For the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, Frenchman Leon Marchand looks to obtain his first Olympic Gold Medal in the 200 IM.
The Olympic Games, a global tradition that has captivated billions of viewers time and time again, showcases the pinnacle of athletic prowess and international camaraderie. According to the Olympic website, around 3.05 billion people gathered around their TVs to watch this event in 2021. With other huge sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the World Cup, and the NBA, the Olympic Games promote individual sports. The top four most viewed sports, according to a Statista report, were all individual sports, followed by basketball coming in at fifth. Swimming has attracted a huge audience for the Olympic Games, with 34 percent of viewers watching one or more swim events. For swimmers, this is one of the most exciting meets to watch, with athletes competing in their best shape to earn a gold medal for their home country. However, unlike the previous Olympic Games, the Paris Olympics will be far more difficult to predict than in previous years. None of the events are dominated by a specific swimmer or nation, and there is certainly a sense of ambivalence as to who will ultimately win. Below, I will give my predictions for some of the events that I think will be the most exciting and competitive.
Men’s 200 IM (Leon Marchand):
The 200 IM is one of the most competitive events, with huge names like reigning Olympic champion Wang Shun (China), Leon Marchand (France), 400 IM SCM world record holder Daiya Seto (Japan), Shaine Casas (USA), Michael Andrew (USA), and others. The two biggest contenders for the spot are Shun and Marchand, both entering 2024 under 1:55 (Shun: 1:54.62, Marchand: 1:54.82). Although Shun has a faster time currently, I do think Marchand has proved to be a more consistent swimmer, and that edges him over Shun for the 200 IM top spot.
Men’s 200 Breast (Qin Haiyang):
To many people, Qin Haiyang (China), the current world record holder in the 200 breast (2:05.48), is the favorite in this event. His powerful strokes through the water, coupled with his ability to keep his body high on the lunge, make him a formidable competitor. However, I do think that Marchand shouldn’t be left out of the conversation. This past summer, he swam a 2:06.40 unshaved and untapered at the French Nationals meet, which put him at the fourth fastest time in history. He certainly has the potential to drop lots of time and most definitely has a shot at the gold medal.
Men’s 400 Medley Relay (China):
Team USA, world record holders in this event from the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games (3:26.78), were shocked by team China’s performance this past September at the Asian Games. The Chinese relay dropped the second-fastest swim in history, going an astounding 3:27.01 with World Champion Xu Jiayu as the backstroke leg (52.05), World Record holder Qin Haiyang as breaststroke (57.63), Wang Changhao as fly (50.68), and Asian Record holder Pan Zhanle as free (46.65). Comparing these splits with the American relay in 2021, the most noticeable difference is Caeleb Dressel’s split on the butterfly leg, where he went 49.03 compared to Wang Changhao’s 50.68. However, due to Dressel’s current shape, I think that Team USA is most likely going to put someone else in his place (Dare Rose or Shaine Casas), but neither of these world-class athletes can closely match Dressel’s speed and power through the water. Because of that, I think Team China has a bigger shot at the gold-medal spot than Team USA. Nevertheless, if Dressel can make a huge comeback in these next five months before the Olympic Trials in June, Team USA has a pretty good shot at repeating their Olympic title.
Men’s 400 free (Ahmed Hafnaoui):
As a distance event, the 400 free may be quite boring for people looking for an exhilarating race that won’t be over two minutes long. However, I can assure you that the 400 free this summer will be one of the best events to look out for. With swimmers like Sam Short (Australia), reigning world champion, Ahmen Hafnaoui (Tunisia), current 400 free Olympic champion, and Daniel Wiffen (Ireland), SCM World Champion in the 800, the 400 free is stacked with swimmers who can easily go under the 3:45 mark. Not only is this event going to be an incredible race between the swimmers themselves, but many people have also been looking forward to the potential downfall of Paul Biedermann’s world record (3:40.07), which is one of the only few remaining records set before the ban of super-suits in 2010. Looking at the 2023 Fukuoka World Championships’ results, I believe that there is a high chance of swimmers breaking the 3:40 mark. The fact that Short and Hafnaoui are 20 and 21 respectively, the distance world is looking very promising for future generations to come. Chinese swimmer Sun Yang might also make an appearance at the Paris Olympics, with his doping suspension set to end in May. According to a Swimswam Article, Sun Yang has been training in and out of the pool during his suspension despite not competing at an official meet since 2020. Whether or not he will swim well leading up to the Paris Olympics, he is still a swimmer to look out for in these next few months. To answer the question of who I think will win this event, I’m picking Hafnaoui as my top spot.
Women’s 400 free (Summer McIntosh):
On the women’s side, the competition doesn’t get much easier. Ariarne Timitus (Australia), the reigning world champion and world record holder in this event, is looking to secure her second Olympic title. However, this will not be an easy task as she is up against 17-year-old sensation Summer McIntosh. Breaking the 400 free world record this past summer (3:56.08) at the Canadian Swimming Trials, which was later broken by Timitus (3:55.38), McIntosh caught the world by storm after breaking multiple world records just as a 16-year-old. Despite a somewhat disappointing swim in this event at the 2023 Fukuoka World Championships, where McIntosh placed fourth place and out of the podium spot (3:59.94), I do think that she is capable of dropping a decent amount of time from the taper. Keeping in mind that she has already broken world records at 16, McIntosh certainly has plenty of potential, and I put her in my top spot for the 400 free.
Without question, this is not a complete list of the most exciting races to watch out for at the Paris Olympics (Men’s 100 back with Ryan Murphy, Xu Jiayu, and Thomas Cecco; Women’s 100 back with Kaylee Mckeown and Regan Smith; and others). Many questions are circling the swimming community about the potential returns of Caeleb Dressel, Adam Peaty, and Kristóff Milák, all of whom hold world records and are reigning Olympic Champions. Yet, regardless of how they do in the months leading up to the competition, the meet will be just as electrifying and competitive. I mean, this is the Olympic Games — greatness will surely unfold.