Tokyo Vision: Sarah Sjostrom Chases History, Repeat in Women’s 100 Butterfly

Sarah Sjostrom Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Tokyo Vision: Sarah Sjostrom Chases History, Repeat in Women’s 100 Butterfly

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.

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Event: Women’s 100 butterfly

World Record: Sarah Sjostrom (2016) – 55.48

Historical Note #1: The 100-meter butterfly, first added to the Games in 1956, has never had a repeat Olympic champion. The closest to a repeat gold medalist was Inge de Bruijn and Dana Vollmer, who followed their gold medals with bronzes in the following Games (2000 and 2004 for de Bruijn; 2012 and 2016 for Vollmer).

Historical Note #2: The event is home to one of the longest standing world records in history: Mary T. Meagher’s time of 57.93, set on Aug. 16, 1981, held up for 18 years and one week before falling to Jenny Thompson in 1999. Meagher, the 1984 Olympic champ, set her first world record in April 1980 but didn’t compete at that summer’s Olympics due to the American Olympic boycott.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • Kelsi Dahlia – USA
  • Elena Di Liddo – Italy
  • Louise Hansson – Sweden
  • Maggie MacNeil – Canada
  • Emma McKeon – Australia
  • Penny Oleksiak – Canada
  • Sarah Sjostrom – Sweden
  • Marie Wattel – France

The Race

Before the finals hit the water, there’s a recognition of Rikako Ikee, the home-country hero whose career was thrown off course by a battle with leukemia. After getting back in the water in the summer of 2020, she used the year to get back to near her previous best, which included a spot in the Rio Olympic final at age 16. She was able to swim in Tokyo but didn’t make it out of prelims in the event, though she is still one of the stories of the Games.

The center of the pool hosts a rematch of the 2019 World Championships, with Sarah Sjostrom out for revenge on Maggie MacNeil. The Swedish world-record holder channeled the disappointment from Gwangju two years earlier into a stellar ISL season, and the out-and-out racing mettle for which she is known is on full display here.

As expected, Sjostrom is first to the wall at 50 meters, though Kelsi Dahlia, the only American in the final, led the field early, trying to use her front-half speed from an outside lane and hope the field fades late. MacNeil and Emma McKeon are lurking not far behind. MacNeil’s Canadian teammate, Penny Oleksiak, is squarely in the middle of the pack at the midpoint, befitting the relatively quiet five years she’s had since her breakout Games in Rio. But off the wall, she mounts a charge.

As they turn for home, MacNeil makes her move, off a stellar underwater coming off the wall. The top three from Worlds – Sjostrom, MacNeil and McKeon – are neck-and-neck again as they approach the flags, Oleksiak just a sliver behind but closing. With barely a second and a half separating the eight finalists, the final five strokes will decide who gets gold …

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