Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Previews: US Men’s Medley Streak In Jeopardy

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2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Men’s 4×100 medley relay

  • World Record: USA (Peirsol, Shanteau, Phelps, Walters) – 3:27.28 (2009)
  • Olympic Record: USA (Murphy, Miller, Phelps, Adrian) – 3:27.95 (2016)
  • World Junior Record: Russia (Zuev, Gerasimenko, Minakov, Schchegolev) – 3:33.19 (2019)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: USA (Murphy, Miller, Phelps, Adrian) – 3:27.95

*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 United States has never lost a men’s 4×100 medley relay at the Olympics.

That’s a streak that extends back 61 years, to when the Olympics first added the medley relay in 1960. (The team of Frank McKinnery, Paul Hait, Lance Larson and Jeff Farrell won that inaugural gold by almost seven seconds, going 4:05.4). The only non-U.S. team to win Olympic gold in this event was Australia in 1980, competing under the Olympic banner in partial support of the nations boycotting those 1980 Olympics, including the United States.

But the U.S. men already lost a sizable win streak in this event at the World Championships. They’d won 8 of the past 10 Worlds golds in this event, with the sole misses being DQs. But in 2019, Great Britain beat the U.S. decisively in a head-to-head finals showdown, with Duncan Scott splitting a ridiculous 46.1 on the anchor leg to run down the Americans.

Despite what the aggregate times say, we’re going to start with Great Britain – one of the spoils of being the defending World champs, but also a nod to the Brits being a little bit safer to predict than the relatively-inexperienced US. men.

Great Britain
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Luke Greenbank 53.34 53.34
Adam Peaty 57.39 57.13
James Guy 50.96 50.61
Duncan Scott 47.87 46.14
TOTAL: 3:29.56 3:27.22

For the British, applying a little logic to those numbers cuts both ways. On one hand, it’d be unreasonable to expect Scott to split 46.1 again – that’s a superhuman swim comparable to Jason Lezak’s legendary 46.0 super-suited anchor at the 2008 Olympics. We just don’t see 46-lows very often. Scott could have another monster leg and come in more like 46.5, and it’d still be one of the best in the field.

On the flip side, Adam Peaty can probably go faster than 57.1. He’s been 56.8 from a flat start in his 2019 world record swim. He also split 56.5 at the 2016 Olympics and 56.9 at Worlds in 2017, though he’s been a little slower on relays since (57.6 at 2018 Commonwealths and Euros; 57.2 at 2019 Worlds; 57.1 at Euros this spring). Peaty is a cheat code on this relay, in that he’s probably worth almost a full-second advantage over the field even with a mediocre split (by his standards). If Peaty is at his peak, he could legitimately spot GBR a lead of two-plus seconds.

Luke Greenbank is going to be the key. The Brits have struggled mightily for a reliable backstroker to set Peaty up, but the 23-year-old Greenbank is developing into a good option. He went a lifetime-best 53.3 at Euros this spring, and probably needs to be 53-low to keep the Brits within a second of the top backstrokers around this field.

USA
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Ryan Murphy 52.22 51.94
Michael Andrew 58.14 58.14
Caeleb Dressel 49.76 49.28
Zach Apple 47.72 46.86
TOTAL: 3:27.84 3:26.22

Ryan Murphy is the big advantage here in this battle at the top. Last time we watched this relay on the Olympic stage, a 21-year-old Murphy broke the world record leading off, and staked the Americans to a 1.8-second lead over Great Britain. Peaty erased that lead with a 2.5-second margin on breaststroke, but the Americans effectively neutralized Britain’s best leg and swam away with gold in the back half. Murphy hasn’t really been at that level in recent years, and his rough 52.9 leadoff leg at 2019 Worlds was a big factor in Team USA losing this relay. He looked great at U.S. Trials, so it’s fair to pencil him in as a 51-high/52-low leadoff.

Caeleb Dressel will likely swim fly on this relay, where he could beat most of the field by a second or more himself. The other two legs for the U.S. are Olympic rookies, though Michael Andrew and Zach Apple have competed at Worlds before. Apple has plenty of relay experience, including a clutch 46.9 at 2019 Worlds.

