Tokyo Vision: All Down To The Touch as Sarah Sjostrom leads 50 Freestyle Field Into Wall

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WINGING IT: Defending champion Pernille Blue from Denmark shows the style that would set up her Olympic defence in the 50m freestyle. Photo Courtesy Peter H. Bick

Tokyo Vision: All Down To The Touch as Sarah Sjostrom leads 50 Freestyle Field Into Wall

Had the COVID-19 pandemic not shaken the world, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo would be unfolding right now, titles and podium finishes earned by the finest athletes from around the world. Instead, we are in a competition lull and hopeful that the Games will be held next summer, with COVID-19 neutralized.

As we reach the nine days over which the swimming competition of a delayed Olympiad would have taken place, Swimming World is taking a glimpse at what might have unfolded this summer, had the Olympics not been postponed. Following the official schedule, we offer our virtual fields of eight finalists for each event and take a brief look at how the racing might have panned out until a few strokes away from decision and a result that will not be known until July/August 2021.

League of Olympic Legends: Inge de Bruijn Tops 50 Free Podium With Steffen & Kromowidjojo

Event: Women’s 50m freestyle
World Record: Sarah Sjostrom (2017) – 23.67

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AMY VAN DYKEN SHOW: Amy Van Dyken stole the show in Atlanta in ’96  becoming the first American woman to win four gold medals at one Olympics.Photo Courtesy: AP.

Historical Note #1: In Atlanta in 1996, American Amy Van Dyken had the chance to create a slice of U.S. Olympic history, as no American woman had ever won four Olympic gold medals at one Games. Van Dyken recovered from her opening fourth place in the 100m freestyle, collapsing on pool deck with leg cramps, to win individual gold in the 100m butterfly and relay golds in the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley. The only swimmer standing in her way of history was China’s world record holder Le Jingyi. Van Dyken took it upon herself to stalk the controversial and imposing Le in the call room. Determined and confident and in a packed hometown Georgia Tech Aquatic Center on the final night of the swimming competition, it was Van Dyken who got the better of the start. Le took control and looked to have the race wrapped up but Van Dyken, a noted big finisher, swooped on the last stroke to claim victory by just .03, 24.87 to 24.90. Van Dyken suffered a tragic ATV accident in 2014, severing her spinal cord and losing all feeling from her waist down. Now confined to a wheelchair, she has since continued her athletic training in the gym, starting the Amy Van Dyken Foundation  to improve the lives of people who suffer spinal cord injuries.

Historical Note #2: A tale of two remarkable women unfolded between Sydney 2000 and Athens in 2004. At 27, Dutchwoman Inge de Bruijn made a golden Olympic comeback. After finishing last in the 50m freestyle final in Barcelona in 1992, she qualified for Atlanta but withdrew from the Dutch team, citing lost motivation as the reason, only to return from the swimming wilderness to become the female star of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – winning individual gold in the 50 and 100m freestyle and the 100m butterfly. The 50m saw de Bruijn set a new world record of 24.13 in the semifinal, winning the gold in 24.32 ahead of Sweden’s Therese Alshammar (24.51) and the USA’s Dara Torres (24.63), who at 33 and after relay medals in ’84, ’88 and ’92 became the oldest woman to win a medal in swimming and the first swimmer to win medals at four Olympics. De Bruijn was barely seen before Athens in 2004, but won world championships in ’01 and ’03 – arriving into the birth city of the Games, ready to defend her crown. And in 24.58 – slower than her winning time in Sydney – she did just that, becoming the first woman to win back-to-back 50m titles.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • Pernille Blume – Denmark
  • Bronte Campbell – Australia
  • Cate Campbell – Australia
  • Anna Hopkin – Great Britain
  • Ranomi Kromowidjojo – Netherlands
  • Simone Manuel – USA
  • Sarah Sjostrom – Sweden
  • Liu Xiang – China

The Race

Sarah Sjostrom

REFLECTIVE REACH: Sarah Sjöström shows the style that makes her the world’s fastest female.  Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

This women’s 50m freestyle final has all the hallmarks of a shootout, with the defending champion, Pernille Blume, and the last four world champions in Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Bronte Campbell, Sarah Sjostrom and Simone Manuel and the world record holder in Sjostrom.

Throw in 2020 rankings leader Liu Xiang, the ever present Cate Campbell and British rising star Anna Hopkin and this race could well be the race of the Games.

They’re off and Sjostrom and Blume have the best starts with Bronte Campbell also quick off the blocks, knowing full well it will be Manuel and Cate Campbell coming home over the final 10 metres. Nothing separated all eight with just .05 between the top three in Gwangju and .06 between the top four in Rio.

Over the closing stages, world record holder Sjostrom, with her sights set on her first Olympic freestyle gold, is in front of Blume with Manuel and Cate Campbell both winding up alongside Chinese flyer Xiang and Bronte Campbell not out of it. Down to the last five meters and it is Sjostrom’s race to lose with the likelihood of a classic finish…all down to the touch.

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