For our relay picks, we’ll lay out the previews a bit differently. We’ll present each relay with a best time, an aggregate time based on entry times, and the likely relay members, and then lay out a bit of analysis on each grouping. On medleys, this can sometime be a bit of a guessing game, but we’ll take a stab at assembling the best relay.
For athletes marked with an asterisk (*), they will not swim this event individually in London.
1. USA – Actual: 3:32.06 Aggregate: 3:30.52
Matt Grevers – 52.08
Brendan Hansen -59.68
Michael Phelps – 50.71
Nathan Adrian – 48.05
Breakdown: The Americans are huge favorites to win this relay, if for no other reason than their balance. The Americans probably could no longer beat a ”world’s best” relay, made up of everybody not from the U.S., but the key to their dominance year-after-year is the fact that they can afford to have one, or even two, of their swimmers put up poor races, and still expect to win gold. That’s why they’ve never lost this event at an Olympics (aside from the 1980 boycott). The weakest swim last year was probably on the backstroke – though few across the field swam well – and with Grevers’ 52.0, that shouldn’t be a problem this year. We’ll give it about a 10% chance at the World Record – but only if Adrian finds his inner Dave-Walters and goes sub-47.
2. Australia – Actual: 3:32.26 Aggregate: 3:32.38
Hayden Stoeckel – 53.70
Christian Sprenger – 59.91
Chris Wright – 51.67
James Magnussen – 47.10
Breakdown: The Australians could sit about 4th for the better part of this race, but James Magnussen has already shown last year that he is a more-than-capable relay swimmer to go with his impressive individual feats. He’ll make up close to a second on the Americans, Germans, and Japanese. That should be enough to pick-off two of the three, especially with the middle two legs looking better than they have. Stoeckel on the backstroke leg will be the biggest question mark, but he’s been pretty good this year.
3. Japan – Actual: 3:32.89 Aggregate: 3:33.05
Ryosuke Irie – 52.91
Kosuke Kitajima – 58.90
Takeshi Matsuda – 52.36
Takuro Fujii – 48.88
Breakdown: The Japanese have a few big advantages in this race over the Germans and the French with whom they’ll be battling for the bronze. One is obviously Kosuke Kitajima - the best breaststrokers in the world are very far ahead of the second tier, and Kitajima is at the top of that group of “best”. The other is the consistent Ryosuke Irie - he was the only swimmer at last year’s World Championships to break 53 in this relay leadoff. Expect them to be in the lead, or neck-and-neck with the Americans, at the halfway mark. What they do with their back-half will be huge in their final result, but they never found their sprint freestyler (they don’t have a single one on the roster, even as relay only). That means we’ll probably see Matsuda on fly (his sprinting is improved this year) and Fujii anchor (he’s much better than his 48.88 flat-start indicates). Could be a painful fade back to the field.
4. Germany – Actual: 3:32.60 Aggregate:3:34.01
Helge Meeuw – 53.22/Jan-Philip Glania – 53.50
Hendrik Feldwehr - 1:00.48/Christian vom Lehn (1:00.51)
Benjamin Starke – 51.65
Paul Biedermann – 48.66
Breakdown: Because of Hendrik Feldwehr’s injury, vom Lehn probably gets the spot on this medley, but that won’t likely result in as much of a downgrade (if any) as we would have seen in past years. This aggregate time is a bit misleading: Biedermann doesn’t swim the 100 free from a flat start on a taper often, but is capable of a 47-low on a rolling start. Benjamin Starke has been very good this year, but the Germans have a similar challenge of timing as the Americans do.
5. France – Actual: 3:36.21 Aggregate: 3:33.80
Camille Lacourt – 52.44
Giacomo Perez-Dortona – 1:00.86
Clement Lefert – 52.48
Yannick Agnel - 48.02/Fabien Gilot – 48.13
Breakddown: Again, emphasize the backstroke. Camille Lacourt, if he’s on at this meet, will be matched only by Matt Grevers. Hopefully, this squad can avoid the prelims meltdown that they had at Worlds that caused them to miss the final. With newcomer Giacomo Perez-Dortona likely taking over the breaststroke spot, and Clement Lefert providing a much more stable option on the fly leg, the French are dangerous. Yannick Agnel shifting his focus to the freestyle races doesn’t hurt either. There’s still some trepidation here, though, after what we saw last year. The middle two legs will be significant for this team’s success.
6. Netherlands – Actual: 3:34.11 Aggregate: 3:34.48
Bastiaan Lijesen - 53.86/Nick Driebergen – 53.98
Lennart Stekelenburg – 1:00.50
Joeri Verlinden – 51.85
Sebastiaan Verschuren – 48.27
Breakdown: This is another relay that’s all about “balance”. With so few relays in the world being able to put together four good legs, this Dutch relay surprised some people to place 5th at Worlds last year. Their secret weapons are their back half – Verlinden is a very underrated butterflier, and Verschuren has proven to be an outstanding relay swimmer. There’s a chance for this squad to medal, if one of their two backstrokers steps up.
7. Brazil – Actual: 3:34.58 Aggregate: 3:33.44
Thiago Pereira – 53.86
Felipe Silva – 59.63
Kaio Almeida – 52.11
Cesar Cielo – 47.84
Breakdown: This Brazilian relay seems like it could be great. But they are going to be in a huge hole after the backstroke, and that will hurt. There’s been a lot of talk about moving Cielo to the fly leg and letting someone like Nicolas Oliveira, renowned for his relay skills, anchor. Afterall, Cielo is the World Champ in the 50 fly. But that doesn’t seem like it’s part of the plan – Cesar hasn’t been swimming any butterfly, and they left him as the anchor at Pan Ams. At the Olympics, its best to let everyone swim their primary stroke – especially in a relay as emotional as this one. They’ll be expecting him to split under a 48 for this move to make sense. Most of the drop for this team to medal will be counted to come from Felipe Silva’s improved breaststroke.
8. Poland – Actual: 3:36.13 Aggregate: 3:36.66
Marcin Tarczynski – 54.12
Dawid Szulich – 1:01.18
Oskar Krupecki – 52.88
Konrad Czerniak – 48.48
Breakdown: This is an underrated Polish relay that has a good chance at winning the battle with Great Britain, Canada, and Italy as well as a few other countries for the last spot in the finals. The Poles seem poised to slide Konrad Czerniak, the world’s number two butterflier, over to the freestyle leg. He’s the country’s best in both races, but they have butterflier Oskar Krupecki on the roster as a relay only swimmer, and nobody aside from Czerniak in the sprint group.