2019 World Champs Previews: Threats Looming For American Men’s Medley Relay


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MEN’S 4x100m Medley Relay

  • World Record: 3:27.28, USA (Peirsol, Shanteau, Phelps, Walters), 2009
  • World Championship Record: 3:27.28, USA (Peirsol, Shanteau, Phelps, Walters), 2009
  • World Junior Record: 3:35.17, Russia (Kolesnikov, Gerasimenko, Minakov, Markov), 2018
  • Defending World Champion: USA (Grevers, Cordes, Dressel, Adrian), 3:27.91

Outside of Disqualifications in 2001, 2007 and 2013 (that’s a lot), the American men haven’t missed a World Champs gold medal in the medley relay since 1998, when a Michael Klim-led Australian team bested Gary Hall, Jr.’s squad by six tenths. In fact, that’s the only time when Team USA has not won the World Championship in this race in long course other than the 3 DQs. That run comprises some of the highest highs and lowest lows possible for Team USA, including 6 gold medals and the world record, but also disqualifications in exactly a third of World Championships meets since 1998.

More recently, it feels like every year the world is closing in – single-stroke standouts (Adam Peaty) have risen in various countries, and most of those nations are starting to fill in the glaring holes that have in the past cost them their shot at the American run of dominance (when relay starts stay legal, at least). Yet despite the ‘the-world-is-catching-up’ narrative, the Americans have continued to get to the wall first. At the risk of playing a broken record, this year’s field looks like the toughest challenge yet, but the American relay still has a couple of big-hitters and the best depth of the field.

For Team USA, it starts with the backstroke – always has. The Americans have been historically dominant in the men’s backstrokes for decades, and you can’t overstate the impact that a lead and clean water have on breaststrokers and butterflyers. (The short-axis strokes, in particular, can really be affected by waves and chop coming from other swimmers ahead of them in the pool). Ryan Murphy was the 2016 Olympic champ and still holds the world record in the 100 back. He was the fastest backstroker in the world last year, and the only one to break 52. There are some tough challengers, but it’s a good bet that the Americans will lead after that leg.

The other home run hitter on the American medley is Caeleb DresselWhen healthy, he’s the U.S.’s fastest flyer and freestyler, but the depth is better in free, so Dressel typically takes the fly leg. A 50.3 individually a few weeks ago showed Dressel’s in-season form, and he’s one of only a few men with a shot to split 49 on this relay. He split 49.7 back in 2017.

It’ll be Michael Andrew or Andrew Wilson on breaststroke. Wilson had the faster time last year (59.19 mid-season), but Andrew won the U.S. National title (59.38). The medley relay falls on the last day of Worlds, so it’ll be the faster of the two in the individual 100 who earns the finals spot. The same will likely go for freestyle. Dressel and Blake Pieroni (48.08 at Nationals) will swim the 100 free individually, but depending on who stands out in the 4×100 free relay, the spot could go to any of Pieroni, Zach Apple (48.03 in prelims at Pan Pacs last year) or 2012 Olympic champ Nathan Adrian (who split 47.2 on a Pan Pacs relay last year, but missed much of this year for testicular cancer treatment). Townley Haas (48.3 last summer) and Michael Chadwick (48.44 last year) would have outside shots as well.

All-in-all, the Americans should have distinct back and fly advantages. The question will be whether they can hold their own in breaststroke and/or pick the right 100 freestyler to deal with the murderer’s row of anchors across the rest of the top relays.

Great Britain was second at Worlds in 2017, about a second from toppling the Americans. Their great advantage is breaststroke, where Adam Peaty is a good second faster than anyone else in the world. Peaty split 56.9 at 2017 Worlds, though he’s not always on top form for relays. (He was 57.1 individually last year to set the world record, but split 57.5 at both Commonwealths and European Championships). The Brits also have an outstanding young freestyler, Duncan ScottThe 22-year-old is a relay phenom. He was only 48.0 individually last year, but split 47.3 at Euros. In 2017, he was 47.9 individually and split 47.0 trying to run down the Americans. He’s already 47.8 this year, and could legitimately be a 46-second anchor if he’s on point come relay time. The Brits also have consistent flyer James Guy (50.8 split at 2017 Worlds; 50.9 splits at both Commonwealths and Euros in 2018), and they’re in the process of shoring up their big backstroke weakness. After struggling to 54-second splits at 2017 Worlds, 2018 Commonwealths and 2018 Euros, team GBR now has 21-year-old Luke Greenbank coming of age. Greenbank went 53.9 at British Champs this spring. If he can stay close enough to Murphy to allow Peaty to build a lead (rather than just catch up) on breaststroke, Great Britain could survive Dressel’s fly leg and have a shot to eke out the win on a big Scott anchor.

