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Rio 2016 Swimming: Which countries are USA's newest threat?

  • Rio 2016 Swimming: Which countries are USA's newest threat?

(Updated) It's no longer USA vs. Australia. So just which countries have been capturing our attention as USA’s potential new rivals?

Here at Rio 2016,  it's now becoming clear that the Australians are no longer America’s most formidable threat. 

Team USA have always dominated the pool, mostly due to the success of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte (who just became the second most decorated swimmer of all time). The team are still sweeping up at the Games and they don't look likely to do anything less. Relays used to be a 1-2 between the two nations, but Australia scraped by to get a bronze behind USA in the 4 x 100 free, full of great swimmers like Phelps, Nathan Adrian, Ryan Held and Caleb Dressel. 

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Already, there have been several shocking upsets - wins from from those not expected to do well, losses from those we thought would take it all. So just which countries have been capturing our attention as USA’s potential new rivals?


It’s a rare sight seeing Canadians on the podium, but we’ve seen that in Rio – a few times. The women’s 100 free relay team got the bronze ahead of usually-stronger teams like the Netherlands and Japan.

Penny Oleksiak’s name has been mentioned on a number of occasions – and rightfully so. She got a silver in the 100 Butterfly ahead of Dana Vollmer (USA) and Emma McKeon (Australia) – both favoured by the experts.

Kylie Masse medalled in the 100 Backstroke, several places ahead of former ‘Queen of Backstroke’, Emily Seebohm (Australia), who self-admittedly hasn’t been having a great meet.


At the conclusion of Day 4, Hungary was second on the medal tally behind USA. Would we ever have expected Hungary to be in this position? Nope. Before Rio, Butterflyer Laszlo Cseh was their best bet, almost never failing to end up second or third behind Michael Phelps. Cseh proved after all these years, that in the 100 Butterfly, he can be as good as Phelps. 

Young gun Tamás Kenderesi firstly beat Phelps in the semis of the 200 Butterfly , then secured the bronze – to do so when the gold went to Phelps, and at such a young age… that speaks volumes.

Meanwhile, Katinka Hosszu’s name has popped up countless times. She's overtaken Emily Seebohm (Australian) and Missy Franklin (USA) as leaders in backstroke events, already having won gold for the 100. She's tipped to lead the IM events too, ahead of Elizabeth Beisel and Maya Dirado (USA) – and no Australian has been noted as significant.

South Africa

The most talked-about swimmer from this region, Chad le Clos, fulfilled the ultimate dream of every one of Phelps’ opponents – he won the gold in the 200 Butterfly in London, beating Phelps by 100th of a second. He went on to swim some of the fastest times in the history of the event. In Rio, le Clos secured the silver for the 200 Free, ahead of another American favorite, Conor Dwyer. However, it was #PhelpsFace that was the subject of scrutiny in the following days. Whatever the case, we'll be seeing more of the South African in coming years.

Teammate Cameron van der Burgh has been a Breaststroke favorite since London, and he continues to impress. Winning the silver in the 100, he doesn't show any signs of slowing down - he's still one of the fastest in this event, ahead of key Americans like Kevin Cordes, a former favorite .

Great Britain 

Adam Peaty’s name has been bandied about since London, now even more so after getting the gold in the 100 Breaststroke ahead of Van der Burgh and Cody Miller (USA). He broke his own record twice, and it seems unlikely that another swimmer will break it any time soon. Other than Miller, there's been no significant American or Australian of late. 

James Guy won gold at Worlds last year, and was expected to repeat that in the 200 Free in Rio. It was plain bad luck he had an off day. This was one of the biggest upsets, considering the pre-race hype. We can expect plenty more from this guy - he's only 20.

Great Britain also won silver behind USA in the 200 Free Relay, edging out the Australians. It's not often GB wins a relay medal, let alone one against an incredibly strong American team consisting of Phelps, Lochte, Dwyer and Townley Haas. 


Japan, like GB, aren't usually known for winning relay medals – which would explain their elation when they got the bronze behind GB and that same strong American team.

Also big news, two Japanese swimmers won medals in the 400 IM – Kosuke Hagino (gold) and Daiya Seto (bronze), completely wiping out two Australian favorites, Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Travis Mahoney. Only one of two Americans medaled, and that was a newcomer, Chase Kalisz.

Masato Sakai was second to the greatest swimmer in the world, you know who, which was a great enough achievement in itself, but he also edged out Le Clos and Cseh. And they were  tipped to medal.

Obviously, USA will always dominate due to the sheer size of the team and their endless resources. The biggest surprise is that plenty of Australian and Americans are being relegated to the background by these highly skilled swimmers from other countries. Suffice it say, the world of swimming is undergoing a phenomenal change. All we can do is sit back and enjoy it.

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