Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Previews: Nailbiter Set In Women’s Medley Relay

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2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Women’s 4×100 medley relay

  • World Record: USA (Smith, King, Dahlia, Manuel) – 3:50.40 (2019)
  • Olympic Record: USA (Franklin, Soni, Vollmer, Schmitt) – 3:52.05 (2012)
  • World Junior Record: Canada (Hannah, Nelson, Oleksiak, Ruck) – 3:58.38 (2017)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: USA (Baker, King, Vollmer, Manuel) – 3:53.13

*For all of our aggregate times below, the first column (Season-Best) is the aggregate of each leg’s best flat-start time between September 2020 and June 2021, not factoring in relay starts. The second column is a little more predictive, but also a little more rose-colored glasses, pulling the best time or split (that we could find) for that athlete since the summer of 2018.

The U.S. women are the two-time defending Olympic champs (2012 and 2016) and two-time defending World champs (2017 and 2019) in this event, plus the reigning world record-holders. But things are shaping up for a much, much closer showdown in 2021.

Team USA and Team Australia are expected to go head-to-head for gold here, and no matter how you slice it, aggregate times add up to a very close battle.

We’ll start with Australia, which actually holds a very slight edge in aggregate times. The Aussies have long had a stellar close to this relay, with the world’s deepest and strongest group of 100 freestylers. Emma McKeon is the nation’s fastest 100 flyer and 100 freestyler, but she’s widely expected to swim fly with former world record-holder Cate Campbell available to take over the free leg.

Australia
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Kaylee McKeown 57.45 57.45
Chelsea Hodges 1:05.99 1:05.99
Emma McKeon 55.91 55.91
Cate Campbell 52.43 50.93
TOTAL: 3:51.78 3:50.28

Campbell has been a relay monster, with multiple 51-low splits and even a wicked 50.93 split from 2018 Pan Pac to her credit. She’s not at her peak anymore at age 29, but should still be plenty capable of going 51. McKeon’s lifetime-best fly splits have only been 56-low, but in those meets, she’s typically been 56-mid in the 100 fly. Now broken into the 55s, there’s a track record for McKeon to split 55-mid or better here.

The rise of Kaylee McKeown gives Australia a star backstroker to match up with the U.S. McKeown is the new world record-holder in this event.

The only real question mark is breaststroke, where Australia lost 1.2 seconds to the U.S. at 2019 Worlds. Chelsea Hodges went a lifetime-best 1:05.99 to make the Olympic team, and has dropped a second and a half over the past year.

USA
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Regan Smith 57.92 57.57
Lilly King 1:04.72 1:04.72
Torri Huske 55.66 55.66
Abbey Weitzeil 53.52 52.66
TOTAL: 3:51.82 3:50.61

The U.S. comes in just hundredths behind the Australians in the aggregate of season-best times, and a few tenths back based on relay splits over the quad. Lilly King is likely the difference-maker as the world record-holder in breaststroke. But it’s worth noting that while she’s been 1:04.1 from a flat start, she’s rarely been faster with a flying relay start at the international level. When she set the world record in 2017, she was 1:04.4 on the medley relay. King split 1:04.8 at 2018 Pan Pacs and then 1:04.8 and 1:04.9 at 2019 Worlds between the women’s and mixed medley relays. Projecting a 1:04-mid-to-high is probably a fair baseline.

Regan Smith is the former 100 back world record-holder. Maybe the silver lining of her 200 back Olympic roster miss is that she can focus in on her backstroke speed for this relay and the individual 100 back. Between the 19-year-old Smith and the 18-year-old Torri Huske, there’s lots of youth on this U.S. roster. That probably carries a higher level of risk, but also the upside of an explosive swim, like Smith’s world-record-setting relay leadoff at 2019 Worlds when she was just 17.

The big question is whether Abbey Weitzeil holds onto the freestyle leg, or whether world champ Simone Manuel returns to form in time to nab the anchor spot on this relay.

