2019 World Champs Preview: Barn Burner Set Between USA and AUS in Women’s 4×200

2019 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

  • All sports: Friday, July 12 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
  • Pool swimming: Sunday, July 21 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
  • The Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center, Gwangju, Korea
  • Meet site
  • FinaTV Live Stream
  • Live results

WOMEN’S 4×200 FREE RELAY

  • World Record: 7:42.08, China (Yang/Zhu/Liu/Pang), 2009
  • World Junior Record: 7:51.47, Canada (Sanchez/Oleksiak/Smith/Ruck), 2017
  • World Championships Record: 7:42.08, China (Yang/Zhu/Liu/Pang), 2009
  • Defending 2017 World Champion: 7:43.39, USA (Smith/Comerford/Margalis/Schmitt)

This 2009 WR feels like it should’ve been downed by now. Averaged out, China’s 7:42.08 from the 2009 World Champs (where they beat the team of Dana Vollmer, Lacey Nymeyer, Ariana Kukors, and Allison Schmitt by just under half of a second) comes out to 1:55.52 per leg.

At the last World Champs in Budapest, the American team of Leah Smith (1:55.97), Mallory Comerford (1:56.92), Melanie Margalis (1:56.48), and Katie Ledecky (1:54.02) defeated China by over a second-and-a-half and were ahead of third-place Australia by over five seconds. But, they were still over a second shy of the WR.

This year, they should have at least three legs under 1:56 — there’s Ledecky, who has been 1:53.73 (from the 2016 Olympics) and should be at least a 1:54-low on the relay again, Smith, whose 1:55.97 from 2017 Worlds’ relay lead-off is her best (she has already gone a lifetime best in-season in the 800 free), and, of course, Schmitt. Perhaps the most admirable member of this relay simply for her longevity, Schmitt has been one of the more resilient figures in USA Swimming’s history the last decade. She snatched the second individual 200 free spot for this meet by swimming to a 1:55.81 at the 2018 US Nationals, and she could be that second hammer leg that the U.S. will need to challenge the WR (and fight off Australia and China).

Schmitt was only 1:58.62 at Pan Pacs last summer leading off the Americans, who would fall to Australia by two tenths despite Ledecky doing all she could with a 1:53.84 anchor leg. In the 2019 season, you have Ledecky at 1:55.32, the dangerous Katie McLaughlin at 1:56.48, Simone Manuel at 1:57.24, Smith at 1:57.40, WUGs star Gabby Deloof at 1:57.62 from that meet (she’s pulling double duty as a 4×200 relay-only swimmer), Hali Flickinger at 1:57.65, Schmitt at 1:57.70, Comerford at 1:57.93, and Margalis at 1:58.03. Just for kicks, Regan Smith (1:58.44), Katie Drabot (1:58.90), and Brooke Forde (1:58.94) have also broken 1:59 this season. So, that’s eight American women under 1:58 this year already, and an additional three more under 1:59 — all eleven of these women are on the Worlds team.

Smith and Deloof are on the team for the 4×200, and Deloof will probably be swimming in prelims to see where she’s at post-WUGs, alongside probably some combination of Schmitt/McLaughlin/Manuel/Flickinger/Margalis/Comerford. The possibilities are really quite overwhelming.

In order to keep this somewhat brief, the quarter for finals could very well be: Smith, Schmitt, McLaughlin, Ledecky. Smith should be a 1:55/1:56 lead-off, Schmitt and McLaughlin could be anywhere from 1:56 down to potentially 1:54, while Ledecky will be 1:54/1:53 most likely. That’s an upper bound of 7:45ish, and a lower bound of just around 7:40ish.

Last year, Australia defeated the Americans (in this, and also the other two relays). Ariarne Titmus and Emma McKeon went 1-2 at 1:55.2 and 1:55.5, respectively, while Mikkayla Sheridan and Madeline Groves were 1:56.7 and 1:56.4, respectively. This year, though, Titmus (1:54.30) and McKeon (1:54.55) are the top-ranked 200 freestylers in the world. The rest of the relay is a bit more up in the air, as the third-place finisher in the 200 free at Australian Trials, Shayna Jack (1:56.37), just pulled out of the meet for personal reasons after the Trials of her life. It’s far from a disaster for the Aussies, though, who still have Brianna Throssell at 1:56.62 and Madi Wilson at 1:56.85. That’s four women, excluding Jack, in the top 15 for Australia; the Americans have just two (Ledecky and McLaughlin).

