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
Mixed 4×100 Medley Relay
- World Record: 3:38.56, USA (Grevers/King/Dressel/Manuel), 2017
- World Championships Record: 3:38.56, USA (Grevers/King/Dressel/Manuel), 2017
- Defending 2017 World Champion: 3:38.56, USA (Grevers/King/Dressel/Manuel)
Like the men’s 800 free and women’s 1500 free, the mixed medley relay has traditionally been a low priority event for the top swimmers and top swimming nations. But with the addition of those three events to the 2020 Olympic program, we expect to see more swimmers and nations putting a higher focus on the event while using the 2019 World Championships as the final major tune-up for the Tokyo Olympics.
The mixed medley relay has only been part of the World Championships since 2015. Great Britain won the inaugural competition, and the United States the second edition in 2017. Those two nations look like early frontrunners this time around, with a few other nations also in gold medal contention.
Note: in general, the preferred strategy on these mixed relays has been to use the two male legs first, then the two female legs. This has mostly to do with getting a lead and clean water, and less to do with specific strokes of those first two legs. Two pieces of evidence: look at mixed 4×100 free relays, where every single team in the 2017 Worlds final went man-man-woman-woman. And look at the 2018 Pan Pacific mixed medley relay, which is a masterclass in why losing the lead early can doom a roster even as dominant as the Americans, who fell behind early and slipped to 3rd. In projecting these relays, we’re generally assuming every nation will attempt to structure their relay that way, unless a specific strong stroke calls for a tweak to the man-man-woman-woman strategy.
For the sake of brevity, the best times we mention will be top individual times over last season (2017-2018) and this season (2018-2019) unless otherwise noted. Sometimes, key relay splits on record are much faster than an athlete’s open time – we’ll try to reference those where we can, but we’ll keep things somewhat simple to keep this preview from running several thousand words too long.
The Americans essentially swam their C team in 2015 – and even that’s being extremely generous – and still took silver. (Ryan Murphy wasn’t one of the two individual 100 back entrants; neither was Kevin Cordes in the 100 breast; Katie McLaughlin wasn’t on the team in the 100 fly and Margo Geer was a relay-only swimmer and was only the 4th-fastest leg on the 4×100 free relay). In 2017, they put up their best lineup and smashed the world record, besting the field by 2.7 seconds. Despite last summer’s major stumble (which owes mostly to the questionable lineup choice), they’ve still got to be among the favorites in 2019.
Team USA has its pick of the male and female 100 back world record-holders. They went with Kathleen Baker last year, but it’s much more likely to be Ryan Murphy this year. Baker has dealt with injury and is a question mark, and Murphy offers the chance to take the lead over the entire field on the opening leg. The U.S. is unique in that its breaststrokers are probably the weakest of its male legs, and Lilly King is one of the two best women’s breaststrokers in the world. Using King allows the U.S. to use star Caeleb Dressel on fly and leave the clutch anchor Simone Manuel for free.
The formula to beating that lineup, though, is to keep things close on backstroke and exploit a man-vs-woman breaststroke matchup. Great Britain is perfectly set up to do the latter, but the former continues to be an issue. The Brits have Adam Peaty, the single-biggest one-stroke advantage in the sport. Peaty is the 100 breast world record-holder at 57.10, and no one else in the world can even come within a second of him. If Peaty splits 56-low, which would be at the faster end of his potential, he could outsplit every other male breaststroker in the field by 2+ seconds, and could outsplit the women by 7+. The flip side is that the British team doesn’t have a great backstroke option. Luke Greenbank is young and rising, but just broke 54 for the first time this year. He’ll struggle to stay within two seconds of Murphy. Georgia Davies (59.12) is maybe a better option. Great Britain’s top flyer from the 2018 season was Charlotte Atkinson (57.8), but she didn’t make the worlds roster. Alys Thomas (58.0) isn’t far off, but it might be better to use above-average flyer James Guy (51.31), even if it means leaving monster anchor Duncan Scott off the roster. Freya Anderson (53.61) is rising fast as a female freestyler, and using Guy-Anderson on the back half does give the best composite time. It’d be just as defensible to go Thomas-Scott, though.
From a fan perspective, we might be hoping for Thomas-Scott, because that would set up an exact inverse of the Americans man-woman-man-woman lineup, and could provide a really dynamic race of lead changes and run-downs. Who doesn’t want to see Peaty try to run down King, only for Dressel to then try to charge back past Thomas before Scott tries to reel in Manuel?
But quite possibly the team to beat is Australia, which took silver at 2017 Worlds and beat the United States at Pan Pacs last summer. The issue for the Aussies is that their two best weapons swim the same leg. Cate Campbell and Kyle Chalmers could very well be the best female and male freestyle legs in the field. It’s similar to the American backstroke situation. For Australia, Mitch Larkin makes the most sense on backstroke, especially with Emily Seebohm not competing in Gwangju. Emma McKeon is arguably the top fly leg out there (assuming Sweden doesn’t have the male legs to put together a contending mixed relay). Breaststroke is a bit of a toss-up, but Matthew Wilson (59.67) is probably closer to the non-Peaty male breaststrokers than Jessica Hansen (1:06.20) is to the top women. That allows Australia to use Campbell as a fearsome anchor – she’s long been one of the best relay split heroes in the world, and has hit 50-point multiple times on the end of relay squads. Don’t sleep on this lineup, which matches up very well against the American powerhouses – Australia crushed the U.S. by 2.8 seconds last summer, and that race was no fluke.
