2017 Worlds Preview: Chaos To Ensue In Mixed 400 Medley Relay

2017 FINA World Aquatics Championships

You can find links to all of our event-by-event previews and a compilation of our predicted medal-winners here.

400m Mixed Medley Relay

  • World Record: 3:41.71, Great Britain, 2015
  • World Championship Record: 3:41.71, Great Britain, 2015
  • Defending World Champions: Great Britain (Walker-Hebborn, Peaty, O’Connor, Halsall), 3:41.71

First debuting at the 2014 Short Course World Championships, the mixed relays have gained steam over the last few years. They were added to the 2015 LC World Championships, and the mixed medley has also been recently added to the Olympic schedule, set to debut in 2020.

What first started off as a bit of a fun experiment will immediately be taken a bit more seriously with Olympic medals on the line in three years. Despite that, the race will still be fun. Who could forget the roar of the Russian crowd in 2015 as Vladimir Morozov attempted to mow down as many women as he could on the freestyle leg? Teams will have different tactics in the race, but in general, which is the fastest?

Taking the average time done by the eight finalists in Rio, the eight finalists in Kazan, and averaging those two times out, the data finds that men and women have the smallest difference over 100 metres of freestyle at 5.18 seconds. The largest? Breaststroke, at 7.40 seconds. Check out the results below:

W Backstroke 59.21  58.86 59.03  
M Backstroke 52.89  52.68 52.78 6.25
W Breaststroke 1:06.66  1:06.47 1:06.56  
M Breaststroke 59.33  58.99 59.16 7.40
W Butterfly 57.44  56.64 57.04  
M Butterfly 51.14  51.28 51.21 5.83
W Freestyle 53.43  53.05 53.24  
M Freestyle 48.16  47.96 48.06 5.18

If every country had swimmers of equal strength, it would make the most sense to go men on back and breast, and women on fly and free. However, this won’t be the case for every country. This will likely be the case for the top countries, like the U.S., but others may have one star on one specific stroke that may not align with the conventional order, but will make their aggregate time faster. Let’s take a look at the countries in contention.

The U.S. will likely pop into your head first as the favorite simply because they’re so deep. And you’d be right. Their add-up from times posted this year gets them to 3:41.64, the fastest among anyone. If we take the average of their top swims from the past two seasons, they’re at 3:40.76, which is probably closer to where they’ll be (not including relay takeovers). Going off 2017 times won’t always tell the whole story, especially considering Ryan Murphy (51.85) and Kelsi Worrell (56.48) were both nearly a second faster last year than the fastest U.S. times this year (52.71, 57.38). If we use the season bests of Murphy and Simone Manuel in the add-up instead of Matt Grevers and Mallory Comerford, anticipating that they have a great chance of swimming the final, their season-best add-up bumps up to 3:42.19. But as the reigning Olympic champions in their respective races, we know they’ll perform on the big stage.

With the 100 back and 100 breast for men and women’s 100 fly all taking place before this relay, whoever emerges from those swims will likely get the nod in the final. Murphy or Matt Grevers on back, Kevin Cordes or Cody Miller on breast, likely Worrell on fly, and either Manuel or Mallory Comerford on free, whoever manages to outperform the other in the 400 free relay on day 1.

The one move they could potentially do is swim Kathleen Baker on back and Caeleb Dressel on fly. The difference between Dressel and Worrell was actually much greater (6.51) than the difference between Grevers and Baker (5.86) at Trials. With that switch, their 2017 add-up improves to 3:40.99. However, this is unlikely with Dressel’s packed schedule and the likelihood that Worrell and the male backstrokers will be faster in Budapest.

Though the U.S. will be the favorites, China is the team most capable of stealing the gold.

They’re led by backstroker Xu Jiayu, who came within 0.01 of Murphy’s 100m world record this year in 51.86. After him they don’t get a whole lot weaker either. Yan Zibei is ranked 3rd in the world in the 100 breast at 58.92, and Zhang Yufei (57.63) and Zhu Menghui are no slouch on the female legs. That adds them up to 3:41.83, less than two tenths behind the Americans. They could also end up using Lu Ying on fly, who is a bit slower (57.98) than Zhang this year but was 56.76 in Rio.

Defending champions Great Britain have their secret weapon in Adam Peaty, who is the most dominant swimmer over any single 100, but they may have to change up their order to keep competitive. Based off this year’s times, the conventional order only gets them to 3:44.23, with the retirement of freestyler Francesca Halsall being a bit of a blow. If they switch up the order a bit, subbing in Georgia Davies on backstroke for Chris Walker-Hebborn, and then put world #1 Duncan Scott on free, they get down to 3:42.88, putting them back in the mix.

