Since the Olympic Trials wrapped up in late June, both Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky — Team USA’s two biggest swimming sensations — have been scheduled to swim three individual events each.
On Monday, however, USA Today reported that both Phelps and Ledecky will also participate in their respective 4×100-meter relays. Not only is this a big (if unsurprising) boost for these relay team’s hopes for gold, it’s also a massive win for NBC as far as ratings are concerned.
It now looks like every swimming session on NBC in primetime will include Phelps or Ledecky or both.
If Ledecky swims the 4x100m free relay final, every night session on the Olympic swim program slated to include Ledecky or Phelps or both.
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) August 1, 2016
In addition to the relays, Ledecky will swim the 200-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle, and 800-meter freestyle, while Phelps will swim the 100-meter butterfly, the 200-meter butterfly, and the 200-meter individual medley.
As of Monday, Ledecky is slated to swim the prelims of the 4×100. If her time is one of the four fastest during the heat, she will also swim in the final (we can assume the American relay team will make the final).
Considering Phelps and Ledecky are two of Team USA’s biggest stars, across all events all over Rio, having them featured every night of the swimming program is guaranteed to boost NBC’s ratings. Swimming is among the most popular Olympic sports to begin with, and the narratives surrounding Phelps and Ledecky are ripe for Bob Costas’ commentary: Phelps, now 31, is set to enjoy a fifth summer games — he is expected to medal, and possibly compete for gold, though at this point it’s all a victory lap.
Ledecky, meanwhile, is just 19 and already one of the sport’s all-time greats. She should breeze to the 400 freestyle and 800 freeestyle gold (her own world records could fall) and very likely win the 200 freestyle, too. (She also has the world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle, an event that the women, inexplicably, do not swim at the Olympics.)
That Ledecky and Phelps are swimming in the relays and will feature throughout the swimming session is, first and foremost, a big win for Team USA. Neither the men nor the women are presently favoured to win gold in the relay. But you better believe that NBC is licking its chops, too.
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