Canada
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Kylie Masse 57.70 57.70
Kelsey Wog 1:06.77 1:06.77
Maggie MacNeil 56.14 55.56
Penny Oleksiak 52.89 52.48
TOTAL: 3:53.50 3:52.51

Canada is probably the bronze-medal favorite, with a chance to make some waves in the back half of the relay. They’re built fairly similarly to Australia, with great back, fly, and free legs and a breaststroke deficit compared to the U.S. Kylie Masse is yet another former world record-holder in backstroke, and broke through with that 57.70 earlier this month. Maggie MacNeil is probably going to be the best fly leg of any relay in the field. And Penny Oleksiak has surged in sprint free lately. MacNeil’s 55.5 split and Oleksiak’s 52.4 split both came from 2019 Worlds.

Kelsey Wog is the real newcomer to this relay internationally. She did swim on this relay at Pan Pacs in 2018, splitting 1:07.2, though she’s been faster from a flat start this year.

Other Medal Contenders

The other top medal contenders are probably Great Britain and China.

Great Britain
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Kathleen Dawson 58.08 58.08
Molly Renshaw 66.21 65.72
Harriet Jones 57.79 57.55
Freya Anderson 53.40 52.65
TOTAL: 3:55.48 3:54.00

China
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Fu Yuanhui 59.58 59.27
Tang Qianting 66.04 66.04
Zhang Yufei 55.62 55.62
Yang Junxuan 53.21 53.21
TOTAL: 3:54.45 3:54.14

The Brits have a great backstroker of their own, and Kathleen Dawson‘s 58.08 happened just a month ago at Euros. Their big question might be the anchor leg. Freya Anderson has hit the high 52s on relay splits multiple times, including 52.6 at 2018 Euros, 52.9 at 2019 Worlds and 52.8 at 2020 Euros. We actually used Anna Hopkin‘s split in the projected columb above – she was 52.65 at 2019 Worlds and 52.65 & 52.66 at 2020 Euros.

China’s Zhang Yufei could challenge MacNeil for the best fly split, and Yang Junxuan can probably split better than her flat-start best on free. They’ll need Fu Yuanhui to return to her 59.2 backstroke form from the summer of 2018 (or better yet, her 58.7 form from the 2016 Olympics). She’s only been 59.5 so far this season.

Some Sneaky Picks

Italy
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Margherita Panziera 59.01 58.92
Arianna Castiglioni 65.67 65.67
Elena di Liddo 57.85 57.33
Federica Pellegrini 53.86 52.53
TOTAL: 3:56.39 3:54.45

Italy has a very high ceiling – among a bunch of teams with weak breaststroke legs, the Italians could take advantage. Both Arianna Castiglioni and Martina Carraro have set the Italian national record in 2021. Castiglioni has split 1:06-low a number of times, and has clearly made improvements this year. Federica Pellegrini has been 52.5 on a relay as recently as 2019.

Russia
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Anastasia Fesikova 59.51 59.19
Evgenia Chikunova 1:06.06 1:06.06
Arina Surkova 57.54 57.30
Maria Kameneva 53.56 52.80
TOTAL: 3:56.67 3:55.35

Russia has typically used Yulia Efimova on this relay, but the youngster Evgenia Chikunova did beat her at Russian Olympic Trials. Svetlana Chimrova could be another fly option – she’s the one whose been 57.3, though that was back in 2018. Kameneva’s 52.80 anchor split comes from 2019 Worlds and could be a key closing leg.

Sweden looks intriguing, with a standout breaststroke leg (Sophie Hansson has been 1:05.69 this year). If Sarah Sjostrom is healthy, that relay has four really strong legs.

Japan has lots of options. Like Sweden, they’re banking on the return of a star (Rikako Ikee) to full health. If she’s back, Japan could swim her on fly or free.

The Netherlands will have one of the better backstroke leadoffs in Kira Toussaint, who went 58.65 this season. They’ll bookend with veteran Femke Heemskerk on free.

Germany has an intriguing lineup, too, with Anna Elendt going 1:06.5 in breaststroke this year and Annika Bruhn capable of a strong anchor leg.

Top 8 Picks

Place Country
2019 Worlds Finish
1 USA 1st
2 Australia 2nd
3 Canada 3rd
4 Great Britain 8th
5 China 5th
6 Italy 4th
7 Russia 12th
8 Japan 6th

 

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Eric the Eel > Michael Phelps
1 year ago

Australia > USA

petriasfan
1 year ago

As an Aussie, I’d love to say the Aussie’s will win. However, the American’s tend to always perform when it counts. Hodges and McKeon (McKeon especially) need to step their game up if they’re to win. McKeon tends to under perform when it comes to relay performances, probably due to her heavy individual line up.