Andrew was a breakout star of U.S. Trials, setting the American record with a 58.14 in the 100 breast. Despite what was a cathartic ‘prove-it’ meet for a swimmer whose endured far more than his fair share of questions and criticisms over his career, Andrew still faces some legitimate questions heading into this relay. Andrew will carry a heavy event load, with up to 10 swims in the eight days leading up to this event (assuming heats/semifinals/finals of the 50 free, 100 breast, 200 IM, plus a swim somewhere on the mixed medley relay). He’ll also have the 50 free finals in the same session as this men’s medley relay, if he makes the top 8 there.

And, of course, for a swimmer who has spent most of his career as essentially a one-man club and who didn’t swim high school or college, it’s fair to wonder how much experience Andrew has at relay starts. Even in the ISL, Andrew only swam on five relays across all five meets last year, and led off two of them, leaving him with just three relay-starts in that relay-heavy format.

But it’s also worth noting that breaststroke has been a weakness for the American men’s medleys in recent years. Andrew’s 58.1 speed offers the best chance the U.S. has ever had at cutting into Peaty’s huge margin, even if some question marks remain.

(We could run through some alternate lineup options like Murphy/Andrew/Shields/Apple or even Murphy/Wilson/Andrew/Dressel, but at this risk of pushing this preview to 2000 words, we’ll stick with the lineup we expect. We explored some of those other options in more depth here.)

Other Medal Contenders

Russia
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Evgeny Rylov 52.12 51.97
Anton Chupkov 58.83 58.68
Andrei Minakov 51.17 50.54
Kliment Kolesnikov 47.31 47.10
TOTAL: 3:29.43 3:28.29

If there’s a dark horse to win gold, it’s Russia, which finished a second behind the Brits at Euros this spring with what was probably a sub-optimal lineup.

Russia had Kliment Kolesnikov lead that relay off, but he’s also probably their best 100 free option, and Evgeny Rylov has only been about a tenth slower in backstroke this year with a better career-best. Anton Chupkov has taken over as the nation’s top breaststroker, but Kirill Prigoda has been the go-to guy for relays over this quad. It’s Prigoda’s 58.6 we slotted in above.

Australia
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Mitch Larkin 52.75 52.38
Zac Stubblety-Cook 59.69 59.16
Matthew Temple 50.45 50.45
Kyle Chalmers 47.59 46.60
TOTAL: 3:30.48 3:28.59

Australia may struggle a little for a sprint breaststroker, but they’ve got an elite anchor leg in Kyle Chalmersplus a rising butterflyer in Matthew TempleKeep an eye on Australia in the back half of this relay, especially if Mitch Larkin keeps them in the mix through backstroke.

Italy
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Thomas Ceccon 52.84 52.84
Nicolo Martingenghi 58.29 57.84
Federico Burdisso 51.39 51.29
Alessandro Miressi 47.45 47.16
TOTAL: 3:29.97 3:29.13

Italy is almost the exact opposite of Australia – they’ve got an elite breaststroke leg in Nicolo Martinenghiwho was just half a second behind Peaty’s split at Euros in May. They’ll need the young sprinter Thomas Ceccon to have a good Olympic debut, and Alessandro Miressi is a proven anchor who could easily be the next guy to pop a heroic 46 on the anchor.

Japan
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Ryosuke Irie 53.00 52.53
Shoma Sato 59.18 59.18
Takeshi Kawamoto 51.00 51.00
Katsumi Nakamura 48.23 47.49
TOTAL: 3:31.41 3:30.20

For Japan, breaststroke has been a traditional strength – but they’ll have to adjust to using Shoma Sato there, with consistent-58-low leg Yasuhiro Koseki not on the Olympic team. (Koseki split 58.1 at 2019 Worlds). Takeshi Kawamoto has been a little faster than Naoki Mizunuma in fly this year, but either could wind up on the leg with a shot to go 50-point.

