Ranking GB’s Olympic medal shots: The Men

At the conclusion of the British Olympic Trials we were left with a whole host of world class performances that catapulted GB swimmers to the vanguard of the world rankings. The subsequent performances at the European Championships did little to dampen hopes of a bumper Olympic medal haul.

And yet we all knew this was the phony war. In particular neither of the world’s top two aquatic superpowers had held their Olympic trials so it wasn’t possible to see where everyone really was in terms of their performances. Now with the waters still again in Omaha and Adelaide and results in from the US and Australian Olympic trials (and indeed the Canadian and French editions) it’s time to re-look at those results from London and Budapest and see whether our view for each event has changed.

So we’ve taken those swimmers ranked in the world top 5 post the Euros and considered how their chances may have changed now we have a fuller picture. Using a ranking of 5 doesn’t mean that those further back can’t win medals, but history shows that medals tend to go to those ranked near the top heading into a championship so this seems like an appropriate level to start from. In this, the first of a four part series, we consider the men’s individual events.

200m Freestyle

Tom Dean – pic Mike Lewis/ISL

Of all the events at British trials the men’s 200 freestyle was the one that whetted the appetite for Tokyo the most, with Duncan Scott and Tom Dean scorching to 1:44 point swims that thrust them to the top of the world rankings and firmly into medal contention.

Fast forward a couple of months and little has changed. Japan’s Katushiro Matsumoto has joined the sub-1:45 club for 2021, along with Martin Malyutin of Russia, Scott’s nemesis at European Championships who did likewise in Budapest. But there was no charge from the US or down under, leaving the British duo heading the field into Tokyo.

Nothing can be taken for granted of course, but these two represent excellent medal chances. Will it take a 1:43 point swim for gold? Quite possibly, but there is every chance of British medals and definite possibility of gold in this event.

  • World ranking before: 1 (Scott) 2 (Dean)
  • World ranking now: 1 (Scott) 2 (Dean)
  • Medal chances: Possibly slightly improved

100m breaststroke

James Wilby – Pic: pullbuoy/Simone Castrovillari

Number 1. The only number that counts for Adam Peaty. He enters the defence of his Olympic title still an overwhelming favourite and still number 1 in the world. The gap is closing however, but what we haven’t yet seen is whether the time at the front can get even quicker. Can Peaty break his own world record in Tokyo? Of course he can. Does he need to do so to win Gold? Probably not, but if he keeps pushing boundaries in the way we know he can, and barring injury or illness, another trip to the top of the podium seems likely.

Behind Peaty at the 2019 world championships for the silver medal, James Wilby has not been quite at his best but has been quietly building through the season. 5th in the world after trials has become 7th, but one of those ahead of him will not be in Tokyo. With the likes of Arno Kamminga, Michael Andrew and Nicola Martinenghi separating themselves from the rest of the chasing pack, Wilby will need to be on his mettle, but remains in the medal hunt.

  • World rankings before: 1 (Peaty) 5 (Wilby)
  • World Ranking now: 1 (Peaty) 7 (Wilby)
  • Medal chances: Unchanged

200m Individual Medley

Duncan Scott – pic Mike Lewis/ISL

Duncan Scott blew the British Record away with a 1:55.90 swim at trials that catapulted him to the head of the world rankings. That position was bound to come under pressure, but in the end only America’s Michael Andrew was able to post a sub 1:56 time at trials, recording a 1:55.24 which threatened the world record for about 175m. With Mitch Larkin of Australia at 1:56.24 and having not yet seen the best of Japanese pair Daiya Seto and Kosuke Hagino, the battle remains fierce, but Scott remains firmly in the medal hunt.

Indeed, between this and the 200m free, he has a great chance of an individual medal in Tokyo. Certainly the bookies consider him a strong shot – analyst Sascha Paruk of Sportsbettingdime.com, rates Scott’s chances of an individual trip to the podium at between 52% and 54%. That’s pretty strong in a relatively open sport such as swimming and increases further to 84% when his relay chances are included, but more of that anon.

  • World ranking before: 1
  • World ranking now: 2
  • Medal chances: Unchanged

200m backstroke

Pic: pullbuoy/Simone Castrovillari

What a season Luke Greenbank has been having. Following a volley of short course British Records in the ISL, he continued that trend long course at the Manchester International meet with a further record, only to twist his ankle and arrive at Trials undercooked. That didn’t matter as far as Tokyo was concerned with the Loughborough man pre-selected, but we hadn’t seen the best he could offer. That was firmly on show in Budapest as he took a hatchet to the record books dropping his own mark by over a second to 1:54.43 – good enough for third on the world rankings.

Only Ryan Murphy got ahead of him through trials season so Greenbank now sits fourth, but that only tells part of the story, with Mitch Larkin, currently at number 3 opting out of this event to focus on the 200IM. Greenbank therefore sits third of those competing and in a group of only 4 who have sum sub 1:55 this year. One addition to that group is the challenge of Ryosuke Irie in his home pool which can’t be discounted, even if he is coming from a little way back, but Greenbank has a terrific medal shot.

  • World ranking before: 3
  • World Ranking now: 4
  • Medal chances: Improved

50m freestyle

Ben Proud – pic: Adidas

Trials saw a welcome return to form for Ben Proud, who had seemed a little out of sorts in the ISL season. Now based in Bath and working with Mark Skimming, Proud roared to a 21.43 swim which had put him 2nd in the world rankings just 0.01s behind Vlad Morozov. Since then he has also posted times of 21.69 and 21.84 at the European Championships and only been overtaken by Caeleb Dressel to leave him in 3rd place. As one of the only men who can get close to Dressel from the start, Proud  is firmly in the podium hunt, and is not likely to face any relay distractions in Tokyo. He has the global medal pedigree but anything can happen in the maelstrom of the splash and dash

  • World ranking before: 2
  • World Ranking now: 3
  • Medal chances: Unchanged

100m butterfly

James Guy Pic: Simone Castrovillari

James Guy’s 100 fly is probably as important for the medley relay as anything else, but with world bronze individually in 2017 he remains a possible chance individually. Sitting 4th in the world after the Euros, with some of his fastest times of the last four years, he’s since been overhauled by Dressel and France’s Mehdy Metella, while a breakout swim from Matt Temple in Australia also elbows by. That leaves Guy in 7th and on paper in the shoot out for the final, if a little out of the medal picture. He’s a great racer though and may yet have more to give.

  • World ranking before: 4
  • World Ranking now: 7
  • Medal chances: Now an outside shot, but watch for the relays

1500m freestyle

Was there anyone at Trials more pleased to be making the trip to Tokyo than Daniel Jervis? After enduring a difficult week, he came though at the last ask with victory in the 1500m freestyle in a time that elevated him to number 5 in the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly that position has come under fire since, and the Welshman enters Tokyo in 6th place. He can make the final, no doubt, but David Davies’ British Record, set 17 years ago in Athens will have to go down for a podium place, as was always likely to be the case.

  • World ranking before: 5
  • World ranking now: 6
  • Medal chances: Remains a long shot

All rankings correct as of 25th June 2021

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