Feature | Swimming

Top five things to know about Olympic swimming at Tokyo 2020

Your one-stop guide to swimming at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, including top athletes, venue information, schedule and more!

By Andrew Binner ·

Swimming is the second-largest sport at the Olympics, featuring a record total of 35 events at Tokyo 2020 (excluding marathon swimming). Only athletics has more medals on offer.

New additions to the Games programme for 2021 in Japan are the men's 800m freestyle, women's 1500m freestyle, and the exciting mixed 4×100m medley relay.

Below, we take a look at the athletes expected to light up the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the competition schedule, and even some Olympic history in our top things to know about Olympic swimming guide.

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Top Olympic swimmers at Tokyo 2020

Michael Phelps left incredibly big shoes to fill when he retired at Rio 2016, but the USA may have found an athlete up the task in Caeleb Dressel.

The Florida native scooped up six titles at the 2019 World Championships and broke several short-course records in a dominant 2020. Phelps actually thinks that Dressel could match his 8 Olympic gold medal-haul in Japan.

Dressel’s compatriot Katie Ledecky secured four gold medals at Rio 2016 and, despite only winning one event at the last world champs due to illness, will likely be the favourite for all freestyle races up to 1500m. Her re-match with Australia’s 400m world champion Ariarne Titmus is sure to produce fireworks.

With the five fastest 100m breaststroke times ever, it would take something very special to stop British GOAT Adam Peaty from retaining his Olympic title. But can he help Britain’s world champion 4x100m medley relay team cause another upset?

Individual medley queen Katinka Hosszu may be going to the Games without a coach, but the Hungarian’s consistent performances over the past Olympic cycle mean she is favoured to retain her medley Olympic titles. On the men’s medley side, there are high hopes for Japan’s double reigning world champion Seto Daiya, after completing a non-sport-related suspension in 2020.

Finally, they don’t call Sarah Sjostrom ‘Gold Bae’ for no reason, and the Swedish eight-time world champ will be a medal threat over the butterfly and freestyle sprints.

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Olympic swimming schedule at Tokyo 2020

All times are Japan Standard Time (GMT/UTC+9)

The competition (excluding marathon swimming) will take place from 24 July - 1 August 2021.

24 July 2021

19:00 - 21:30

  • Men's 400m Individual Medley - Heats
  • Women's 100m Butterfly - Heats
  • Men's 400m Freestyle - Heats
  • Women's 400m Individual Medley - Heats
  • Men's 100m Breaststroke - Heats
  • Women's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay - Heats

25 July 2021

10:30 - 12:20

  • Men's 400m Individual Medley Final
  • Women's 100m Butterfly Semifinals
  • Men's 400m Freestyle Final
  • Women's 400m Individual Medley Final
  • Men's 100m Breaststroke Semifinals
  • Women's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final

19:00 - 21:30

  • Women's 100m Backstroke - Heats
  • Men's 200m Freestyle - Heats
  • Women's 100m Breaststroke - Heats
  • Men's 100m Backstroke - Heats
  • Women's 400m Freestyle - Heats
  • Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay - Heats

26 July 2021

10:30 - 12:40

  • Women's 100m Butterfly Final
  • Men's 200m Freestyle Semifinals
  • Women's 100m Breaststroke Semifinals
  • Men's 100m Breaststroke Final
  • Women's 400m Freestyle Final
  • Men's 100m Backstroke Semifinals
  • Women's 100m Backstroke Semifinals
  • Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final

19:00 - 21:30

  • Women's 200m Freestyle - Heats
  • Men's 200m Butterfly - Heats
  • Women's 200m Individual Medley - Heats
  • Women's 1500m Freestyle - Heats

27 July 2021

10:30 - 12:25

  • Women's 200m Freestyle Semifinals
  • Men's 200m Freestyle Final
  • Women's 100m Backstroke Final
  • Men's 100m Backstroke Final
  • Women's 100m Breaststroke Final
  • Men's 200m Butterfly Semifinals
  • Women's 200m Individual Medley Semifinals

19:00 - 21:30

  • Men's 100m Freestyle - Heats
  • Women's 200m Butterfly - Heats
  • Men's 200m Breaststroke - Heats
  • Men's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay - Heats
  • Men's 800m Freestyle - Heats

