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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Chad
20 days ago

This will be a dog fight but I think the US will take this one with the WR. I think the below times are reasonable when considering it’s the last event of the program and Andrew and Dressel will have the 50 on the same night.

Murphy 52.2
Andrew 58.2
Dressel 49.3
Apple 47.0
Total 3:26.7

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Chad
20 days ago

Dressel will have had so much pre-workout by the last event, no telling how fast he’ll go.

nuotofan
Reply to  Chad
20 days ago

Playing with the tenths (but in a reasonable way): Greenbank 53.2, Peaty 56.6, Guy 50.5, Scott 46.4 = 3:26.7
Too close to call.

Chad
Reply to  nuotofan
20 days ago

I have faith that Apple will get the touch at the end with those ridiculously long arms of his. I think in general Apple is one of the most slept on swimmers on Team USA. The dude is automatic at churning out 47.7ish 100 free swims and going 46 high or 47 low on relays.

Swimmer
Reply to  Chad
20 days ago

I don’t disagree with you but his 100 fr finals swim at trials looked like he was drafting off if caeleb

FlynDie
Reply to  Swimmer
20 days ago

Hey, I’d draft too with an Olympic slot on the line

TeamDressel
Reply to  nuotofan
19 days ago

Yeah sounds pretty reasonable to me. It’s gonna be a close race

Swammerstein
Reply to  Chad
19 days ago

So no ones going to improve on their trials times? Murphy will be 518-52.0, Andrew will sneak under 58, dressel wouldnt surprise me at a 48.high but lets say 49.low for now, and i bet apple will be right around where you project

TeamDressel
Reply to  Swammerstein
19 days ago

Yeah I think that could be about right. Dressel will be 48 for sure though

TeamDressel
Reply to  Chad
19 days ago

Yeah all reasonable assumptions but I think each swimmer will be a bit faster. Dressel will definitely go 48 though. He was 49.2 at 2019 worlds in his last event.

Blackflag82
Reply to  TeamDressel
19 days ago

Dressel has subpar relay starts though. I doubt he’s going to be under 49

TeamDressel
Reply to  Blackflag82
19 days ago

He’s could go 48 individually as we all know that’s his goal. He could easily go 48 from relay even if he flat starts a 49 low

TeamDressel
Reply to  Blackflag82
19 days ago

Also it’s not that his relay stars are sub-par, it’s just that his actual start is so good that a relay start doesn’t help him all that much. He was still 0.3 faster in the relay at worlds though

Blackflag82
Reply to  TeamDressel
19 days ago

Could is the optimal word there. He could also be a quarter second slower than his flat start. Maybe his relay start has improved, but as of right now, I’d say his World’s relay split is an outlier more than the rule

Last edited 19 days ago by Blackflag82
jim
Reply to  Chad
18 days ago

I really don’t think we’ve seen the best of Michael Andrew yet…not really known for a relay swimmer, AND not to forget his olympic trial schedule was very aggressive (throw out the 100 backstroke early in the meet and suddenly your olympic schedule is far easier)…plus unlike phelps who swam on all 3 relays, Andrew is not going to be on the 400 free relay early in the meet, nor the 800 free relay middle of the meet. This makes the meet much more manageable for him AND to have energy to split around a 57.7 (given relay start). Even if Peaty splits 56.7, you more than make up for his leg between Murphy and Dressel. It may be about… Read more »

Notanyswimmer
20 days ago

Prediction: An exhausted Michael Andrew goes 59.XX and both GB and Russia overtake the US. Russia takes the gold.

Mel
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
19 days ago

What do you do with an obviously exhausted Andrew by then? Wilson goes 58.6 on prelim relay. Then what?

jvog88
Reply to  Mel
19 days ago

Isn’t there a possibility that Wilson goes faster than Michael Andrew in the individual 100, swapping their relay spots and pushing Andrew to the prelims spot? I recall this happening unexpectedly (in my mind) in 2016, with Cody Miller taking the finals spot over Cordes for that reason. In any case, feels good for the US to have 2-3 guys at 58. rather than the second guy at 59.

Khachaturian
20 days ago

I’ll be having chills during this whole race for sure.

Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
20 days ago

I think this one is actually the safest relay (relatively) for US.

HJones
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
19 days ago

After trials, the 4*100 free is definitely more concerning than the medley. On paper, the US “should” win after we’ve seen what MA can do, but right now the numbers just don’t seem to work out to beat Russia in the free relay.

Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  HJones
19 days ago

Re the free relay: Kolesnikov’s schedule is a huge problem for Russia. This is the biggest advantage to US tbh, otherwise it’s hard to see US winning.

Last edited 19 days ago by Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Mark
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Fukuoka
19 days ago

Nah, GB take gold in a WR time.

Bruh
20 days ago

Why y’all so worried, the us got that relay magic

Ghost
Reply to  Bruh
20 days ago

Maybe medley relay magic

Coach Macgyver
20 days ago

Dressel’s vertical + relay start = sub 49

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
20 days ago

He doesn’t have good relay starts compared to his flat starts. He never drops much at all from his flat start time. That’s why he always leads off the free relay.

TeamDressel
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
19 days ago

Yes but he still drops a little time. I’d say usually around 0.2 or 0.3. If he goes 49 low individually he will be 48 on the relay

TeamDressel
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
19 days ago

Exactly he’ll be 48 for sure. I mean that’s definitely his goal individually

Blackflag82
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
19 days ago

Everybody talks about his relay start as though it’s on par with other people’s relay starts. I’d love to be corrected, but I’m pretty sure a majority of his relay swims are slower than his flat start swims from the same meet.

Bub
Reply to  Blackflag82
19 days ago

His fly splits have been consistently faster than his individual
49.7 vs 49.8 in 2017
50.6 to 50.7 in 2018
49.2/3 to 49.5 in 2019

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Bub
19 days ago

So, in other words, he “swam” slower on those relays.

Blackflag82
Reply to  Bub
19 days ago

fair enough…so he’s been about 1-2 tenths faster in fly. So I’ll stand by my previous prediction from further up, that I don’t think he’s going to be under 49…after potentially 12 other swims

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Blackflag82
19 days ago

You’re right. Still, 49 mid would be a helluva split in the last event. Remember how slow the 100 fly final was he last night in Rio?

TeamDressel
Reply to  Blackflag82
19 days ago

This was the case in yards sometimes. But he still split 17.3 in a relay and went 17.6 individually

0SU39
20 days ago

Perhaps a typo on Markus Thormeyer’s backstroke time? 52.35 would be quite the swim

Ger
20 days ago

My money’s on Egypt.

whever
Reply to  Ger
20 days ago

This is not 100 x 100 medley relay.

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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