2016 Rio Olympic Preview: U.S. Men Overpowering In Medley Relay

Men’s 400m Medley Relay

  • 2012 Olympic Champ: USA, 3:29.35
  • 2015 World Champ: USA, 3:29.93
  • World Record (2009): USA, 3:27.28

The U.S. has dominated many events in the world of swimming to varying degrees over the past number of years, but the 400 medley relay is the one that they absolutely own. They are undefeated on the Olympic stage (with Australia winning in 1980 due to the American boycott), and only once have they lost at the World Championships when they weren’t disqualified (1998). The Americans have been disqualified three times over the last eight World Championships, happening in 2001, 2007 and 2013. 2013 they initially won, 2007 they were DQed in prelims (though a win was all but certain), and 2001 they were actually beat for the only time in major championship history at the hands of the Australians before being disqualified anyway.

After pulling out the win in this event in Kazan by just fifteen one-hundredths, the Americans come in as the clear favorites despite last years close call. They will likely field the same team as they did last year other than flipping Tom Shields for Michael Phelps on fly, which is an upgrade. On top of that, Ryan Murphy, Kevin Cordes and Nathan Adrian all appear to be on better form than they were a year ago, specifically Murphy and Adrian who could easily be a full second faster on their splits this year than they were last. Murphy had a pair of 52.2s at Trials, well under his 53.05 opening leg last year. Adrian, who

Kevin Cordes, who false-started at the 2013 Worlds, will be a key leg for the Americans.

Kevin Cordes, who false-started at the 2013 Worlds, will be a key leg for the Americans.

split 47.41 while almost being run down by Australia’s Cameron McEvoy, recently split 46.8 at a USA camp practice and appears to be on the best form of his life.

The reality is, the US has so much depth in each stroke that their prelim relay could easily contend for gold. David Plummer (52.12) and Cody Miller (59.09) both posted personal best times in the semi-finals at Trials, times that would’ve won in the final, yet were a bit slower in the final and finished 2nd. If they out-swim Murphy and Cordes in the individual event, they’ll likely get the nod in the final. If they’re firing on all cylinders, no matter who’s in the lineup, the U.S. shouldn’t have a problem winning again.

Australian swimmer Mitchell Larkin celebrates after winning the men's 200m backstroke final during the FINA Swimming World Championships at Kazan arena in Kazan, Russia, 07 August 2015. EFE/Alberto Estevez

Mitch Larkin, co-favorite in both backstroke events in Rio, will give the Australians a great opening leg in their quest to take down the Americans (Alberto Estevez).

Their main threat will be the Australians, who, as mentioned before, almost topped them for gold last year. They are led by backstroker Mitch Larkin and Cameron McEvoy on freestyle, both of whom could easily come away with gold in their respective 100m races. Freestyle is the one area where the Aussies have a clear advantage over the US, with McEvoy being the fastest man in the world by nearly seven tenths of a second. It’s fair to say Larkin and Murphy are currently on equal terms for backstroke, while the advantage goes to the US (considerably) in breast and fly, giving them the edge. Unless Jake Packard on breast and David Morgan or Grant Irvine on fly swim around a second under their best times, McEvoy won’t have enough room to run down Adrian.

Last year in Kazan it wasn’t just a close race for first, it was a close race in general. Teams three through six (France, Great Britain, Russia and Japan) all finished within six tenths of each other and sixth place Japan was just 1.02 seconds off of the silver medal winning Australians.

France is a dangerous team after winning bronze last year, with all-around solid legs minus breaststroke. They have multiple combinations to chose from on fly and free, one of which is Jeremy Stravius on either who has proven to be a clutch relay performer and Florent Manaudou on free (if he performs in the 400 free relay), which has to be a scary thought for the other teams vying for a medal. Another option is Mehdy Metella on fly, who split 50.39 last year. If their breaststroker, Theo Bussiere, isn’t well under his best time of 1:01.35 it will be lights out for France. But if he’s under a minute, they’re in the medal hunt.

Great Britain is the team with the biggest advantage in one single stroke, as Adam Peaty towers over the breaststroke field. Other than him, all of their legs are relatively average. If Chris Walker-Hebborn can get back under 53 in the lead-off leg and Peaty throws down another 57, being in the fight for the lead may give their fly and free swimmers (likely James Guy and Ben Proud or Duncan Scott) an edge coming home.

The Russians and the Japanese are both solid through all four legs, but Russia was dealt a blow with the loss of Vladimir Morozov (though his eligibility is still somewhat pending). That shouldn’t make too much of an impact though, as Andrey Grechin is a proven performer, so both teams will join France and Great Britain in the battle for bronze like they did last year. If any of those teams have one or two dynamite legs, they could challenge the Aussies for silver.

Those six teams look to be the best in the field, with the remaining spots in the final up for grabs for the rest. Germany and Poland were the other two finalists last year, but both could easily be taken out with all teams tightly bunched.

One team that is very dangerous is South Africa, which boasts the duo of Cameron van der Burgh and Chad Le Clos, who won silver and gold medals last year in Kazan in their respective 100m events. With Christopher Reid dropping a 53-low 100 back at SA Trials, they could easily be a surprise finalist and be in the thick of things up until the freestyle leg.

