2019 World Champs Previews: Strategic Decisions Highlight Mixed Medley Relay


  • 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.

Sex Swimmer Time
M Ryan Murphy 51.94
W Lilly King 1:05.13
M Caeleb Dressel 50.36
W Simone Manuel 52.54

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 Peatythe 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.

Sex Swimmer Time
W Georgia Davies 59.12
M Adam Peaty 57.1
M James Guy 51.31
W Freya Anderson 53.61

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.

Sex Swimmer Time
M Mitch Larkin 52.38
M Matthew Wilson 59.67
W Emma McKeon 56.54
W Cate Campbell 52.03

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.

Sex Swimmer Time
M Xu Jiayu 52.27
M Yan Zibei 58.74
W Zhou Yilin 57.41
W Zhu Menghui 53.4

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.

Italy Russia Canada
Sex Swimmer Time Sex Swimmer Time Sex Swimmer Time
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
3:42.27 3:42.31 3:42.86

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 Irie52.5) 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.


Place Country 2018 Best
2017 Worlds Finish
1 Australia 3:38.91 2nd
2 USA 3:41.74 1st
3 Great Britain 3:40.18 5th
4 China 3:40.45 T-3rd
5 Russia 3:42.71 6th
6 Canada 3:46.75 T-3rd
7 Italy 3:44.85 8th
8 Japan 3:40.98 10th

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

If they dont go Murphy/King/Dressel/Manuel it is a mistake and that is the end of it.

Reply to  DresselApologist
1 year ago

I hear there is open tryouts on instagram in the days leading up to race. Swimmer must supply their own timer.

Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

Put me in against Peaty coach

Reply to  Pvdh
1 year ago

You can wear a women’s suit and break 104? You’re in.

Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

This is quite funny, actually, in light of all things WUG…got a chuckle out of your post, TAA. Thanks…

Reply to  DresselApologist
1 year ago

Yeah I mean that relay seems almost unbeatable. It’s basically the same debate at that point as the men’s medley: is Peaty a big enough bullet to make a difference? I think in this relay, no.

Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

Usa is unbeatable on that relay …..there is nothing others can do to beat them .

1 year ago

Australia says hello

Reply to  Samesame
1 year ago

they are the only ones that could contend this year …..u are right ( if they put everything together )

Reply to  DresselApologist
1 year ago

Has a medley won without going m/m/w/w?

Reply to  Usausausa
1 year ago

The US at 2017 Worlds….Grevers-King-Dressel-Manuel

1 year ago

Great Britain is in a bit of a unique situation here. They do seem to benefit a lot more from a woman-man-man-woman line up compared to everyone else because of Adam Peaty’s strength and Britain’s weaknesses right now in male backstroke/women’s fly.

WV Swammer
1 year ago

Murphy- 52.0
King- 1:04.1
Dressel- 49.6
Manuel- 51.9
3:37.60 GOLD

Reply to  WV Swammer
1 year ago

+ WR 🙏🏼

Reply to  WV Swammer
1 year ago

Refreshingly conservative. I’m so used to seeing predictions on here where every swimmer has the perfect race. I wouldn’t be surprised for splits like this from three of them, with one swimmer popping off something faster (most likely either King as she tries to keep up in one of the few international races where she is not the fastest, or Dressel as he tries to run the field down).

Speedy PG
Reply to  sven
1 year ago

Not for Simone Manuel’s split!

WV Swammer
Reply to  sven
1 year ago

I mean I’d love to say Dressel goes 49.0 and Murphy goes a WR lead off and King goes 1:03…but there are so many factors, especially for the mixed relay. Just depends where they are all at in form and in distance. They all could be way faster, or could be off…Just seems most likely to me imo

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

Read More »