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Who Will Take Home the Gold? Expert Medal Picks for Swimming at Tokyo Games

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The rest of the world is getting faster. The Australians appear poised for a comeback after two straight Olympic flops. Two historic American men’s streaks are in doubt. Even Katie Ledecky is under siege.

Yet despite all the warning signs flashing in front of the United States Olympic swim team, it could well end with something at least approaching the customary medal haul. There is enough star power and enough depth to dominate, even in the Post-Phelps Era.

On the men’s side, sprinter Caeleb Dressel and backstroker Ryan Murphy have a chance for multiple individual golds while also playing big relay roles. But someone other than Phelps will win the 200 individual medley for the first time since 2000, and the forever streak of gold medals in the 400 medley relay is on the line.

On the women’s side, Ledecky is taking on an ambitious, five-event (at least) program that will feature several showdowns with rising Australian star Ariarne Titmus. Lilly King is back for more finger wagging. And a contingent of talented teenagers will try to make their marks.

Expect Japan to have some successes, but the host country may lose much of its home-water advantage with no fans in attendance. Great Britain, riding a swimming boom that seemed to be launched by hosting the 2012 Summer Games, could win several races. But Australia does indeed appear to be back as the main American rival.

There are three new events this year, which will increase the medal count: the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle (hello, Ledecky); the men’s 800 free; and a mixed medley relay that is a bit gimmicky but does present some intriguing strategy decisions for the coaches.

Here are Sports Illustrated’s swimming medal predictions, in event order (with no prediction for the women’s 800 freestyle relay, since my daughter is competing on the U.S. team in that one):

katie-ledecky-predictions-inline

Men's 400 Individual Medley

Gold — Daiya Seto, Japan
Silver — Chase Kalisz, U.S.
Bronze — Jay Litherland, U.S.

Michael Phelps’s last standing world record is in this event (4:03.84). Can Seto make a run at it on home soil?

Men's 400 Freestyle

Gold — Elijah Winnington, Australia
Silver — Jack McLoughlin, Australia
Bronze — Gabriele Detti, Italy

The Aussies were spectacular in this event at their national trials. If they back it up in Tokyo, they go 1–2 with ease.

Women's 400 Individual Medley

Gold — Katinka Hosszu, Hungary
Silver — Yui Ohashi, Japan
Bronze — Emma Weyant, U.S.

Teenager Weyant has the world-best time in 2021, but Hosszu is the world-record holder and defending champion. Ohashi also should turn in some inspired swims at home.

Women's 400 Freestyle Relay

Gold — Australia
Silver — U.S.
Bronze — Canada

Australia is deep and fast in the sprints on the women’s side. With Simone Manuel likely out of the relay mix, the Americans are racing for silver.

Women's 100 Butterfly

Gold — Maggie MacNeil, Canada
Silver — Torri Huske, U.S.
Bronze — Emma McKeon, Australia

Huske is No. 1 in the world this year, but MacNeil won this event at the 2019 world championships. Expect this race to go down to the wire.

Men's 100 Breaststroke

Gold — Adam Peaty, Great Britain
Silver — Arno Kamminga, Netherlands
Bronze — Nicolo Martinenghi, Italy

Peaty in the 100 breast is the lock of the entire meet. He has the 15 fastest performances of all time in this event.

Women's 400 Freestyle

Gold — Katie Ledecky, U.S.
Silver — Ariarne Titmus, Australia
Bronze — Li Bingjie, China

The first of what should be several Ledecky-Titmus duels might be the most interesting. Titmus has been the faster of the two in this event in 2021, but Ledecky will not go down easily.

Men's 400 Freestyle Relay

Gold — United States
Silver — Russia
Bronze — Australia

Staked to a first-leg lead by Dressel, the Americans will barely hold off the Russians at the end.

Men's 200 Freestyle

Gold — Duncan Scott, Great Britain
Silver — Katsuhiro Matsumoto, Japan
Bronze — Kieran Smith, U.S.

The top seven in the world in this event are all within a second of one another, which means this should be a desperately close final 25 meters.