Russia holds the world junior record, and half of that relay have now aged into senior status and should hold key legs on this year’s relay. The Russians are extremely young, so it’s safe to say they have one of the higher ceilings – if one of the more unpredictable floors – of the top teams. Russia was second at Euros last year to Great Britain. Kliment Kolesnikov wreaked havoc on the British backstroke weakness, and he’s set to do it again. The 18-year-old Kolesnikov was 52.5 last summer and is steadily dropping time. 22-year-old Anton Chupkov is rapidly developing his speed, going 59.0 last year, though he needs to be much better than his 1:00.4 Euros split, which pretty much sunk the Russian team last summer. The back half of the relay are new additions. 17-year-old Andrei Minakov blasted a 51.12 Russian record in the 100 fly last fall, and should be able to split 50-point, perhaps up to a full second faster than Egor Kuimov’s 51.4 at Euros last year. Vladimir Morozov (47.4 at Euros) is still in the mix at the free spot, but Vladislav Grinev22, has already been 47.4 individually this season.

China had the fastest time in the world last year, winning a thriller over Japan at the Asian Games. China has arguably the chief backstroke threat to Murphy: Xu Jiayu has already been 52.2 this year, he’s one of only three men to ever break 52, and he was .01 off of Murphy’s world record in 2017. China also has rising breaststroker Yan Zibeiwho split 58.8 and was 58.9 individually last year, and who has already been faster this year in 58.7 from a flat start. That big front half could win the thing for China, but they’ll need a solid lead. Li Zhuhao is a 51-low flyer who split a nice 50.6 at Asian Games – but that’s not going to be enough to hold off the Americans unless Dressel is off his mark. Former world champ Ning Zetao‘s retirement this spring leaves China with either He Junyi (48.1 individually this year) or Yu Hexin (47.9 split at Asian Games last year), who would need to swim out of their minds to hold off the field.

Those four feel like the favorites, with the highest ceilings and very good chances to break 3:30. There are a handful of other teams that could challenge the foursome, though, provided things come together at the right time.

We’d be remiss not to mention Japan, which had the second-best time in the world last year, .04 behind China. Japan is a consistent finalist, but seems to have a slightly lower ceiling than the top four nations. Ryosuke Irie is a paragon of consistency with 52-mid-to-high backstroke swims, but he’s also 29 and hasn’t had a lifetime-best since 2014, so it’s hard to project much improvement for him. Their best leg is breaststroke, where Yasuhiro Koseki is another ultra-stable performer. He split 58.6 at the Rio Olympics, 58.5 at 2017 Worlds, 58.6 at 2018 Pan Pacs and 58.4 at 2018 Asian Games. The marginal improvement is nice, and the 27-year-old Koseki feels like a lock for somewhere between 58.2 and 58.8 on this relay this year. Naoki Mizunuma is the newcomer on butterfly, dropping down to 51.4 already this year, and he’s the youngest on the relay at 22. Some combination of Shinri Shioura and Katsumi Nakamura should yield somewhere between 47-mid and 47-high on the anchor leg.

Australia has long had a breaststroke weakness, but the discipline is starting to come around. Jake Packard split 59.0 at Pan Pacs last summer, but he’s not on the Worlds roster this year. Matthew Wilson (59.6 individually) should be able to put up a similar split. Meanwhile Mitch Larkin (52.38 backstroke this year) is looking as strong as ever among the world’s top backstrokers. And Kyle Chalmers has legitimate 46-potential on the end – he split 46.9 at Pan Pacs last summer and has already been 47.3 individually this year.

Italy is a wild card. They swam a lineup of alternates at Euros last year and got burned with a 9th-place prelims showing. That was one of the few things that didn’t go brilliantly for Italy last summer – the rise of a huge class of fast swimmers makes them a real final threat in this relay, if they can avoid another misstep. Euros 100 fly champ Piero Codia (50.64 individually) and 100 free champ Alessandro Miressi (47.92 individually) combine for a potent back half. 30-year-old Fabio Scozzoli went a career-best 59.05 this spring, but it’s possible he’s supplanted by 19-year-old Nicolo Martinenghi, who was on the fast-track to world breaststroke stardom with a national-record 59.01 before missing last year with a groin injury. Martinenghi was 59.30 earlier this year. The wild card is backstroke, where the Italians are relying on 18-year-old Thomas Cecconthe rising versatile age group star who went 53.60 earlier this year in the 100 back and is three tenths of a second off of the national record.

Keep an eye on Brazil, which should have its own star anchor in Marcelo Chierighini (47.6 already this year). Vini Lanza is a solid and rising fly leg, with a choice between Joao Gomes and Felipe Lima on breast and swapping out last year’s back leg Gabriel Fantoni (not on the roster) for Guilherme Guido. Germany has a solid back half with fast-rising flyer Marius Kusch (51.3 this year individually) and young sprinter Damian Wierling (47.7 split last year). Christian Diener is swimming as well as he ever has in backstroke, and Fabian Schwingenschlogl has a good shot at a sub-minute breaststroke leg.

There’s a crowd of others fighting for spots in the back-end of the championship final. Belarus made the final at both 2017 Worlds and 2018 Euros. They very likely have the fastest non-Peaty breaststroke leg in Ilya Shymanovichwho went 58.2 individually earlier this year. Yauhen Tsurkin could also split 50-point, but they’ll struggle on either end. Canada has a rising backstroker/freestyler in Markus Thormeyerand should be decently solid on breast and free, but they’ll need a flyer under 52. Lithuania missed a Euros medal by two tenths, getting a big 58.8 breaststroke from Andrius Sidlauskas and a 47.8 from Simonas Bilis on the end. Meanwhile Hungary has a great young core, including a beastly back half of Kristof Milak (51.3 fly split last summer and 51.5 individually this year) and Nandor Nemeth (a monster 47.1 split at Euros last summer, though he was only 48.3 individually.