China doesn’t look quite as strong in this going into Gwangju as they’ve proven to be in the past. That said, they have a trifecta of women in the 1:56 range this season: 800 free and 1500 free Asian record holder Wang Jianjiahe (1:56.70), Yuhan Qiu (1:56.79), Yang Junxuan (1:56.98). Meanwhile, Li Bingjie has been 1:57.31 this season. At the 2018 Asian Games, China won gold with a 7:48, but Yuhan wasn’t on it — instead, it was Zhang Yuhan at 1:58.37 with a flying start. There, Li led off in 1:56.94, while Wang was 1:55.35 and Junxuan anchored in 1:57.95. Li and Wang are the two stars of the pack, but they’ll need to be really strong through and through considering what the Canadians might be able to do this summer.

After putting together a heroic effort to claim the bronze medal in Rio thanks to a 1:56.18 second leg from Taylor Ruck and a 1:54.94 anchor from Penny Oleksiak, the story was very different for Canada in 2017. They placed eighth in the final at Worlds, as Ruck had missed the team (she made Junior Worlds, though, where she, Oleksiak, Kayla Sanchez, and Rebecca Smith would set the World Junior record). It’ll be those four, again, in Gwangju. Oleksiak won Trials in April (her and Ruck were both 1:56.9), while Sanchez improved to a 1:58.28 and Smith eked in at fourth in 1:58.64, two hundredths under the FINA cut. There’s definitely something special about the Canadian women, and it’s hard to forget that Ruck, despite her lackluster 2017, split a 1:54.08 on Canada’s relay at Pan Pacs, defeated Ledecky in the individual 200 at that meet (1:54.44), defeated both Titmus and McKeon at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (1:54.81), and anchored their relay to silver at Commonwealth Games (where she also split a 51.82 on their 4×100 free relay). Oleksiak’s 1:56 this spring was promising as she’s yet to really get back to her lights out 2016 form, but they’ll need Sanchez and Smith to be better than 1:58’s in order to get into the podium conversation.

The next few teams that look solid to make the final are largely European:

  • RUSSIA
    • Veronika Andrusenko is the Russian record-holder, and she’s back after going 1:55.26 to place 4th at the 2017 World Champs. She was 1:55.08 in semis. Russia won a silver medal at 2018 Euros without her, getting a 1:57.49 anchor from Anastasia Guzhenkova and three 1:58’s. Russia was fourth in 2017 with Andrusenko leading off in a 1:55, and a 1:58 on the end. With Guzhenkova swapping in (she was 1:56.77 for bronze at Euros in the individual), along Daria K Ustinova (1:56.93 split at Worlds 2017) and either Anna Egorova or Valeria Salamantina (both 1:58’s at Euros last year), this relay is solid.
  • GREAT BRITAIN
    • Siobhan-Marie O’Connor has been as fast as 1:55.82 from 2014, and she’s one of the greatest (and most versatile) swimmers in British history. But she hasn’t focused on the event individually since 2016, and wasn’t on GBR’s gold medal-winning 4×200 free relay at 2018 Euros. That team was Ellie Faulkner (1:59.25), Kathryn Greenslade (1:57.94), Holly Hibbott (1:58.46), and Freya Anderson (1:56.00). Faulkner has retired, and Greenslade didn’t make Worlds. Anderson has magic split potential as a rising prodigy, while Hibbott will likely be on this relay, too, along with some combination of O’Connor, Georgia Coates (1:58-low in 2016), and Alys Thomas (1:59.50 PR at British Nationals this spring).
  • GERMANY
    • Last year, Germany rounded out the Euros podium with a bronze medal, anchored at 1:57.65 by Annika Bruhn. Their second-leg at Euros, Isabel Gose, just had an exceptional meet at 2019 Euro Juniors, where she won the 100/200/400 free. Her 200 free new best is a 1:57.51 from that meet, which gives Germany a bit more leverage after the other three legs besides Bruhn last summer were at 1:58. Reva Foos and Sarah Kohler are both on the Worlds roster after being two of those 1:58’s at Euros, and Foos just went a lifetime best 1:57.79 this spring. They might keep Kohler fresh for the distance events, and they have roster member Julia Mrozinski available, too — she was 1:58.41 in June.
  • HUNGARY
    • In 2017, Katinka Hosszu was 1:56.28 anchoring Hungary at Worlds, following three 1:58’s. The two returning 1:58’s on the 2019 roster are the young Ajna Kesely and veteran Zsuzsanna Jakabos. Kesely, like the German Gose, is one of the premier young freestylers in Europe right now. She was 1:57.10 back in 2017, and while she’s been stronger in the 400 and 800 of late, she’s a potential big leg. Jakabos will likely be in the 1:58-1:59 range, though, and distance specialist Boglarka Kapas will likely be the fourth leg, but she hasn’t put up very promising times in 2019.
  • SWEDEN
    • This is an interesting one. Sarah Sjöström is on the entry lists for the 200 free, and we know she’s capable of a 1:53. Michelle Coleman, meanwhile, has been 1:55 in 2017, but only 1:58.68 in 2019. What has hurt Sweden in the past is their inability to put together four strong legs despite Sjöström’s firepower, but this could likely be a relay with all four under two minutes. Hanna Eriksson swam a personal best 2:00.48 in April, and the fourth piece is Louise Hansson. The rising USC senior was 1:58.45 way back in 2015, and has been stagnant in freestyle the last few years. But, she’s been fantastic in yards, and she recently had an LCM breakthrough in the fly this year which culminated in a 25.84 / 57.35 outing at Canadian Trials. She was also 1:00.35 in the 100 back for a new best, and a strong swim from her could put Sweden into an interesting situation.