China tied for bronze in this relay at 2017 Worlds, and they’ve got the depth to challenge those top three nations. Xu Jiayu is one of the few backstrokers who can push Murphy – they’re the only two active backstrokers to ever break 52. Both Yan Zibei and Shi Jinglin are solid 100 breast options, though Yan (58.7) could be the best non-Peaty leg for the men. China struggles with the two women’s legs though – Li Zhuhao (51.4) would be a very solid flyer, but Zhou Yilin (57.4) is also middle of the pack. Neither freestyle option is elite: Zhu Menghui (53.4) probably makes most sense, to allow the team to use Xu and Yan as it’s male legs.
Italy, Russia and Canada all have medal opportunities – they’re just not quite as stacked as those first four.
Italy doesn’t have a great male backstroke leg, which is a tough thing to overcome in this relay. (Thomas Ceccon is young, though, and if he goes off for a 52 earlier in the meet, things change in a hurry). Margherita Panziera is probably the best play, as a 58-high women’s backstroker. Fabio Scozzoli or Nicolo Martinenghi have both been 59-low on breast, and European champ Piero Codia is very likely the best fly leg not named Dressel. That leaves the veteran Federica Pellegrini on the end.
Russia has a good young roster, but they’re also going to struggle for a really good second leg from one of their women. Yulia Efimova owns the fastest 100 breast split in history among women, and should be a great counter to Lilly King on that leg. Kliment Kolesnikov is already 52.5 and improving rapidly in backstroke. (Kolesnikov has dealt with shoulder injuries this year, and if he’s not at his best, Evgeny Rylov is a pretty good fill-in with a 52-high to his name this year). The weak leg is fly, where Svetlana Chimrova has been 57.3, but that would allow Russia to use Vladislav Grinev (47.4) on freestyle, which is an anchor leg as scary as Chalmers or Scott.
Canada tied China for bronze in this event in 2017, but the lineup is going to look a lot different. Kylie Masse is the former world record-holder and one of the best women’s back legs; even with Markus Thormeyer (53.3) swimming very well, Masse is still a distinctly better option. Canada has the opposite problem from Russia and China: their women’s legs are great, but they’ll struggle to find two strong men’s legs. Richard Funk (59.7) split 59.1 in 2017, but hasn’t quite looked the same this year. He’s still a good option, though. The choice between Josiah Binnema (52.2) and Maggie MacNeil (57.0) is tough on fly. MacNeil is probably the better pick, but so is freestyler Taylor Ruck (52.7) compared to Yuri Kisil (47.8). We’ll project Binnema/Ruck, but this could go the other way and not change composite times much. The sneaky option is to go Thormeyer/Funjk/MacNeil/Ruck. It would feel off to not use a weapon like Masse on this relay, but if Thormeyer is swimming well, Canada could take advantage of clean water in front of all the teams using a female backstroker or breaststroker and still have a very strong all-women’s back half.
|W||Margherita Panziera||58.92||M||Kliment Kolesnikov||52.51||M||Markus Thormeyer||53.35|
|M||Fabio Scozzoli||59.05||W||Yulia Efimova||1:04.98||M||Richard Funk||59.7|
|M||Piero Codia||50.64||W||Svetlana Chimrova||57.39||W||Maggie MacNeil||57.04|
|W||Federica Pellegrini||53.66||M||Vladislav Grinev||47.43||W||Taylor Ruck||52.72|
Then there are a handful of outsiders looking to make a splash just to get into the final.
Japan has a top-tier backstroker (Ryosuke Irie, 52.5) who is also extremely reliable and consistent. They’re great on both male and female breaststroke legs, but using Reona Aoki (1:05.9) allows them to use Katsumi Nakamura (47.8) on free instead of a weak women’s leg. If Rikako Ikee were competing, this would be a scary-good relay; without her, the fly leg will be tough to fill.
Germany could make waves here. They’ve got a very good fly leg (Marius Kusch, 51.3) and a solid breaststroker (Fabian Schwingenschlogl, 59.83). But then they’ll struggle with two solid women’s legs. Same goes for Brazil, which has a few high-end relay pieces, but doesn’t appear to have enough women on the roster to put together a mixed medley. The Netherlands have Ranomi Kromowidjojo as a star anchor, and Arno Kamminga can be a solid breast leg. With Kira Toussaint leading off, this could be a pretty solid quartet with big upside.
South Africa is a really outside pick, but they’ve got a group of exciting young women stepping into the spotlight to join veteran presence Chad le Clos. Using double World University Games gold medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker on breaststroke and double WUGs gold medalist Tayla Lovemore on fly allows South Africa to put Le Clos on free, if he’s game to add the relay to his lineup. Hungary is another wild card that hinges on a veteran’s willingness to add a less-prestigious relay to their agenda. Nandor Nemeth is a great young freestyler, and Hungary could put together a decent relay if Katinka Hosszu could take on backstroke with Liliana Szilagyi on fly.
TOP 8 PICKS:
2017 Worlds Finish