Tokyo Vision: Katie Ledecky Searching for 200 Free Repeat Against Stacked Field

Pro Series: Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Tokyo Vision: Katie Ledecky Searching for 200 Free Repeat Against Stacked Field

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: Federica Pellegrini Tops 200 Freestyle Podium With Fraser & Babashoff

Event: Women’s 200 Freestyle
World Record: Federica Pellegrini (2009) – 1:52.98

Historical Note #1: All three medalists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich broke the existing world record, with Australia’s Shane Gould capturing the gold medal in 2:03.56. Gould won five individual medals in Munich, including additional gold in the 400 freestyle and 200 individual medley. In the 200 free, the Aussie was followed to the wall by Americans Shirley Babashoff and Keena Rothhammer.

Historical Note #2: The victory by Susie O’Neill at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney was not the gold medal that was expected by the Australian. Nicknamed Madame Butterfy, O’Neill was the overwhelming favorite to win the 200 butterfly, but earned the silver medal as American Misty Hyman pulled off an epic upset. O’Neill won the 200 free by .08 over Slovakia’s Martina Moravcova.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • Siobhan Haughey – Hong Kong
  • Yang Junxuan – China
  • Katie Ledecky – United States
  • Emma McKeon – Australia
  • Federica Pellegrini – Italy
  • Allison Schmitt – United States
  • Sarah Sjostrom – Sweden
  • Ariarne Titmus – Australia

The Race

This event might have been the most-anticipated race on the women’s program, with the past three Olympic champions in the field and no woman claiming favorite status in such a stacked field. While Katie Ledecky entered as the reigning champion, Allison Schmitt (2012) and Federica Pellegrini (2008) won Olympic crowns in London and Beijing, respectively.

Federica PELLEGRINI of Italy prepares herself before competing in the women's 200m Freestyle Heats during the LEN European Swimming Championships at Europa-Sportpark in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

The flexible Federica Pellegrini – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Pellegrini has won medals in the 200 freestyle at the past eight World Championships, but she failed to medal at the last two Olympiads. Her ability to come back on the field is a true weapon, even with distance aces like Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus climbing the blocks. Meanwhile, Sarah Sjostrom has the most pure speed of the bunch.

Not surprising, Titmus and Ledecky sought to apply pressure from the start, along with Sjostrom. These tactics were largely expected, as the American and Aussie like to attack their races and trust their training to retain back-end endurance, while Sjostrom relied on her natural speed, which can overshadow her finishing prowess in any discipline.

Despite the aforemtioned trio pushing from the starting beep, no one was left out of the medal hunt as the race took shape, a blanket capable of being thrown across the pool. Sjostrom had a slight lead at the 100-meter mark, but Ledecky and Titmus were just hundredths back.

Over the third 50, Pellegrini began to pick up her pace and was moving into a position that made her a dangerous threat. Meanwhile, Ledecky had taken the lead. Heading into the final lap, Ledecky had Titmus and Sjostrom on her shoulder, with Siobhan Haughey and Emma McKeon now lurking, too. More, Pellegrini was charging and looking to replicate the finish she produced at the 2017 World Championships, when she ran down Ledecky and McKeon over the final 50 meters to go from fourth to the top of the podium. As the wall neared, a 1:53-mid clocking was in the offing, but how the medals would be dispersed was a riddle.

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