#Rio2016 Swimming Betting Preview
Olympic Swimming feels like a week-long gift that comes along every four years. If watching people compete for individual glory to satisfy a life-long dream doesn’t get you fired up, then check your pulse. This post dives deep into strategy, observations and general trends for betting on swimming; picks for individual events and relays are posted separately. The main focus of the strategy presented in this post is betting to win gold; props on world records or to win any medal are fun bets also, but they are hard to find at fair prices. If you like gambling but don’t know swimming, this will hopefully be helpful. If you like swimming but don’t gamble, this will hopefully be interesting. If you like gambling and know swimming, DM me on twitter @whale_capper. H/T to my man @M0neyMillsMark who has been talking shop and providing tips and insights on this topic for the last month.
The closest analogy for betting swimming in the Olympics is the Breeder’s Cup in horse racing (in fact if you like horse racing you will love betting swimming). You have a world class field of competitors in various events and distances that are usually separated by a few tenths, if not hundredths of seconds. Some of the competitors we’ve seen race numerous times but many are on the biggest stage of their life for the first time. Also, because of the individual nature of the sport, a 25–1 long shot can have a once in a lifetime performance and win gold, or a 1/3 favorite can have a bad day/meet/taper/start/turn and be defeated. A quick anecdote to illustrate this: in the 2012 Men’s 200 Fly, Michael Phelps came in at 1/5 (-500) odds, he was the heaviest favorite of any individual event at the Olympics; the world record holder and two-time defending champ lost to Chad le Clos who was lined at 40–1 (+4000). This was not rare in 2012, Rebecca Soni lost as a 1/3 (-300) favorite, Ryan Lochte at 4/11 (-275), James Magnussen at 2/5 (-250) and Rebecca Addlington at 4/9 (-225). Six of the seven favorites lined between -175 and -110 failed to win gold and out of 26 individual events, the odds on favorite only won 12 times. If you bet every favorite to win 1 unit in 2012, you lost over 10 units. On the flipside, Chad le Clos wasn’t even the biggest underdog to find glory in 2012, that distinction goes to 15-yr old Lithuanian Rūta Meilutytė who won the Women’s 100 Breastroke as a 66/1 long shot.
There is no denying that the 2012 Olympics may have been an exception, not the rule. The Men’s side had an out of shape Phelps and an exhausted Lochte to thank for some of the chaos, and parity ruled on the Women’s side due to an unusually deep pool of talented challengers. That said, every year as far back as 1988 (the first Olympics I remember watching), a few well-known swimmers show up out of shape and under-perform, and a few swimmers with no previous international success take home gold medals.
As you look across the board in 2016, these events are loaded with heavy favorites. As noted above, Phelps at -500 was the juiciest number on the board in 2012; this year there are seven favorites lined higher than -500 with the most extreme being Katie Ledecky to win the 800 Free at -10000. Now most of these lines are high for good reason, Ledecky has swum the 10 fastest 800 Frees in history and it would take a grandstand collapsing on her or a Brazilian kidnapping situation to keep her from winning gold. Look for World Record props in those situations if you want to stay engaged financially or place low stakes on long shot for fun, you never know what could happen in Rio.
The true value will be in the events where the favorite is lined in the range of -150 to -110; those lines are almost certainly a trap. If you see a line for an athlete whose name you recognize and a little juice, swim as fast as you can in the other direction. Public money will be on the favorites and swimmers that everyone knows by name and the books will clean up in those spots.
Some general tips: The shorter the race the more likely the upset; Men’s 50 Free was won in 2012 by 28/1 unknown Florent Manaudou (he’s the odds on favorite for the 50 this year). Avoid exotic parlays with proverbial favorites, one of them will lose. Listen to the commentators and swimming insiders but ignore the mainstream media. When in doubt back the US swimmers; Team USA has won no fewer than 12 gold medals in swimming at the last 5 Olympics. When in doubt, fade the Australians; our friends down-under are currently favored to win 9 golds which would shatter their record haul and would be miraculous after winning only a single gold medal in 2012. If you insist on betting favorites, look at the relays; much lower variability with four athletes contributing, there are generally few if any upsets at any given Olympics. The schedule matters a lot, a swimmer in multiple individual events and relays will be warming up, competing in heats, cooling down constantly and this grind wears down even the most elite athletes over the course of the week. The swimmers with experience are less likely to choke but do not expect an athlete at their third or fourth games to perform a best time; if a best time is what it takes for your long shot to win gold, then go with a man between 20 and 27 or a woman between 16 and 23. Phelps will win one individual gold medal, you figure out which one (it’s not going to be the 200 IM). Finally, death, taxes and US Men win gold in the backstroke.
Look for event specific write-ups all week long, the wagers and stakes will be tracked here for convenience: Tracking Summary. If you want to see a full schedule and odds summary check out this Google Sheet. There will be a recap and post-mortem when it’s all over in a week. Enjoy the games while we got em, so much better than preseason NFL.