2022 World Champs Previews: Aussies Push To End U.S. Run In Mixed Free Relay

2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

By The Numbers:

  • World Record: 3:19.40, United States (Dressel, Apple, Comerford, Manuel) – 2019 World Championships
  • Championship Record: 3:19.40, United States (Dressel, Apple, Comerford, Manuel) – 2019
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: N/A
  • 2019 World Champion: United States (Dressel, Apple, Comerford, Manuel), 3:19.40

The mixed 400 freestyle relay is a unique race in that it’s now the only team event raced at the World Championship level but not at the Olympics, and it kind of gets thrown in at the tail-end of a long session during the penultimate night of finals.

It’s only been raced at Worlds three times, starting in 2015, and so far the U.S. is a perfect three-for-three.

When analyzing other relays for Budapest, it’s easy to use last summer’s Olympic Games as a reference point. In this event, however, we haven’t seen a best-on-best battle in three years, so we’re coming in with a blank slate.

BACK-HALF GIVES AUSSIES ADVANTAGE OVER U.S.

The Americans have won this event at the last two World Championships with Caeleb Dressel throwing down 47-low lead-off legs despite the race being his third of the session. He’ll once again have the 50 free and 100 fly final earlier on Friday night, but given his track record we can safely pencil him in to be in the same range once again.

In 2017, Dressel’s opening leg blew the race open for the U.S. and they sailed to victory by over two seconds. Things changed two years later, as the Australians put together an optimal lineup and Kyle Chalmers kept pace with Dressel on the opening leg. It was the second American split from Zach Apple (47.34) that helped the U.S. overcome the Aussies, and the American women did their part as they were only collectively out-split by Australia by three-tenths of a second.

A lot of how this race plays out hinges on Chalmers. If he manages to make the final of the 100 fly—his only individual race of the meet—he’ll have that earlier in the session, like Dressel. But even a slightly fatigued Chalmers is presumably Australia’s best option.

He may not be on career-best 47.0 freestyle form, but it might not matter.

Just going off of 2021-22 season-best times, which results in leaving Chalmers out since he hasn’t raced the event, Australia still comes out ahead of the U.S. thanks to a massive advantage from their two female legs.

Season-Best Add-Up

USA Season-Best Australia Season-Best
Caeleb Dressel 47.79 William Yang 48.55
Brooks Curry 48.04 Zac Incerti 48.65
Torri Huske 53.35 Mollie O’Callaghan 52.49
Claire Curzan 53.58 Shayna Jack 52.60
3:22.76 3:22.29

Throw in Chalmers’ best time and Australia comes out more than two seconds clear of the Americans. Of course, Dressel has been as fast as 46.96, so it’s not fair to measure up Chalmers’ PB with Dressel’s SB, but still, Australia’s back-half could well lead them to victory.

The Americans will need a 47-mid at minimum from Brooks Curry (or another swimmer depending on how things go in the men’s 400 free relay), and then Torri Huske and Claire Curzan to split sub-53 to have a real chance, assuming Chalmers is racing this.

MEDAL HOPEFULS

In 2019, both the U.S. and Australia cracked 3:20, and then there were three countries fighting for the last step on the podium in the 3:22s.

A similar situation appears to be arising this year. The gap between AUS/USA and the field may not be as big, but there projects to be a real battle for bronze between a few different teams.

The Canadians have fared well in this event historically, earning back-to-back bronzes in 2015 and 2017 before a close fourth in Gwangju. While they lose Brent Hayden, who was 47.99 leading off the men’s relay in Tokyo, they’ve got rising star Josh Liendo and either relay veteran Yuri Kisil or 48.4 flat-start Ruslan Gaziev to get them off to a competitive opening 200 before handing off to Penny Oleksiak and whichever of their women is swimming the fastest.

Canada’s season-best add-up puts them behind both Great Britain and France, but we’ve seen Kisil split 47.1, Oleksiak split 52-flat, and many feel Liendo is due to break 48 flat-start.

Moving to the Brits, Lewis Burras assumes the role of Duncan Scott, who led the team off last year en route to winning the European title. After that success at Euros, we have to assume Great Britain will race the event this year after sitting out in each of the first times it’s been contested at Worlds.