28 July 2021

10:30 - 13:05

  • Men's 100m Freestyle Semifinals
  • Women's 200m Freestyle Final
  • Men's 200m Butterfly Final
  • Women's 200m Butterfly Semifinals
  • Men's 200m Breaststroke Semifinals
  • Women's 200m Individual Medley Final
  • Women's 1500m Freestyle Final
  • Men's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final

19:00 - 21:30

  • Women's 100m Freestyle - Heats
  • Men's 200m Backstroke - Heats
  • Women's 200m Breaststroke - Heats
  • Men's 200m Individual Medley - Heats
  • Women's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay - Heats

29 July 2021

10:30 - 13:10

  • Men's 800m Freestyle Final
  • Men's 200m Breaststroke Final
  • Women's 100m Freestyle Semifinals
  • Men's 200m Backstroke Semifinals
  • Women's 200m Butterfly Final
  • Men's 100m Freestyle Final
  • Women's 200m Breaststroke Semifinals
  • Men's 200m Individual Medley Semifinals
  • Women's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final

19:00 - 21:30

  • Women's 800m Freestyle - Heats
  • Men's 100m Butterfly - Heats
  • Women's 200m Backstroke - Heats
  • Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay - Heats

30 July 2021

10:30 - 12:10

  • Men's 100m Butterfly Semifinals
  • Women's 200m Breaststroke Final
  • Men's 200m Backstroke Final
  • Women's 100m Freestyle Final
  • Men's 200m Individual Medley Final
  • Women's 200m Backstroke Semifinals

19:00 - 21:30

  • Men's 50m Freestyle - Heats
  • Women's 50m Freestyle - Heats
  • Men's 1500m Freestyle - Heats
  • Women's 4 x 100m Medley Relay - Heats
  • Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay - Heat

31 July 2021

10:30 - 12:20

  • Men's 100m Butterfly Final
  • Women's 200m Backstroke Final
  • Women's 800m Freestyle Final
  • Men's 50m Freestyle Semifinals
  • Women's 50m Freestyle Semifinals
  • Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final

1 August 2021

10:30 - 12:25

  • Men's 50m Freestyle Final
  • Women's 50m Freestyle Final
  • Men's 1500m Freestyle Final
  • Women's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final
  • Men's 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final

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Olympic swimming venue at Tokyo 2020

All swimming events (excluding marathon swimming) will take place at the band new Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

The state-of-the-art facility was opened by Rikako Ikee, and is located in the Tatsumi-no-Mori Seaside Park. With a 15,000-fan capacity will also host diving and artistic swimming.

Following the 2020 Olympic Games in 2021, the venue will host domestic and international swimming competitions.

Olympic swimming competition format at Tokyo 2020

Swimming will feature a total of 35 events (17 each for men and women and 1 mixed event) in the pool. This is an increase from the 32 events contested in the previous Olympic Games at Rio.

Another change will see the introduction of morning and afternoon segments, meaning that heats, semi-finals (where applicable), and finals of an event can all happen on different days.

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Olympic swimming history

Swimming has been on every modern Summer Olympic programme since 1896, but has undergone several major developments since.

A pool was used for the first time at the London 1908 Games, replacing the seas and rivers previously used.

Women started swimming in the Olympics at the Stockholm Games in 1912, while electrical timing was also introduced for the first time.

Diving blocks emerged at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and the butterfly stroke events were incorporated from Melbourne 1956.

In terms of athlete equipment, goggles were first allowed at Montreal in 1976. At Beijing 2008, swimmers started wearing full body neoprene suits, but after an unprecedented number or broken world records, they were banned in 2009.

The United States has been the most successful Olympic swimming nation with a whopping 246 gold medals. Michael Phelps won 23 of those, and is subsequently the most successful Olympian of all time. His record at a single Games was 8 at Beijing 2008.

Some of Phelps’ most successful compatriots in the water include Mark Spitz (9 golds), Jenny Thompson (8 golds), and Ryan Lochte (6 golds).

Their arch-rivals are Australia, who are second on the all-time list with 60 Olympic gold medals. Ian Thorpe is the most celebrated swimmer Down Under with 5 golds.