Analysis: Women's 400m Freestyle
Craig Lord
The prelims produced the fastest field in history; It was the closest win in history, the closest podium in history and the fastest win in history. But Federica, Federica! What were you thinking about?; Brits are back in business


Beijing 2008


  • 1. Adlington (GBR) 4:03.22
  • 2. Hoff (USA) 4:03.29
  • 3. Jackson (GBR) 4:03.52
  • Fastest field ever: Beijing 2008 Prelims: 4:02.19 - 4:04.93


Facts going into the race: 


  • World record: 4:01.53 - Federica Pellegrini (ITA), Eindhoven, Netherlands, 24.3.08
  • Olympic champion: Laure Manaudou (FRA) 4:05.34
  • World champion: Laure Manaudou (FRA) 4:02.61


Impact of morning finals - what it took to make the final:

Five of the finalists swam slower than they did in the heats. The prelims produced the fastest field in history. You don't see that too often.

  • Beijing 2008: 4:02.19 - 4:04.93  (last place was faster than the Athens 2004 winner and faster than the best through to the final in Melbourne 2007, all those times clocked by the same swimmer - Laure Manaudou)
  • Melbourne 2007: 4:05.29 - 4:08.38
  • Athens 2004: 4:06.76 - 4:09.10

Notes on the race:

It was the closest win in history, the closest podium in history and the fastest win in history. But Federica, Federica! What were you thinking about? The race place was obvious, even practiced. The control at speed had been rehearsed. Not well enough, it seems. Vulnerable in finals in Melbourne 2007, did the Italian wobble again when the heat was on? Or did the sight of nemesis in love and war, Laure Manaudou, zipping under world-record pace at the 100m, thow the world record holder off synch? Pellegrini blamed morning finals. She never practiced for speed before lunch. Perhaps she should have. She never looked comfortable. Purely in the mind, might be a more accurate explanation. She came back later in the day and set the world record in the 200m and looked like a different swimmer. Same day, different pressure, different competitor. The clock is often friendlier than the swimmer in the next lane, let alone the swimmer in your own lane. Can Pellegrini turn things round for the 200m final? Doubt appears to be deep-seated. In the 400m, she played into the hands of Rebecca Adlington and Joanne Jackson (GBR) and Katie Hoff (USA). An extraordinary outcome. At 250m, Hoff made her move - and it almost paid off.

The American was thinking in her suit. So too were the Brits sharp-witted enough and savvy enough to make a difference. Jackson responded to Hoff, and Adlington later revealed that she was buoyed by her teammate's determination and refused to let go even though she felt that Hoff had got away. Out-of-the-norm things happen in Olympic finals. Adlington, with one of the flattest and smoothest techniques in the race, is lethal if she senses a chance. We saw a hint of it when she took silver in the 800m at Budapest 2006, we've seen it in domestic competition and the world s/c championships this year. Now, the world has seen it too, in Olympic waters. No better place to make your stand. There were just three sub 30sec splits on the last length: Adlington, Jackson and Coralie Balmy (FRA). For years, the 200m was an event that few women appeared to know how to race. Perhaps the 400m will be like that for a while until the 4-minute mark cracks under the weight of years and pressure. Pellegrini and Manaudou today joined the legion of swimmers in history who will have cause to look back and wonder why, ponder myriad question from "how could that have happened?", "why did I not see it coming?", "could I have done something to change the way things turned out?"

Impact of the race on the all-time top 10: 


  • 4:01.53 Pellegrini, Federica ITA
  • 4:02.13 Manaudou, Laure FRA
  • 4:02.20 Hoff, Katie USA
  • 4:02.24 Adlington, Rebecca GBR BEIJING Prelims
  • 4:03.52 Jackson, Joanne GBR BEIJING F
  • 4:03.60 Balmy, Coralie FRA BEIJINF F
  • 4:03.85 Evans, Janet USA
  • 4:03.92 Ziegler, Kate USA
  • 4:04.16 Barratt, Bronte AUS BEIJING Prelims
  • 4:04.23 Jedrzejczak, Otylia  POL


All-time 2007


  • 4:02.13 Manaudou (FRA) 2006
  • 4:03.85 Evans (USA) 1988
  • 4:04.23 Jedrzejczak (POL) 2007
  • 4:04.24 Ziegler (USA) 2007
  • 4:04.60 Hoff (USA) 2007
  • 4:05.00 Yan Chen (CHN) 1997*
  • 4:05.19 Shibata (JPN) 2007
  • 4:05.20 Pellegrini (ITA) 2007
  • 4:05.80 Bennett (USA) 2000
  • 4:05.84 Moehring, Anke (GDR) 1989**
  • * - subsequently banned for steroids
  • ** - enhanced by State Plan 14:25 



Adlington is the first Briton to win the 400m title. She was also the first British woman in 48 years - since Anita Lonsbrough claimed gold in the 200m breaststroke in Rome 1960 - to stand at the highest point of the podium. It is 20 years since Britain won a gold, Adrian Moorhouse claiming the 100m breaststroke crown in 1988. The last time Britain placed two swimmers on the podium was 1984 in the same 400m event, the silver going to Sarah Hardcastle and the bronze to June Croft, behind Tiffany Cohen (USA). Adlington takes to 11 the number of Olympic swimming crowns won by Britain since 1896, with London 1908 accounting for four of those, courtesy of Henry Taylor (400m free, 1,500m free, 4x200m free) and Frederick Holman (200m breaststroke). Of the 21 finals contested since 1920 (which was actually over 300m), 11 have gone to the USA. The crown has been retained jut once: Norelius, a Stockholm-born American who in the summer of 1927 set 29 world records (including yards), claimed the 1924 and 1928 titles. Four women have bridged 400 and 800m: Meyer (1968), Cohen (1984), Evans (1988) and Bennett (2000). Could Adlington add her name to that list? Meyer is the only women to have bridged 200, 400 and 800. Among those robbed of a place in history by doping and boycott were Shirley Babshoff and Cynthia Woodhead (both USA).

Fastest win: 4:03.22, Adlington, 2008 (prelims: 4:02.19, Pellegrini)

World Record wins: Bleibtrey, 1920; Norelius, 1928; Madison, 1932; Gould, 1972; Thumer, 1976; Evans, 1988.

Biggest margin: 7.9sec, Crapp's (AUS) defeat of Fraser in 1956; Gould and Evans produced dominant victories more recently.

Closest shave: 0.07sec split Adlington (GBR) and Hoff (USA)

Most controversial: Michelle Smith de Bruin (IRL) had never raced an international 400m freestyle until summer 1996. Her progress was an aberration of historic proportions. She stopped the opposition buit could not stop the rumours. Two years later, she attempted to manipulate a drug-test sample and was suspended.