Just from looking at the medalists and ranking you should be able to see that Gillingham's statement doesn't hold up, but how close was he to the truth?
The answer, where the men are concerned, is, well... pretty close. In both Beijing and Athens just two gold medalists were ranked outside of the Top 3 in the year before (Beijing - Cesar Cielo - 4th, Ous Mellouli - Not Ranked (serving an 18 month competition ban), Athens - Gary Hall Jr - 14th and the South African 4 x 100m Free team - 9th), whilst in Sydney that number was four. Overall, in the last three Olympics, male gold medalists have come from the Top 3 in the previous year's rankings 83.67% of the time. A similar pattern emerged for the swimmers ranked in the Top 10 in the world who went on to get a medal, a larger percentage in the two previous games than in Sydney and an overall rate for the three Olympics of 81.51%. That's a high percentage, but it by no means supports Gillingham's claim that 'statistically medals always come from those within the Top 10 and gold within the Top 3.'
On the women's side the difference is even starker. Over the last three Olympic Games the average of gold medal winners who ranked in the Top 3 in the year before was just 66.67%. In Beijing alone just 9 of the 16 gold medalists were ranked in the Top 3 the previous year. When it comes to medalists who ranked in the Top 10 the year before, the three Olympics average is 76.71%. Certainly a high proportion, but its worth bearing in mind that nearly a quarter of all medalists ranked outside of the Worlds Top 10 a year before the games. Food for thought for any swimmers on the verge of breaking through internationally.
The great thing about doing a study like this is that for every answer you find, several new directions open up. Tomorrow, I'll look further into what the history books tell us about those who have won Olympic medals in the last 11 years.