked 9th),  Kiah Melverton (10th), Lani Pallister (11th) and Lee (14th) vying for two spots – with just four seconds separating their personal bests. Throw in the 400 and 800m and it’s a similar story, with “The Terminator” Titmus coming into play leading the world rankings in the 400m with that historic win over “GOAT” Katie Ledecky at this year’s World’s – ahead of Melverton (8th) and three-time World Junior champion Pallister (10th) and an even closer field in the 800m with Titmus (4th),  Melverton (7th) and Pallister (8th) joined by Gough (12th) – what a race that’s going to be. Not since 1988 when Pallister’s mother-now-coach Janelle Elford, Julie McDonald and Sheridan Lopez staged similar battles at the 1988 Trials for Seoul, which saw all three qualify, before a young Hayley Lewis joined the fray in 1990, has Australia had such exciting depth in the middle-to-marathon freestyle events.

Ariarne Titmus beat Katie Ledecky

Swimming World Staff Picks: Ariarne Titmus – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Liz Byrnes — European Correspondent: 100 Breast at British trials

The British trials will take place at the Aquatics Centre in London, scene of the 2012 Olympics and also where Adam Peaty set his first world record in the 100 on 17 April 2015. Fast-forward exactly five years and Peaty will return having transformed the 100 breaststroke. Not only is he the sole swimmer to have dipped inside 58 seconds but he also crashed through 57-second barrier with an other-worldly 56.88 at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
Peaty’s fellow Briton James Wilby would ordinarily command some of the spotlight himself with a world silver medal in 2019, but Peaty is an athlete who comes along so rarely that every time he takes to the blocks there are whispers of ‘what will he do now?’

So, I am looking forward to seeing what will happen when the man from the midlands town of Uttoxeter dives in to the pool in April. While Peaty continues his foray into uncharted territory, the men’s 200m freestyle presents a fascinating tussle. In there are Duncan Scott, the 2019 world bronze medalist and a man who stood up for his beliefs in Gwangju and 2015 world champion James Guy. They will be joined by Tom Dean, an IM specialist but a fine 200 free swimmer with 2019 European short-course silver, and youngster Matt Richards of whom special things are predicted.  The 17-year-old won the European junior 100m free title in 48.88secs last July – elevating himself to eighth in the British all-time rankings in the process – and took silver in the 200 in 1:47.23

Four into two doesn’t go and this promises to produce something special and all augurs well for Great Britain given Guy, at 24, is the oldest of the four.



Swimming World Staff Picks: Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyatt

Taylor Covington — Swimming World Contributor: Men’s 100 Fly in Tokyo

I am most excited to see Caeleb Dressel‘s 100 fly at the 2020 Olympics (assuming he makes it of course). After a record-breaking performance at the 2019 World Championships, I’m really curious to see what else he has in the tank (I’m convinced that this is just the beginning of the Dressel-era of swimming). He also seems like such a kind soul; I love watching him do well.
Caeleb Dressel of the United States of America (USA) celebrates after winning in the men's 100m Butterfly Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 27 July 2019.

Swimming World Staff Picks: Caeleb Dressel – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Olivia Wile — Swimming World Contributor: Women’s 100 Fly in Tokyo

 I’m most excited for the women’s 100m butterfly at the 2020 Olympics. It has been a while since the reigning gold medalist Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden has swum the event in long course meters — same for U.S.’s Kelsi DahliaLouise Hansson of Sweden currently holds the top time in the world for the women’s 100 fly LCM and is the short-course yards record holder. I’ve had the chance to watch both Sjostrom and Dahlia swim the 100 fly SCM at the International Swimming League and both look super strong. They’ve been neck and neck with Sjostrom’s top time a 55.65 and Dahlia’s 55.88. It’ll be a fun race to follow in 2020.
Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden celebrates after winning in the women's 50m Butterfly Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 27 July 2019.

Swimming World Staff Picks: Sarah Sjostrom, of Sweden, celebrates her third straight victory in the 50 ‘fly – and her 8th world title on the day precisely 10 years after she claimed her first crown, over 100m butterfly, at Rome 2009- Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Jamie Kolar — Swimming World Contributor: Men’s 400 IM/Women’s 100 back at the U.S. trials

I am most looking forward to watching the women’s 100 backstroke and the men’s 400 IM. The 100 back will be an amazing race to watch because of the depth of the competition. I am excited to watch the men’s 400 IM because of the possible upsets that may occur. Both events have swimmers who have the chance of competing at their first Olympics and that’s always so riveting to watch!

Swimming World Staff Picks: Chase Kalisz; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Courtney Mykkanen — Swimming World Contributor: Women’s 100 back at U.S. trials

I am most looking forward to the women’s 100 backstroke at Olympic Trials because there are a lot of fast swimmers in that race and I’m excited to cheer on some of my former Cal teammates including Amy Bilquist and Kathleen Baker. Wishing everyone the best of luck in the new year and at Olympic Trials!


Swimming World Staff Picks: Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

1 comment

  1. avatar

    Women’s 100m free. Simone, Cate and Sarah might be locking heads one more time. Lets see who the better swimmer is. Hoping for WR also