If Australian backstroker Mitch Larkin returns to the 52-mid range on the lead-off they’ll be in contention for a medal, though the Aussies are relatively weak on breaststroke. Matthew Wilson was only 1:00.23 to win Trials, but a 59-mid leg would put them right in the race for gold. They’re very solid on the back end with Emma McKeon and Bronte Campbell.

Those will be the four main medal contenders. This next group should all manage to final, but would need one of the big four to slip up or not use their top swimmers to have a chance at a medal.

Japan, Canada and Russia all add-up to between 3:44.24 and 3:44.38, based on 2017 rankings. Japan is very solid on the first three legs, with Ryosuke IrieYasuhiro Koseki and Rikako Ikee all potential medalists in their individual 100s. The freestyle leg would be their weak leg, as Ikee is also their top option, though she’s better off doing fly. Chihiro Igarashi (54.98) has been the slowest freestyle leg this year out of the top teams.

Canada is another one of those teams that will likely switch around the order. They’ve got the world’s top female backstroker in Kylie Masse, and it would be advantageous to use her on that leg. They would then likely follow with Richard Funk on breast, Penny Oleksiak on fly (their men’s fly is weak), and then Yuri Kisil on freestyle.

The Russians are very similar to Japan. Solid up front on three legs, and then relatively weak coming home. Evgeny Rylov and Anton Chupkov will be competitive on the front-end despite being better at the 200 distance, and Svetlana Chimrova is an elite flyer ranked 4th in the world this year at 57.17. Veronika Popova is their weakest link, but is capable of a 53-mid split.

The French and Swedes appear to be out of luck. France doesn’t have a breaststroker on their roster, and Sweden’s team of three guys includes two breaststrokers and a distance freestyler. The hometown Hungarians? They’re capable of making the final.

If they utilize Katinka Hosszu on backstroke, and then Daniel GyurtaLiliana Szilagyi and then one of their three 48-second freestylers, they’ll be okay. However, it seems very possible Hosszu sits out, at least for the prelims, which puts them in jeopardy. Laszlo Cseh or Richard Bohus on back and Evelyn Verraszto on freestyle would probably be the best move in that scenario.

That 8th spot could come down to the Hungarians and the Italians, who are fairly solid throughout their lineup. They’re weakest on the lead-off with 200 backstroker Matteo Restivo, but are decent after that with Nicolo MartinenghiIlaria Bianchi and Federica Pellegrini.

Germany won bronze in Kazan, but doesn’t have great prospects here. With no female breaststrokers or freestylers, they really only have one order they can use, and it’s looking like a 7th or 8th finish at best. The same is the case for Denmark, who have always been dangerous in the women’s medley relay but don’t quite have the top-end speed here. With no male backstrokers or breaststrokers on the team, they would need to swim two females first, putting them well behind, and Viktor Bromer and Anders Nielsen are far from 100m specialists.

The Brazilians would need Etiene Medeiros to be on her 2016 form in either back (1:00.0) or fly (58.4) to have a chance. Their men are strong on breast, fly and free, but Medeiros’ focus on 50s this year seems to close the door on them.


1 United States Murphy, Cordes, Worrell, Manuel 3:42.19 3:39.77 3:40.3 WR
2 China Xu, Yan, Zhang, Zhu 3:41.83 3:40.96 3:41.2
3 Great Britain Davies, Peaty, Thomas, Scott 3:42.88 3:42.22 3:41.6
4 Australia Larkin, Wilson, McKeon, Campbell 3:43.89 3:41.67 3:42.2
5 Japan Irie, Koseki, Ikee, Igarashi 3:44.38 3:42.99 3:42.9
6 Canada Masse, Funk, Oleksiak, Kisil 3:44.24 3:42.98 3:43.3
7 Russia Rylov, Chupkov, Chimrova, Popova 3:44.34 3:43.24 3:44.5
8 Italy Restivo, Martinenghi, Bianchi, Pellegrini 3:45.39 3:44.03 3:45.5

*Note: season and all-time best add-ups are using the specific swimmers in the predicted lineups

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5 years ago

I’m gonna take the contrarian view in that I’m really looking forward to the mixed relays!

My first introduction to mixed relays was as a Masters swimmer 6 years ago. Coming from a club swimming background, I thought they were weird, but have greatly come to enjoy them as a swimmer, a coach, and a spectator. The amount of strategizing that goes into the lineup (ok, at the world level, not so much for the US or the other top teams, but for the second tier on down, anyways) really makes it fun.