With Tom Dean going 48.0 this year and the female duo of Anna Hopkin and Freya Anderson both capable of splitting sub-53, the Brits are in prime position for a medal if everything clicks.

France hasn’t entered either the men’s or women’s 400 free relay, but field a team here that should be competitive in the bronze medal battle thanks to two solid pieces aside.

The French won bronze in 2019 with a strong back-half from Charlotte Bonnet and Marie Wattel, and those two will return this year along with Maxime Grousset and Hadrien Salvan on the men’s side. If Grousset is on career-best form (47.5 flat-start), they’re in good shape.

Another nation with an outside shot at a medal is China, though Yang Junxuan is the only real known quantity on the international stage.

Season-Best Add-Up

Canada Season-Best Great Britain Season-Best France Season-Best China Season-Best
Josh Liendo 48.35 Lewis Burras 47.88 Maxime Grousset 48.03 Pan Zhanle 48.59
Ruslan Gaziev 48.41 Tom Dean 48.06 Hadrien Salvan 48.51 Yang Jintong 48.55
Penny Oleksiak 53.64 Anna Hopkin 53.45 Marie Wattel 53.71 Yang Junxuan 53.42
Kayla Sanchez 53.68 Freya Anderson 53.92 Charlotte Bonnet 53.74 Cheng Yujie 53.8
3:24.08 3:23.31 3:23.99 3:24.36

THE BATTLE TO FINAL

The Italians have a good shot at factoring into the final, though losing Federica Pellegrini is a tough one for their back-half. Their male duo remains among the best, led by Alessandro Miressi.

Sweden is solid, led by Sarah Sjostrom, while Robin Hanson and Bjorn Seeliger, who are both coming off NCAA seasons at Cal, own lifetime best in the 48-high range but have raced sparsely this LC season.

Like Great Britain, Sweden has never raced this relay at the World Championships, and last year at Euros, they didn’t use Sjostrom. It seems likely that will be the case again, with the 50 free final coming the following night.

The Dutch were the silver medalists in both 2015 and 2017, but will be hoping for a finals berth at best now after the retirements of Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Femke Heemskerk.

The Brazilians don’t have the female legs to do much damage.

Season-Best Add-Up

Italy Season-Best Netherlands Season-Best Brazil Season-Best Sweden Season-Best
Alessandro Miressi 47.88 Stan Pijnenburg 48.78 Felipe Santos 48.41 Robin Hanson 48.93 (LTB)
Lorenzo Zazzeri 48.45 Nyls Korstanje 48.86 (LTB) Gabriel Santos 48.64 Bjorn Seeliger 48.98 (LTB)
Silvia di Pietro 54.91 Marrit Steenbergen 54.16 Stephanie Balduccini 54.64 Sarah Sjostrom 53.05
Giulia Verona 55.12 Kim Busch 54.96 Lorrane Ferreira 55.95 Louise Hansson 55.15
3:26.36 3:26.76 3:27.64 3:26.11

SWIMSWAM’S PICKS

Place Nation Season-Best Add-Up
Worlds Entry Time
1 Australia 3:22.29* NT
2 USA 3:22.76 NT
3 Great Britain 3:23.31 3:22.07
4 Canada 3:24.08 NT
5 France 3:23.99 NT
6 China 3:24.36 NT
7 Netherlands 3:26.76 3:22.26
8 Italy 3:26.36 3:22.64

*without Kyle Chalmers, who hasn’t raced the LC 100 free this season.

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Tony
11 days ago

Team USA has few weaknesses, but the women’s 100 free is a big one.
It’s not going to hurt in the mixed medley relay. Gold: virtually guaranteed.
It’s going to kill them in the women’s free relay. Gold: no way.
It will make or break them in the mixed free relay. Gold: maybe yes, maybe no.