Place Country 2018 Best
2017 Worlds Finish
1 USA 3:30.20 1st
2 Great Britain 3:30.44 2nd
3 Russia 3:32.03 3rd
4 China 3:29.99 6th
5 Japan 3:30.03 4th
6 Australia 3:30.52 9th
7 Italy 3:37.24 11th
8 Brazil 3:32.16 5th

Dark horse: South Africa loses longtime breaststroker Cameron van der Burgh, who retired in December. But they still have star flyer Chad le Clos, and backstroker Chris Reid has already been 53.9 in back this year. (That’s almost two seconds faster than South Africa’s back leg at Commonwealths last year). If Michael Houlie can be 59-mid on his split in relief of van der Burgh, this relay could have a fighting chance at a high finish.

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I hope they have Adrian on the free leg. He seems to be in pretty good shape considering he went a 48.5 at a dual meet and he’s generally been even better in relays than individually.


Adrian is a reliable anchor, hopefully they see him as the best choice. Even give him a prelims spot to test it out and see how he does.

Ol' Longhorn

He just posted that his cancer surveillance MRI the other day was clean. That’s great news. Can’t imagine the stress of having to battle cancer and prepare for Worlds. Tough dude.


I’m thinking the same. I don’t trust anyone to hold onto a lead like Adrian. But as of right now I’m thinking the spot is Blake’s to lose. Good experience for him too to get used to anchoring that relay, one day Adrian is gonna retire after all.


Yes we will eventually need to replace the great Nathan Adrian and I think Pieroni is an awesome choice. He has earned the spot, and unless Luca goes insane on the 100 fly Caeleb is not an option

Ol' Longhorn

I bet Apple puts up an insane split in the prelims, which will complicate the decision process on the anchor for finals.

WV Swammer

Apple loves to be first after prelims


Prelims for team USA is almost always as high drama (internally) as any other individual race at the meet.

As long as Adrian looks good at Time Trials you have to think he doesn’t swim prelims and then the other 4 guys duke it out for two spots.


I don’t think Luca is swimming at Worlds at all… just Junior Worlds this summer 🙁


I mean for future purposes


Caleb and Conger in the 100 fly. Luca did not make the World team


Caeleb is 47.1/49.8

Best other USA is 47.5/51.0 (using Adrian 2012 but otherwise 47.7 Adrian 2017 or 48.0 multiple 2018)

Haas is also a great relay swimmer as evidence by is 47.2/47.4 and 1:43/1:44 plus his multiple outstanding collegiate swims. If he is in form next month.

Either way Dressel on fly is the obvious choice until some gets to to 59-mid, especially since CD might pop 49.4 or better flat next month


Conger is a beast on Relays. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him split 50.low in Fly. Then Caeleb 46 anchor??


Conger will get his shot on the prelim relay and individual 100. If he pops a 50.5 individual or 50-low on the relay it’s a possibility but it will really depend on how fast CD is and how fast the other guys are in the free. Tons of unknowns


that could be a nice combinaison as well . Duncan Scott wont be able to keep up with Caeleb if he is on fire …..


Sorry, meant 50.mid not 59.mid


Luca won’t be at World’s


The only thing that can be said about Pieroni is that he doesn’t drop a lot of time from his flat start on relays.


48.0/48.4 in 2017 is a reasonable drop. Maybe that’s the exception. I just remember that off the top of my head since Rowdy called out the splits


as long as Pieroni drops time for the 800 relay , i would already be happy …they desperately need solid spits on that one . But Maybe Pieroni is faster this year in the 100 free …we’ll see Who the Coaches choose anyway .


Hopefully the every 6 year DQ won’t continue this time.


Knocking on wood, but having a breastroker other than Cordes and Miller has to lower those odds by at least 70%


TBF I think Cordes learned from his mistake in 2013


He did

Ol' Longhorn

Dressel is the only man with a shot at splitting a 49 on the relay. Unless someone else takes a running start.


I mean, Milak has a SHOT, but it’s extremely improbable


no way he goes 49 ….

Ol' Longhorn

Need to check out the deck space behind the blocks….the running start.




On a rolling start he has a really good shot. 50.6 in 2017, if his flat gets to 50.4 or better then 49.9 is a real possibility.

Plus he has a light workload as worlds? The flys and the medley relay? Is that all?

Muddy Canary

Would also be on the 8 free relay I think? He’s around 148 flat start


Given Dressel flat started 50.3 a couple weeks ago, and given how well Dressel tapers, I don’t even think it’s going to be a high 49. Dressel couild legit split something like 49.3-49.4, and when there’s NO ONE likely to go under 50.0, that’s guaranteed 0.6-0.7 seconds over the field….you gotta go with that.

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 …

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