NEW YORK — Michael Phelps is glad for gender equality in his sport, but overall he’s not supportive of adding swimming events to the Olympics.
Last week, the IOC announced it added the men’s 800m freestyle, women’s 1500m freestyle and a mixed-gender 4x100m medley relay to the Olympics for 2020.
Swimming’s international governing body also hoped to have 50m events in backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly added, but those were rejected even though they are already on the world championships program.
Phelps supported having women able to race the 1500m free at the Olympics, which the men have done for more than 100 years.
But ensuring gender equality for Tokyo 2020 also meant adding the men’s 800m free to match the women’s 800m free, which has been on the program since 1968.
Adding events to the Olympics “takes away from the sport,” Phelps said in Manhattan at an appearance for Krave Jerky on Thursday. He hopes the 50m backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly remain off the Olympic program.
“What else are we going to add? Are we going to do, like, 75m frees? How many other events are we going to add?” he said. “It’s just like what we had in 2009, after world championships, having those high-tech suits [that were banned in 2010]. It’s not swimming anymore. We’ve had this event schedule for so long, and now we’re just going to pick and choose what events we want? I could go into more detail, but I’m really not going to. It’s a touchy subject. I hope swimming takes the turn for the right direction, and we continue to grow.
“When you add something like an 800m for men and a 1500m for women, and you’re adding mixed relays and 50s of strokes. I don’t want to say it, but it seems like there’s too much going on. It seems like, so then we’re going to grow the team by a handful of other people? I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s what swimming has been through all of this time, and hopefully we don’t have it for too long, but it’s not in my power. I can’t really do anything. I’ll just sit and watch.”
The added events give Katie Ledecky at least one more medal shot in Tokyo, leading to wonder how close she could get to Phelps’ record-tying eight medals at one Olympics (and all gold, his record alone). Ledecky won five golds with the same program at the 2015 World Championships and added the 4x100m freestyle relay for Rio, where she took silver.
Phelps said he doesn’t care if somebody matches or breaks his medal records with the aid of events that weren’t on the Olympic program during his career.
“It’s good to have somebody out there that is willing to challenge himself in a way that they had no idea,” Phelps said. “So if they have a chance to do something great like that, then I would love to see it.”
Ledecky’s more realistic hope in 2020 is to match the female record of six golds at one Olympics. Still, some are already talking eight.
“It’s great to be able to see Katie potentially go for eight,” Phelps said. “I think it’s great to see different events added for Katie because then you can really challenge where her limit is. … Then you bring a lot more excitement to the sport from a marketing standpoint.”
Phelps never would have raced an 800m freestyle at a major meet, but given his 100m butterfly prowess would have been a prime candidate for a mixed medley relay. And he does have experience racing against women.
He swam the leadoff leg of the 2007 Duel in the Pool mixed 4x100m freestyle relay against Australia. Phelps clocked 48.72, while Trickett swam 52.99, at the time the fastest 100m ever by a woman. It was not ratified as a world record because it came in a race with men.
In April 2015, Phelps famously (jokingly) challenged Katie Ledecky to a race on-air at a meet. They had swum the exact same time in separate 400m freestyle heats that day within about a half-hour of each other.
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