Even without Michael Phelps, plenty of star power will be on display at the $515 million, 15,000-seat Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
From Caeleb Dressel to Katie Ledecky, from Adam Peaty to Ariarne Titmus, myriad swimmers are capable of playing a leading role in Tokyo.
“Obviously, losing Michael was huge for this team, but we haven’t had him since 2016,” said American breaststroke star Lilly King. “We always do great, so I don’t know why we would think it wasn’t going to be great just because Michael’s not there.”
King stirred up the already heated rivalry with the Australians by making a bold prediction: “I think the (U.S.) women, if we have the meet we can have, can win every single individual gold,” she said.
The Aussies are eager to shine after failing to capture an individual women’s gold at the Rio Games.
They turned in some brilliant performances at their country’s Olympic trials, led by Kaylee McKeown setting a world record in the 100-meter backstroke.
But really keep an eye on Titmus, a 20-year-old known as “The Terminator.” She made it clear she plans to challenge Ledecky’s dominance. “She’s not going to have it all her own way,” Titmus told Australian media. “I can’t control what she does. If I do the best I can and put myself in the position to win a gold medal, it’s going to be a tough race.”
Things to watch for at the pool:
The 24-year-old Floridian has emerged as the world’s best male swimmer since Phelps retired.
Dressel really broke out at the 2017 world championships in Budapest, where he won seven gold medals. Dressel qualified in three individual events, the 50 and 100 freestyle as well as the 100 butterfly, and he might get a chance to swim on four relays.
Despite his staggering accomplishments, Dressel doesn’t see himself as a one-man team.
“I don’t think that falls on my shoulders alone,” Dressel said. “Michael was one guy within USA Swimming, but he wasn’t USA Swimming, I think that’s what makes USA Swimming so strong is the team and as a collective whole.”
There are no sure things at the Olympics, but it’s hard to see anyone beating Britain’s Adam Peaty.
He’s held the men’s world record in the 100 breaststroke since 2015. There’s room to go even faster, Peaty insisted.
The hefty Olympic program will grow even larger with three new events in Tokyo.
Ledecky is most excited about the women finally getting a chance to swim the 1,500 freestyle.
“We’re making history,” said Ledecky, a big favorite to win gold in the 30-lap race. “I’ve always enjoyed the distance training and the work it takes to put together a good mile. It takes a lot of mental strength and toughness and strategy.”
The men will be competing in the 800 free for the first time since 1904, but the most entertaining new event is likely to be the 4×100 mixed medley relay.
Each team must use two men and two women, but there’s no restriction on who gets picked to swim each stroke. That leads to plenty of strategy and an often chaotic race — the only one where men and women can wind up racing each other. —