Women's 100 Backstroke

Gold — Regan Smith, U.S.
Silver — Kaylee McKeown, Australia
Bronze — Kylie Masse, Canada

Smith had the world record until McKeown broke it last month. Will Smith take it back here?

ryan-murphy-medal-predictions

Men's 100 Backstroke

Gold — Ryan Murphy, U.S.
Silver — Jiayu Xu, China
Bronze — Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia

This will be another brawl to the wall. Murphy is the world-record holder and defending Olympic champion, so ride with him.

Women's 100 Breaststroke

Gold — Lilly King, U.S.
Silver — Sophie Hansson, Sweden
Bronze — Yulia Efimova, Russia

No woman has ever repeated as the Olympic 100 breast champion. King relishes a challenge, a chance to make history—and another opportunity to take down rival Efimova.

Women's 200 Freestyle

Gold — Ariarne Titmus, Australia
Silver — Katie Ledecky, U.S.
Bronze — Siobhan Haughey, Hong Kong

Titmus-Ledecky Round Two goes the Aussie’s way at the shorter distance.

Men's 200 Butterfly

Gold — Kristof Milak, Hungary
Silver — Daiya Seto, Japan
Bronze — Chad le Clos, South Africa

World-record holder Milak is far ahead of the field here, but Seto could push him.

Women's 200 Individual Medley 

Gold — Yui Ohashi, Japan
Silver — Katinka Hosszu, Hungary
Bronze — Alex Walsh, U.S.

Australian Kaylee McKeown dropped this event from her program, which presents an opportunity for home favorite Ohashi. American teenager Kate Douglass should make a push for the podium here as well.

Women's 1,500 Freestyle

Gold — Katie Ledecky, U.S.
Silver — Simona Quadarella, Italy
Bronze — Erica Sullivan, U.S.

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Roughly 70 minutes after contesting the 200 free, Ledecky will be back in the water in an event that is new to the Olympics on the women’s side, but one she has dominated for years.

Men's 800 Freestyle Relay

Gold — Great Britain
Silver — Australia
Bronze — U.S.

Given the competition in this event, the Americans figure to be closer to missing the podium than winning gold. All freestyle distances from 200 up and a soft spot in the U.S. men’s lineup.

Men's 800 Freestyle

Gold — Jack McLoughlin, Australia
Silver — Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine
Bronze — Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy

Paltrinieri would be the pick here, but he dropped out of a meet in June with mononucleosis—reportedly a mild case of it, but still not ideal for distance swimming.

Men's 200 Breaststroke

Gold — Anton Chupkov, Russia
Silver — Shoma Sato, Japan
Bronze — Arno Kamminga, Netherlands

Nineteen of the top 25 times in history in this event have been posted within the last two years. As everyone gets faster, Chupkov remains on top with his 2019 world record.

Women's 200 Butterfly

Gold — Hali Flickinger, U.S.
Silver — Yufei Zhang, China
Bronze — Boglarka Kapas, Hungary

Amazingly, the United States hasn’t won a medal in this event since 2000. That’s about to change in a big way with Flickinger, who has improved since her seventh-place finish in 2016.

Men's 100 Freestyle

Gold — Caeleb Dressel, U.S.
Silver — Kyle Chalmers, Australia
Bronze — Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia

Dressel is closing in on a 12-year-old world record in this event, but he will have heavy competition from defending champion Chalmers and others.

Wildcard: sixteen-year-old Romanian David Popovici, who popped a 2021 world-leading 47.30 time in the European Junior Championships earlier this month. Can the long, slender teen bring that to the big stage?

Women's 800 Freestyle Relay

No prediction.

Women's 200 Breaststroke

Gold — Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa
Silver — Annie Lazor, U.S.
Bronze — Lilly King, U.S.

In an opposite trend from the men’s 200 breast, this event has gotten markedly slower. The top 17 times in history all are from 2017 or earlier, and the only swimmer in this field who ranks in the all-time top 25 is Schoenmaker at No. 18 with a time she swam in June.