Sub13
Reply to  petriasfan
1 year ago

McKeon does have 9 individual swims and 3 relays before this race, but hopefully dropping the 200 free (only slightly less distance than her 3 individual events combined) will keep her in top shape for longer.

commonwombat
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

Definitely the 2 freestyle relays; whether she’s used on the MMR may depend on just what priority they place on that relay or whether it may be “triaged” with regards to which peak assets are called upon. They may be reigning World Champs but that is probably the hardest defence of those 4 relay golds.

commonwombat
Reply to  petriasfan
1 year ago

Heavy schedule plus having to dive in with a significant deficit. It also needs to be acknowledged that she is a stronger freestyler than flyer but AUS doesn’t have another fly option that you could sub into a World level final to allow her to swim free (where she is probably now line-ball with C1)

commonwombat
1 year ago

I honestly read this as one that COULD be a race will go with “momentum”; ie which team is having the better meet with prime assets firing vs those where key swimmers are having an off meet.

At this point I have it as narrow Adv USA but emphasis on narrow. This is due to King being the clear game changer for USA whereas BRS is the clear Achilles heel for all other main contenders. AUS does look to have a far stronger final leg but will they be coming from too far back ?

On paper its reading line-ball, even Adv AUS but hinges on a scenario of McKeown bringing her A game on opening leg and creating some… Read more »

Sub13
Reply to  commonwombat
1 year ago

I definitely agree re momentum. If Cate/Emma wins 100 free, Kaylee wins 100 back and Emma medals in (maybe wins? Probably not) 100 fly, I can see them being super confident and very likely winning. But if they get no golds I can’t see them going in with any belief they can win.

If King, Huske and Smith all win gold then they will almost certainly win.

It will all depend on the vibe of the games. As a famous Australian once said “It’s Mabo, it’s the vibe”.

Robbos
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

Well it’s commonsense that it will be momentum of the Olympics that will see the favourites come of this.
but we are just punters making a prediction, prior to the trials, the US were odds on favourites, after the Trials, the Aussies now have the momentum.

Boomer
1 year ago

Hard not to see Sweden in the final with Coleman 59. on back, S. Hansson 1:05. on breast, L. Hansson 56. on fly and Sjostrom likely at least a 52. on free

Gambler
1 year ago

Pinnacle Odds To Win Gold:

Women’s 4×100 Medley

USA -250 (71.4%)
AUS +200 (33.3%)
CAN +600 (14.2%)

Good value on Australia at 2-1, no?

Sub13
Reply to  Gambler
1 year ago

I’m tempted to bet on the USA for a few toss ups. The women’s medley, mixed medley, M100 free and/or W100 back. That way if the Aussie loses at least least I’ll get some money haha. Perhaps you should bet on Australia at 2-1 for a win-win situation? (Assuming you’re American)

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

Any books in Australia actually offering odds for all swimming events?

Sub13
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

Not that I know of. Sportsbet only has a few, but I’m surprised there aren’t more.

Sub13
1 year ago

I really hope Emma McKeon drops the 200 free. Of her 4 individual events it’s her least likely gold (despite the fact that it was her only Rio individual medal) and she is likely to be in all 4 relays. That gives her 16 swims in 7 days (assuming she doesn’t swim any relay prelims, more if she does). I would much rather see her swim her best in all her other events than to chance it for an outside chance of a minor medal in the 200.

Sub13
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

Oh fantastic! And so happy for Madi as well! I think it was the right call. Better for Emma and better for the team!

torchbearer
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

And AUS has so much depth..Madi will do a great job too!

Torchbearer
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

Taking 600m of highly competitve Olympic standard racing out of her schedule makes a lot of sense!

Boomer
1 year ago

When has US not won this relay at a major meet (Olympics/Worlds) in the past two decades?

Swimfan
Reply to  Boomer
1 year ago

Athens2004, Beijing 2008, Rome 2009, Kazan 2015, Montreal 2005, Melbourne 2007

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Swimfan
1 year ago

or 2001 worlds

Boomer
Reply to  Swimfan
1 year ago

Thanks! Was it Australia that won for these years?

Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Boomer
1 year ago

09 and 15 were won by China. The rest were won by AUS.

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Boomer
1 year ago

every year except 2009 and 2015, which was china

Admin
Reply to  Boomer
1 year ago

2004/2008 Olympics.
2001/2005/2007/2009/2015 World Championships.

Swimfan
Reply to  Boomer
1 year ago

I think the 2009 year should have an asterisk on it.. the year of the super suits the Americans didn’t even make it out of the prelims (the worst year for the relays personally winning only one relay medal silver in the 4×200 free, 4th in the 4×100 and 10th in the 4×100 medley prelims) worsts than the 2008 Olympics when the Americans only won 2 individual gold (coughlin nudge out Coventry and soni beat Jones in the 200 breast)

Troyy
1 year ago

Off-topic but:

Chalmers and McKeon have scratched the 200 free and Temple has scratched the 100 free. They’ve been replaced by Neill, Wilson and McEvoy.

I knew McKeon would scratch the 200 free and glad she did it before the Olympics to let Wilson swim.

Corn Pop
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

After Rio Maddie stated she was happy aiming for the free relays . As it is she’d be likely to qualify for finals with a 52.8 & 1.55.5 . A mighty achievement for a girl who as a 14 year old wrote a letter to Bohl saying she’d like to be like Steph Rice. Like Madi , Steph also went to Bohl at this age as a 100 backstroker. Steph was on the 2008 gold relay also so she just might emulate Queen Stephanie.

Last edited 1 year ago by Corn Pop
Boomer
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

That’s great news!! Makes a lot of sense for Chalmers and McKeon. Chalmers can really go all in for the 100 free (and at least 3 relays), and McKeon’s exhausting program looks more manageable now. Although she’s said the 200 free is her baby, it’s a silver/bronze medal at best and would exhaust her the most. Glad she’ll have more rest to gun for gold in the 50 and 100 free now (and all the relays). Also really happy Wilson gets to swim an individual event, she deserves it so much!

commonwombat
Reply to  Boomer
1 year ago

Chalmers and Temple were relatively easy calls given their likely trajectory in those events was SF at best and potential relay pay-offs. Neill getting another individual swim has positives from an experience perspective although McEvoy barely merits one.

McKeon is a trickier call. The argument of lightening her program is one that I can agree to but one definitely hopes Titmus brings home the bacon in the 200 as this IS a case of sacrificing a very legitimate medal chance. Wilson has made amazing steps forward this year but her trajectory in the 200 is that of a finalist rather than medals unless its an unusually slow race for the minor coin.

Boomer
Reply to  commonwombat
1 year ago

About McKeon – yes true, it’s sacrificing a potential silver/bronze. But I think the payoff is worth it if it bolsters her chances of two individual golds (freestyles) and minor medal (butterfly), not to mention keep her fresher for the relays for which two golds (freestyles), 1 potential gold (medley) and 1 potential medal (mixed medley) are at stake.

Sub13
Reply to  commonwombat
1 year ago

I can’t see McKeon beating Titmus, so she would be adding 3 more swims of significant distance freestyle to an already packed schedule for, at best, a silver medal. Even without the 200 she has the potential to walk away with 7 medals, most of them possible golds.

Sacrificing one potential silver to possibly turn a couple of other silvers into golds is totally worth it to me.

Verram
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

Cool where did you get this info from??

Troyy
Reply to  Verram
1 year ago

Article by Ian Hanson at SWM.

I did try to link it but the comment got auto moderated. 💩

Verram
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

Hmmm seems a bit of a rivalry ensuing between the two sites maybe ? Anyway thanks for the heads up

Verram
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

Can’t seem to find the article you mentioned in that other site .. is it possible it’s been removed ?

Troyy
Reply to  Verram
1 year ago

Just Google “Australian Rookies and Olympians Rewarded With Individual Olympic Spots”.

Verram
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

Great thanks for that! Found it .. just curious though about Thomas Neill getting an invidiual swim in 200 and 1500.. even though he only swam a 15:08 at trails.. yet not swimming the new 800m freestyle event ? The article didn’t mention anything about the 800 — big jump swimming 200 then relay then 1500 for Neill

Joel
Reply to  Verram
1 year ago

800 is same heats session as 4×200.
He has been much faster than that in the 1500 previously.

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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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