ICU
11 days ago

Don’t know who William Yang is but i know my boy Chalmers got this 🙂

Madman2028
11 days ago

I’m going to say
AUS
CAN
USA
Aus is able to produce some big relay splits as shown in past years.
Canada is a completely different country when it comes to relays. Not sure how but they always seem to throw down huge splits plus they have a 52.0 and a 51.9 potential from Penny and Ruck.
I would put US higher but they seem to underperform on relays. I’d be surprised if Dressel leads out in anything faster than 47.4
G.B doesn’t seem to have as big of an upside in comparison to the teams above.

Sub13
Reply to  Madman2028
11 days ago

I don’t think Canada silver is a bad prediction but I don’t think USA underperforms on relays. Maybe the women’s 4×100 but that’s about it. Dressel ripped the fastest fly split ever in Tokyo. Ledecky was fastest in the field in the 200 despite not medaling in the individual. The mixed medley relay was bad strategy rather than bad swimming.

Madman2028
Reply to  Sub13
11 days ago

Maybe underperform was a bad way to describe it. But its not uncommon for Americans to be equal to or slower than there pb. But like for example if we use Canada’s mens 4×100 the slower man on the relay split faster than the winning time at Canadian trials. AUS has also been know to throw down as well.

SBOmega
11 days ago

I wish Australia took this event seriously just once!

In 2015 they would have easily won with C1/C2/McEvoy/Chalmers and in 2019 they would have smashed it if they had used C1 (who split 51.1 in the mixed medley leg to mow down Manuel)

Sub13
Reply to  SBOmega
11 days ago

This is one of our 3 gold relay chances. If they don’t put the A team here then the coaches are even dumber than we all thought.

Troyy
11 days ago

I’m not sure I’d call Australia’s 2019 lineup ‘optimal’ when their best relay swimmer (Cate) was left off.

Australia didn’t swim this relay at all in 2015, swam a very weakened B team in 2017 with only Graham and Elmslie from the single gender A teams and Cate Campbell was left off in 2019. Despite this each WCs has seen the focus on this relay increase a little bit with 2019 being almost a full A team so hopefully this time they’ll take the next step and field a full A team. Of those years Australia could’ve challenged for gold in 2015 and 2019 but not in 2017.

This seems like the only gold medal opportunity for Australian men besides… Read more »

commonwombat
11 days ago

Certainly a tantalising prospect on paper but the great unanswered question is, being a non Olympic event, how serious will both USA & AUS approach it ? USA has sufficient men’s depth and correspondingly AUS on women’s side that these halves would be both representative and competitive whomever may be selected.

However, AUS overall competitiveness would hinge not only on Chalmers being used but him being in peak form. Chalmers in “relay superhero mode” can arguably counter USA’s best leg but AUS 2nd male leg is ceding significant time and water to his US counterpart. If Chalmers is in “merely mortal” mode then its all over at half distance.

AUS women certainly look to have a clear gap over their… Read more »

Stephen
Reply to  commonwombat
11 days ago

The Men’s 100m Fly Final is only a few events prior to this final. That may play a huge part.
If Chalmers makes the 100m Fly final, i don’t like the Aussies chances in the relay. On the other hand, if Chalmers is rested the Aussies chances go through the roof.

commonwombat
Reply to  Stephen
11 days ago

Would be a major surprise if Chalmers did make 100fly final.

Think both 4x100s may tell us much with regards to how this one will play out. Will:

  • Chalmers have his freestyle A game
  • USA uncover one, preferably two, 52mid or better female legs
  • AUS find a new sub 52 female split
  • USA’s other men beyond Dressel prove to be over 1sec apiece superior than their AUS counterparts
  • AUS actually uncover another sub48 male leg

AUS could, conceivably, win this and it would not surprise if it were reasonably close but would realistically need ALL the cards to fall their way.

Were it a case of AUS with both Chalmers in relay beast mode plus McKeon… Read more »

Troyy
Reply to  commonwombat
11 days ago

I think Chalmers even in 47 mid flat start form and Incerti repeating a 47 mid split like in Tokyo would be enough if the back half delivers splits comparable to trials (-0.5) but perhaps fatigue might come into play. To our advantage Dressel will be on his third swim for the session.

commonwombat
Reply to  Troyy
11 days ago

I think that’s somewhat of a best case scenario you’ve put forward for the AUS men.