China
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Xu Jiayu 52.37 52.17
Yan Zibei 58.73 57.96
Sun Jiajun 51.97 51.97
Yu Hexin 48.44 47.92
TOTAL: 3:31.51 3:30.02

China’s front half should be very strong, with Xu Jiayu a potential world record threat on the leadoff and Yan Zibei regularly among the best breaststroke splits in the field. Former junior standout Li Zhuhao has often been the team’s fly leg, but Sun Jiajun has been faster this year. Li did split 50.6 back in 2018.

Other Nations of Note

Canada
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Markus Thormeyer 53.40 53.35
Gabe Mastromatteo 1:00.11 1:00.11
Joshua Liendo 51.40 51.40
Yuri Kisl 48.43 47.89
TOTAL: 3:33.34 3:32.75

19-year-old Gabe Mastromatteo and 18-year-old Joshua Liendo have both stepped up in a big way. They’ve both got high ceilings but low floors in their Olympic debuts. Yuri Kisil should be the anchor here, assuming he recovers from an arm injury that kept him out of the 100 free at Canadian Olympic Trials.

Brazil
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Guilherme Basseto 53.84 52.95
Felipe Lima 59.43 59.43
Matheus Gonche 51.94 51.29
Pedro Spajari 48.31 46.94
TOTAL: 3:33.52 3:30.61

Another team with a breaststroke change-up: Brazil has typically used sprinter Joao Gomes Junior, but he’s not on the Olympic roster. Felipe Lima is a 36-year-old veteran who should be reliable, but probably not likely to come up with a massive time drop. For the projected fly split, we used Vini Lanza, who is on the Olympic team as a 200 IMer, but is probably a better fly option than Gonche, the current national leader.

Germany
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Ole Braunschweig 53.66 53.66
Fabian Schwingenschlogl 58.95 58.95
Marius Kusch 51.75 50.79
Damian Wierling 48.48 47.98
TOTAL: 3:32.84 3:31.38

Marius Kusch and Damian Wierling put up those big splits at 2019 Worlds. But they’ve got a lot more support in 2021 with the rise of Ole Braunschweig (dropped from 54.7 to 53.6 in December) and Fabian Schwingenschlogl (dropped from 59.8 to 58.9 in April).

France
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Mewen Tomac 52.86 52.86
Theo Bussiere 59.86 59.86
Mehdy Metella 52.02 51.46
Maxime Grousset 47.90 47.82
TOTAL: 3:32.64 3:32.00

France was fifth at Euros. Mehdy Metella is the superstar, and really returning to form just in time for Tokyo. The backstroke is a dead heat between Mewen Tomac (52.86 in a Euros semifinal) and Yohann Ndoye Brouard, who beat Tomac 52.97 to 53.00 for bronze in the Euros final.

Hungary
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Adam Telegdy 53.72 53.68
Tamas Takacs 1:01.50 1:01.18
Kristof Milak 50.18 50.18
Nandor Nemeth 47.84 47.17
TOTAL: 3:33.24 3:32.21

Hungary should ride a top-notch back half, with elite flyer Kristof Milak perhaps the top non-Dressel swimmer with a shot to split 49. On backstroke, Richard Bohus was 53.68 back in 2019, but has been a tenth slower than Adam Telegdy this season.

Belarus
Swimmer Season-Best Proj.
Viktar Staselovich 54.50 53.81
Ilya Shymanovich 58.46 57.84
Yauhen Tsurkin 52.37 51.12
Artsiom Machekin 49.53 48.82
TOTAL: 3:34.86 3:31.59

Belarus will soar on the back of Ilya Shymanovichperhaps the best breaststroker beyond Peaty.

TOP 8 PICKS

Place Country
2019 Worlds Finish
1 USA 2nd
2 Great Britain 1st
3 Russia 3rd
4 Australia 5th
5 China 7th
6 Italy 13th
7 Japan 4th
8 France N/A

 

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SuperSwimmer 2000
1 year ago

The loss in the the medley at 2019 Worlds was basically the first legit loss in the medley on the international stage. By legit I mean they actually got beat in the course of the race, and not by DQ.

All is fair, but Duncan Scott had the benefit of drafting off Nathan Adrian in 2019. Apple is nowhere near as big so that benefit won’t be there this time around.

