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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Notanyswimmer
3 months ago

Australia wins this easily.

Swimfan
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
3 months ago

Right and Chelsea hodge is going to win the 100 breast and peaty going to win the 100 free

Corn Pop
Reply to  Swimfan
3 months ago

Chelsea has good 50 speed & won’t lose much on the first 50. She has been learning to hang tough to the 100. So thanks for your confidence .

Last edited 3 months ago by Corn Pop
Jack
3 months ago

S.W.E.D.E.N. Coleman 59.5, Hansson 1:05.5, Hansson 56.5, Sjostrom 52.5 = 3:54.00. DARK HORSE.

Nick
Reply to  Jack
3 months ago

THANK U. I even think the Hanson’s could get down to 1:05.2 and 56.2, who knows with Sjostrom. Would be amazing if Coleman could cut another couple tenths off her backstroke like she has done all season (gone from 1:00.25 to 59.62).

Wave 1.5 Qualifier
3 months ago

China seems like the massive wild card here.
I could see them on the podium right in it with Aussie/USA or out of the Top 8 entirely.

Jamie5678
Reply to  Wave 1.5 Qualifier
3 months ago

Tend to think China has more chance in the freestyle relays. On paper they’ll struggle to get a finalist in the breast or back and their best freestyler will be swimming the fly leg.

Ghost
Reply to  Wave 1.5 Qualifier
3 months ago

China is always “wild”card on men and women’s relays . They could be great or could be awful! Men’s medley could do damage as well

Jamie5678
Reply to  Ghost
3 months ago

Can’t see their second best freestyler chasing down Oleksiak, Sjostrom or Anderson let alone C1 and whatever freestyler emerges from the US soul searching.

Sub13
3 months ago

This will probably be one of the best races. Although the times do very slightly favour the Aussies (if they all fire at their best, which they usually do in relays), the US women aren’t likely to win either of the freestyle relays so they will be HUNGRY for it.

Obviously I hope the Aussie women win but either way I think this will be one of the most exciting races to watch.

Hswimmer
3 months ago

I really have no clue who will swim the last leg for the US. I wouldn’t be surprised if Simone swims prelim relay and goes 52 low to get into final relay. Abbey could also be 52 mid. Huske could honestly go 55.1/2 in the fly, King 1:04.2/3 ish since she was already 1:04.7 at trials. Smith is the big question mark, she could be anywhere from 57.6-58.1/2

Wave 1.5 Qualifier
Reply to  Hswimmer
3 months ago

The US will have enough data from the meet (namely, 6 or 7 splits from the 400 Free Relay) by the Medley Relay to intelligently choose a different prelim and finals swimmer for the 100 Free leg.

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  Hswimmer
3 months ago

Smith is not a question mark. The result will not be up for grabs at the end of her leg. Therefore she won’t tighten up nearly as much over the final 25 meters. In fact. she’ll use the relay adrenaline to take it out quicker, which will enable her to relax and keep going longer.

Last edited 3 months ago by Awsi Dooger
Hswimmer
Reply to  Awsi Dooger
3 months ago

I get that, I hope she goes faster really. She could get the WR back

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Hswimmer
3 months ago

It’s about time for Lilly to have a relay time 0.5s better than her flat start time. If she just does her flat start time, they lose. Reagan will be 57 high. Huske has so much raw speed, I could see her going 54.9 with a great start and all the excitement. Unfortunately, i don’t see Abbey doing 52-mid, maybe 52.8. Simone, maybe, but we’re talking a helluva fine tuning over this month.

Jamie5678
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
3 months ago

Agree with this Ol Longhorn. The US needs Lily to step up if they’re going to win.

petriasfan
Reply to  Jamie5678
3 months ago

I honestly reckon the medley relay is the American’s to lose. Smith should be there abouts with McKeown. King will bring the US back into the lead easily and the fly girls shall keep that body length or two lead. Weitzell or Manuel should be able to hold off Campbell easily.

Last edited 3 months ago by petriasfan
Hswimmer
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
3 months ago

I think Lily will be 1:04 low this time, her being 1:04.7 at trials bodes well. Most nationals or trials she is only 1:05, then drops. I really think she can pull off a faster split these games.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Hswimmer
3 months ago

Her best flat start is 1:04.1 She needs to go 1:03.8 or better to show something on a relay for a change. She’s never choked on a relay, she’s never been a studdette.

Troyy
3 months ago

Anyone know what date the Aussie team is supposed to fly out to Japan?

Torchbearer
Reply to  Troyy
3 months ago

Very late is what I heard .. makes sense, they are in the same time zone and only 6 hours away

Stephen
Reply to  Troyy
3 months ago

Time zone ………is the key word of these Olympics……..it will be a factor

Joel
Reply to  Stephen
3 months ago

I don’t think it’s as much of a factor as you think. But having said that, it will be great for the Aussies not to be travelling halfway around the world

Jamie5678
Reply to  Joel
3 months ago

in Rio swimmers from the far east (defined at Australia, China and Korea) won 6 golds, in London they won 6. in Beijing they won 10.

Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Joel
3 months ago

AUS won 10 medals in London and Rio each. They won 20 in Beijing, so there might be some difference.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Stephen
3 months ago

It decimated Phelps in Beijing. Oh, wait…

Joel
Reply to  Troyy
3 months ago

I read an Insta post somewhere that they have 2 more weeks in Cairns as of yesterday I think

Lil Swimmy
3 months ago

castiglioni didn’t make the team right??? or am i wiggin out

Troyy
Reply to  Lil Swimmy
3 months ago

Selected as relay only so they’ll be able to use the best of the three in the final

Nick
3 months ago

Imagine being dumb enough to not even have Sweden in the top 8 smh swimswam.

Last edited 3 months ago by Nick

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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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