Men's 200 Backstroke 

Gold — Ryan Murphy, U.S.
Silver — Evgeny Rylov, Russia
Bronze — Luke Greenbank, Great Britain

If Murphy sweeps the backstroke events for the second straight Olympics, he will move to the top of America’s long list of greats in that discipline. But both races will be tough.

Women's 100 Freestyle

Gold — Emma McKeon, Australia
Silver — Cate Campbell, Australia
Bronze — Penny Oleksiak, Canada

Aussies rocked the freestyle events at their trials and will be especially tough to beat in this one.

Men's 200 Individual Medley 

Gold — Duncan Scott, Great Britain
Silver — Mitch Larkin, Australia
Bronze — Daiya Seto, Japan

Someone other than Michael Phelps will win this gold medal for the first time since 2000. Americans Michael Andrew and Chase Kalisz should both be in the medal hunt as well.

Men's 100 Butterfly 

Gold — Caeleb Dressel, U.S.
Silver — Kristof Milak, Hungary
Bronze — James Guy, Great Britain

Women's 200 Backstroke 

Gold — Kaylee McKeown, Australia
Silver — Kylie Masse, Canada
Bronze — Rhyan White, U.S.

With world-record holder Regan Smith's not making the American team in this event, it opens the door for others.

Women's 800 Freestyle 

Gold — Katie Ledecky, U.S.
Silver — Ariarne Titmus, Australia
Bronze — Li Bingjie, China

Ledecky wraps her ambitious, draining Olympics by winning the rubber match with Titmus and capturing her third straight gold in this event.

Mixed Medley Relay 

Gold — United States
Silver — Australia
Bronze — Canada

This is a new Olympic event, and strategies could be all over the board. Look for Lilly King to be the difference maker for the Americans on the breaststroke leg.

caeleb-dressel-medal-predictions

Men's 50 Freestyle 

Gold — Caeleb Dressel, U.S.
Silver — Ben Proud, Great Britain
Bronze — Bruno Fratus, Brazil

Dressel’s race schedule is backloaded, and he will likely be swimming both the 50 and the medley relay on the final day.

Women's 50 Freestyle 

Gold — Pernille Blume, Denmark
Silver — Cate Campbell, Australia
Bronze — Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden

Americans Simone Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil will need to swim at least two-tenths of a second faster here than in Omaha to make the podium.

Men's 1,500 Freestyle 

Gold — Florian Wellbrock, Germany
Silver — Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine
Bronze — Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy

American Bobby Finke could be a factor here as well, particularly if Paltrinieri is still affected by mono.

Women's 400 Medley Relay 

Gold — United States
Silver — Australia
Bronze — Canada

Expect the Americans to have a lead that gets uncomfortably close on the freestyle leg at the end.

Men's 400 Medley Relay 

Gold — Great Britain
Silver — United States
Bronze — Russia

The U.S. men have never—repeat, never—lost this event in the Olympics. But they are up against it here, particularly in trying to combat the breaststroke advantage the Brits have with Adam Peaty.

Medal Count (Not Including the Women's 800 Freestyle)

United States: 27 (14 gold, six silver, seven bronze)
Australia: 20 (six gold, 12 silver, two bronze)
Great Britain: eight (five gold, one silver, two bronze)
Japan: seven (two gold, four silver, one bronze)
Russia: seven (one gold, two silver, four bronze)
Canada: seven (one gold, one silver, five bronze)
Hungary: five (two gold, one silver, two bronze)
China: four (two silver, two bronze)
Italy: four (four bronze)
South Africa: two (one gold, one bronze)
Ukraine: two (two silver)
Sweden: two (one silver, one bronze)
Netherlands: two (one silver, one bronze) 
Germany: one (one gold)
Denmark: one (one gold)
Spain: one (one silver)
Hong Kong: one (one bronze)
Brazil: one (one bronze)

More Olympics Coverage: 

Meet Team USA
• Caeleb Dressel Is a Swimming Machine
• The Games Go On—With a New Purpose
A Guide to the Five New Olympic Sports