But yeah, the US is vulnerable this time around. A lot hinges on the breaststroker as so many have said, but also the backstroker can’t go 52.9 like in 2019 — a lot of people forget that detail, that Murphy didn’t have the greatest first leg.

It will… Read more »

Robbos
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
1 year ago

1998 World Championship Australia beat the US as well as 2019 where GB beat US.

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  Robbos
1 year ago

Ah yes! Good catch.

Lex Soft
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
1 year ago

I read the detail after watching the WC 2019 race again. All of elite backstrokers were disappointing, except Evgeny Rylov who led off with 52.5. So, Murphy was also responsible for the loss.

M Palota
1 year ago

The key is the breaststroke leg. Michael Andrew has to be 58-low and Apple has to have at least a second on Duncan Scott to hold him off.

I think the Yanks take it but it’s going to be desperate close.

Lex Soft
Reply to  M Palota
1 year ago

Ryan Murphy too. He cannot do like he did at WC 2019 again : 52.92 was terrible.

Drama King
1 year ago

Gold – USA
Silver – GB
Bronze – Russia

4. Italy
5. Australia
6. China
7. France
8. Japan

Robbos
1 year ago

Just the women’s 4×100 med, it all depends on the breaststroke leg, can they minimise the time between the WR holder, in men’s Peaty & in women’s King!!!!
Much will depend on Andrew & what he can produce. We know Peaty will be very very fast.
Russia for Bronze.

Virtus
1 year ago

If koseki was at his best Japan Would be a real medal contender rip

Last edited 1 year ago by Virtus
Antani Ivanov
1 year ago

It’s funny how the USA thinks that all of their swimmers will drop time but no one else, Greenbank 1 sec behind Ryan, Peaty 2 sec faster than Andrew if he is on the relay even, because I think he will get beat by the fellow American individually, Dressel vs James Guy maximum of 1 sec difference and it will all come down to the free. Zach is an awesome freestyler so he can definitely pull it off. I just have the underdogs Great Britain on this one 🙌🏻

Backstrokebro
Reply to  Antani Ivanov
1 year ago

idk about a max 1 sec difference between Dressel and Guy. Guy def gets under 51, but I don’t see him breaking 50.3. prob around 50.5. Dressel I think will be 49.8-48.8, and I don’t think he’ll be slower than the 49.2 he was in 2019.

TeamDressel
Reply to  Backstrokebro
1 year ago

Yeah I agree he’ll probably be between 48.8-49.2

TeamDressel
1 year ago

Possible relay split ranges:

Murphy: 51.8-52.3
Andrew: 57.5-58.3
Dressel: 48.8-49.2
Apple: 46.7-47.3

Best case scenario: 3:24.8
Worst case scenario: 3:27.1

TeamDressel
Reply to  TeamDressel
1 year ago

It’s hard to predict what the US will go but I’d say around 3:26 low

TeamDressel
Reply to  TeamDressel
1 year ago

3:25 high-3:26 low

Jack
Reply to  TeamDressel
1 year ago

Worst case scenario Dressel goes 49.2 at the end of the meet? Add .5 to that maybe hahaha

TeamDressel
Reply to  Jack
1 year ago

Nah I mean he split 49.2 at worlds at the end of the meet. There’s no way he goes 49.7 with the amount of pre workout he takes and how he looked at trials while not fully rested

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  TeamDressel
1 year ago

21.0 says he was damn near fully rested. But I suppose you think he’s going 20.7.

Mike
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

He didn’t have all the relays this time

TeamDressel
Reply to  Jack
1 year ago

Also he never underperforms at big competitions like this

Mr Piano
1 year ago

I’m American but I kinda hope GB wins this one and ends the streak. It would be really neat to see and good for the sport imo for the US to not win 3/3 relays anymore. Seeing other countries rise up is growing competition.

Reply to  Mr Piano
1 year ago

Never surrender.

He said what?
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 year ago

WHAT??????? That absolutely makes no sense. The best team wins no matter the nationality.

frug
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 year ago

I wouldn’t worry too much about the US Men sweeping the relays this year. They’ll probably need a little bit of luck just to medal in the 800.

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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