Much as we’d love to see Chalmers in full “relay beast” mode; I think your proposition is at least realistic ball-park … for him. Am just not seeing Incerti or any other AUS male other than Chalmers splitting 47mid.

Having said that, I’d be uncommonly happy to be proven wrong.

Stephen
Reply to  commonwombat
11 days ago

You dangle the Dressel challenge in front of Chalmers anytime, he’ll rise to the occasion.
I do feel it comes down to the 2nd leg. Incerti doing a 48 will almost be good enough. If the ladies do their under 52.4’s

Onto another relay…That mixed Med is just a waste of time for Australia. I don’t want Chalmers MOC Kaylee going anywhere near it.
Just a very wasteful and unnecessary swim.

commonwombat
Reply to  Stephen
11 days ago

Admire your optimism but I think they’re going to need Chalmers splitting sub 47 and that would entail him swimming 2nd leg rather than flat start. The downside is that he’ll be chasing the field as I can’t see Incerti being up with whichever American swims.

I’m not realistically seeing both American women swimming 53+, more likely 52middish. Realistically, both AUS women would need to be 52low minimum. I think one is likely, two is less certain.

I’m ambivalent as to how much emphasis should be placed on MMR but if you are going to “triage” this one then, by rights, you’re then going to be triaging a number of relays. I’d certainly be triaging M4XMED and probably M4X100 ahead… Read more »

Sub13
Reply to  commonwombat
11 days ago

What difference does it make if Kyle swims 1st or 2nd leg? His PB is 47.08 and his best split is 46.4. That’s pretty much right what you’d expect to be the difference. Kyle isn’t going to contribute more by swimming a 46 high 2nd than a 47 mid 1st.

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
11 days ago

Better to lead off Chalmers and have Incerti do a split because who knows how much of that 47.5 was relay changeover magic while Chalmers splits tend to be around what you’d expect.

Sub13
Reply to  commonwombat
11 days ago

Incerti split 47 mid in Tokyo. Not sure why you think it can’t possibly happen.

commonwombat
Reply to  Sub13
11 days ago

47mid is indicative of 48low flat start form. We’re talking around 0.5sec better than anything he’s shown this year.

To answer, previous comments re order of male swimmers. Swim Chalmers off the gun, the most likely scenario is that he’s on par with the best, best case scenario maybe a couple of 10s ahead. Any such advantage is then flushed down the S bend by a (comparatively) weak second swimmer dropping the best part of a second/possibly more.

Swimming Incerti, or whichever name you may put forward, off the gun and Chalmers is going into the water maybe a second behind. Far from ideal but one can put forward the proposition that he has a target to hunt down ….… Read more »

Steve Nolan
11 days ago

You’d assume the US’ll have maybe a half second to a second lead after the men, with Chalmers/Dressel being basically even. No idea what might happen with the women – could see the US getting two sub 53 legs and holding on to win, or Australia getting two 52 lows and winning by a full second.

And who knows, maybe Chalmers doesn’t have that juice in freestyle this year and the US runs away with it.

Notanyswimmer
11 days ago

Embarrassing how the US hasn’t been able to muster up 52 splits on the female side since 2019. I blame this on bathtub swimming – the fact is that American swimmers train for shorter distances for the same race compared to internationals. That’s why pianos are 90% of the time a US swimmer problem.

The fact is that US swimmers only do well in spite of the yards system, not because of it, and the rest of the world has caught up and sees how archaic and unneeded that system is. If US swimming wants to move into the 21st century, it should convert to meters or change competition yardage to better suit international competition distances (ie 200y = 100… Read more »

nate
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
11 days ago

what’s embarrassing is this comment

ICU
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
11 days ago

The fact that Phelps and Lochte never swam bathtubs proves your point, yet they are too blind to catch up to the rest of the world cause MURICA

Tony
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
11 days ago

It hasn’t hurt the American male swimmers at all — Olympic and WC gold medalists in the 100 free and 4×100 free relays aplenty. It has hurt the women for some reason, esp. in recent years. But, I think it’s just a quirk: no great American freestyle sprinters at the moment.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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