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 15: Cameron van den Burgh , Calvyn Justus , Chad le Clos and Christopher Reid after swimming a qualifying time in the 4x100m medley time trial during the finals session on day 6 of the SA National Aquatic Championships and Olympic Trials on April 15 , 2016 at the Kings Park Aquatic Center pool in Durban, South Africa. Photo Credit / Anesh Debiky/Swim SA

The South Africans are one team with a lot of firepower that could surprise in Rio. Photo Credit / Anesh Debiky/Swim SA

Other teams who could surprise include China and Hungary, with China possessing two elite legs with Xu Jiayu and Ning Zetao, and Hungary holding one of the top flyers in Laszlo Cseh. China is probably a lot more dangerous than many expect, with breaststroke and flyers entered at 59.9 and 51.2 in their individual swims.

Then there’s the host Brazilians, who could be hit or miss in this event. Execution on all four fronts could see them in the final, or they could just as easily miss out. It seemingly all comes down to their fly leg, where they’ll need one of two guys who are entered with 52-lows to go in the 51-low range to give them a chance.

The other teams in the lineup are Greece, Italy, Canada and Lithuania. Lithuania lacks the fly leg needed to contend, while the other three are all missing that sub-1:00 breaststroker that is required to be competitive in this race.



Best Time (Since 2012 Olympics)

Predicted Time in Rio


 United States








 Great Britain




















 South Africa




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Lp Man

Murphy 52.00
Cordes 58.50
Phelps 50.25
Adrian 46.75



That’s very slow for Phelps.. that would mean like a 50.9 flat start. He can probably go 49 point

bobo gigi

The race will be at the end of a long week for MP. And his olympic games start one week earlier with the opening ceremony. You can’t ask him to swim a crazy relay split after so many efforts. The only thing I want to see is that he finishes his career on a gold medal.


I agree with you in a sense Bobo. However, I imagine he would want his last race to be the most pouring in his emotions into that race he ever has, and do the best possible job he could possibly do there.


It is his last race in the Olympics!!!


This will be Phelp’s last swim ever. I think he’ll turn up. Last time he was burned out but this time he’s excited and wants to prove something.


2016 best times (Morozov included): Men 4x100m Medley USA – D. Plummer, K. Cordes, M. Phelps, N. Adrian 52.12, 58.94, 51.00, 47.72 – 3:29.78 AUS – M. Larkin, J. Packard, C. Wright, C. McEvoy 52.48, 59.64, 51.64, 47.04 – 3:30.80 CHN – J. Xu, Z. Yan, Z. Li, Z. Ning 52.98, 59.94, 51.24, 47.96 – 3:32.12 RUS – G. Tarasevich, V. Zanko, A. Sadovnikov, A. Grechin 53.03, 59.72, 51.50, 48.18 – 3:32.43 BRA – G. Guido, J. Gomes, V. Lanza, M. Chierighini 53.10, 59.06, 52.22, 48.20 – 3:32.58 GBR – C. Walker-Hebborn, A. Peaty, J. Guy, B. Proud 53.73, 58.36, 52.15, 48.52 – 3:32.76 ITA – S. Sabbioni, A. Toniato, P. Codia, L. Dotto 53.34, 1:00.41, 51.42, 47.96 – 3:33.13… Read more »


*morozov NOT included – whoops


Like a man in a wind tunnel, he’s still up in the air


Iain, just for record. Lanza is not on Rio.. but Martins went 52,14 at Brazil First trials.. he was sick during ML


Whoops, thanks!

However, I am only using 2016 times which pushed Brazil’s fly to 52.48 for Pereira (Martins’ best was in December 2015, his best this year is 52.59)

That means Brazil are 3:32.84, just behind GB


How I see this race right now

Tier 1: USA
Tier 2: Australia
Tier 3: China, Russia, Brazil and GBR.
A little Below: JPN, GER and Italy. One of these 3 will be out of final

IRIE seems to not have so much front speed as in the last OG and the fact they have only one Breaststroke is tough, if Koseki swims badly it is game over for them.

I Just talked about Martins because he almost did not swim at ML (He missed the 100 free due to sickness).

bobo gigi

Thanks for your work. That’s interesting and shows the potential of each team.
But the magic of relays is that it’s not just an addition of times.


But the add up is a good estimation to see who might be top 8.. then on final we will have a better vision.. good thing medley is on the end,. we will know for sure how everyone went individually..


An Olympic Record looks VERY realistic. I think they will challenge that world record.


Considering their fault start times are faster than what they swam last year and only .44 off the OR, I’d say that is extremely likely for this one to fall. World record could be close, but if everyone swam lights out, they could get it.

Murphy 52.13
Cordes 58.46
Phelps 50.22
Adrian 46.68

3:27.49 OR


I think for a WR in the relay, we’d need Murphy or Plummer to go a world record on the backstroke.


You can’t get a WR, if you are 2nd to the wall.


He is talking about who gets to be on the relay.


That will do it


Actually maybe a 52.2 or 52.1


Not doubting US will get Relay gold & maybe WR, but Larkin will beat them in backstroke.


He will? Have you been to future? Lol


If Larkin was from America and Plummer/Murphy were aussies, you’d be saying the exact opposite. Why are Australian fans so annoying….


If Plummer/Murphy were from Australia and Larkin was American, you’d be saying the exact opposite. Why are you so bias….


Have you been to future? Lol, boom boom!!! It’s called predictions.


I didn’t see Plummer and Cordes, I saw Ryan Murphy and Cody Miller. The times are invented.


Also you have China behind France but with a quicker time

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James formerly competed for the Laurentian Voyageurs in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in February of 2018, placing 11th at the OUA Championships in the 200 IM, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics in May. He …

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