TOP 8 PICKS

PLACE COUNTRY 2018 BEST
2017 WORLDS FINISH
1 USA 7:44.37 1st
2 Australia 7:44.12 3rd
3 China 7:48.61 2nd
4 Canada 7:47.28 8th
5 Russia 7:52.87 4th
6 Sweden N/A N/A
7 Germany 7:53.76 N/A
8 Hungary N/A 6th

Dark Horse: Italy. Federica Pellegrini is the obvious draw, but the rest is a bit lackluster. Simona Quadarella is the clear second choice for this relay after her 1:58.83 in April, while Margherita Panziera, who has been 2:05 backstroke, was 1:59.0 earlier this year. The fourth leg will probably be Ilaria Cusinato, the IM’er and butterflier who was 2:01.49 for a personal best in April. It’s not Italy’s best team in recent memory, but Pellegrini brings speed that could get them to the final.

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MIKE IN DALLAS

Given the recent turmoil in Aussie women’s swimming, I think TEAM USA women are primed for the 4 X 200 free relay win!

Samesame

I’m shocked that you think that

Swimmer

I honestly think testing Schmitt in prelims of the 4×200 and then judging whether or not to put her on the finals relay may be the US’ best bet, based off her pan pacs performance.

Ol' Longhorn

I’m sure the coaches have some insight from that swim. God, I hope she was sick and it was an aberration.

USA

Well she’ll have 3 (hopefully) rounds of the 200 free already before that so they could just go off of those performances.

Jim C

If I were the coach I would have more faith in my number two swimmer than that.

Swimfan

I wonder if Schmitt had a reason for faltering in her leadoff last year,

Jim C

Of course she did. She was swimming against Titmus and tried to stay with Titmus. That was a mistake, and it cost her big time at the end, but that will not happen again–particularly since the relays were am afterthought for the Americans at Pan Pacs, but that is not true this year.

AnEn

I agree, unlike in the 4 x 100 free relay you can test as much as you want in prelims if you are the US. Even 4 girls splitting 1:58/1:59 should be enough to make the final.

swimmer1234

I think GB will make the final

AnEn

I think the top 4 are a class apart. Then we have Russia, Germany, GB, Hungary, Sweden, Italy and Japan for the remaining 4 spots in the final. Personally i would favor Russia, Hungary, Sweden (if Sjöstrom swims) and Japan to make the final.

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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