As a coach, I’ve set up multiple mixed relays where I’m seeding from a pool of 20+ swimmers, and after running all the permutations, have come up… Read more »

Reply to  Tim
5 years ago

TBH, whilst there are certainly those who feel that mixed relays shouldn’t be on the program at LCM Worlds & esp Olympics; I think much of the current negativity is due to FINA’s “pushing” them onto the Olympic program after only one LCM Worlds appearance …. and that with less than full “take-up” by major nations.

Personally, I’m not necessarily against them finding their way eventually onto the Olympic program but I’d prefer to have seen it done as per the example of biathlon in Winter sports, where it was on the program at annual World Championships as well as a couple during every World Cup season for a couple of Olympic cycles and had seen full take-up by the… Read more »

5 years ago

Can Hungary try a Hosszu / Gyurta / Cseh (Milak) / Verraszto relay with great chances of the final?
I think this would be the best option for them.

Reply to  BRONK27
5 years ago

I’ve also suggested that order as Hungary’s best option. At both Kazan and 2016 Euros, tho, Hungary’s mixed medley team did not include Hosszu OR Gyurta OR Cseh. In Kazan, they fielded Balog – Horvath – Verraszto – Jakabos (3:49.50 in the heats, 3:50.06 for 8th in the finals). At 2016 Euros, they fielded Balog – Financsek – Verraszto – Jakabos (3:49.50 for bronze in the finals, behind GB and Italy). That 3:49.50 is the current Hungarian national record.

Reply to  Sportygeek
5 years ago

With Olympic medals on the horizon they should take the event more seriously. I guess some of their stars will swim this time and that national record will easily fall. The big question is Hosszu, if she sits out prelims, the team might not reach the final… and they might need a totally different team should Katinka do that. However this event doesn’t really conflicts with her best events so who knows?

5 years ago

Justin Ress has swum 100m back very well in this year!! If he has an opportunity to do in the heats, I think he will nail it. Especially they need to keep Ryan Murphy as fresh as possible because Murphy will have a very tough battles with Xu and Rylov!!!

Reply to  MichaelTran
5 years ago

If Grevers is not up to form, at least they will have Ress as an option. Murphy will be in all medley relay finals.

Reply to  Zanna
5 years ago

Pebley too is an option. Ress beat him at Trials, but Pebley has a faster PB, 52.9 from trials. Though I don’t see either of them happening unless it’s one swim too much for Grevers.

5 years ago

If Australia treats this event seriously, I see the medalists being;

1. USA
2. Australia
3. China

(Sorry GB)

Also think Russia will do better than 7th

Reply to  KRB
5 years ago

Much as I would love to agree with you, I feel that you are banking on a case where AUS top swimmers WERE swimming at or near to their best …. in that case they would be legitimate medal chances.However the reality of AUS swimming 2017 is that very few of them are !

Larkin at his best is a close match for the US backstrokers but he has been very poor coming back from a long post Olympics break. This probably locks them into swimming Seebohm on back.

McEvoy at his best is capable of a sub47 anchor split but his 2017 form is way below those levels. C2 has yet to get her shoulder fixed so she’s… Read more »

Reply to  commonwombat
5 years ago

I am hoping a 62 man transgenders over for the breastroke . It is our only hope to even things out . He would only lose 3 secs with the hormones as he would already have big hands & feet . I don’t even mind if he looks a bit odd in places – come on guys – do it for Australia !

Reply to  G.I.N.A
5 years ago

If they don’t go the full monty & only hormones , they can revert to being a man again after Tokyo . There are no rules about that & a lady’s perogative to change her mind .

5 years ago

The mixed relays seem kind of like a summer league event – a “for fun” sort of interlude. Something better offered as part of a country club’s 4th of July festivities. Perhaps FINA and the IOC will consider adding a belly flop contest to the diving program in 2024. I cannot imagine Track and Field adding a coed 4 X 200 relay to their Olympic event program. This just has a “gimmicky” feel to it. Of course, once world class athletes step up at the Olympic Games for the event, they’ll race their hearts out and everyone (fans and team-mates alike) will cheer like crazy. But in the end, it’ll be a novelty race and few will view the awarded… Read more »

5 years ago

I think mixed relays aren’t great, I just think the priority should’ve been adding spring relays to the mix before adding mixed events.

5 years ago

James, I chose the same team for GB on another topic 🙂 (I think they will second).

5 years ago

I know this is now an Olympic event but it has a Mickey Mouse feel about it. The addition of more and more events only serves to dilute the swimming program and gives ammunition to critics outside of swimming who say it is much easier to win multiple medals than in, say, track and field. I will treat the mixed relay about as seriously as I would have treated 150 metre form stroke events or a 600 IM.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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