2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
- June 18-25, 2022 (pool swimming)
- Budapest, Hungary
- Duna Arena
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By The Numbers:
- World Record: 3:50.40, United States (Smith, King, Dahlia, Manuel) – 2019 World Championships
- Championship Record: 3:50.40, United States (Smith, King, Dahlia, Manuel) – 2019
- 2021 Olympic Champion: Australia (McKeown, Hodges, McKeon, C.Campbell), 3:51.60
- 2019 World Champion: United States (Smith, King, Dahlia, Manuel), 3:50.40
The women’s 400 medley relay has historically been a seesaw battle between the United States and Australia, with the Americans usually getting the upper hand. China has also picked up a few championship victories over the last two decades, but in recent memory, it’s been all U.S., until last year.
The Aussies came through with an upset victory to win the Olympic title in a nail-biter over the Americans, with the two teams mirroring each other’s splits over the first three legs until Cate Campbell overcame Abbey Weitzeil for gold by 13 one-hundredths of a second.
Of the eight swimmers that suited up for those two nations in the Olympic final, only three will be racing in Budapest. Campbell and Weitzeil both won’t be there, nor will either breaststroker or Australia’s butterflier, Emma McKeon.
Given how close the two were last year, it begs the question: which country has the upper hand in terms of the “additions” who will take over in the last event of the World Championships in just over one week’s time?
Tier 1: U.S. vs Australia
The most significant loss to either team comes on Australia’s fly leg, where McKeon was an individual medalist in Tokyo and they now lose around a second and a half by turning to Brianna Throssell.
The Americans maintain Torri Huske on fly, unless they go with Claire Curzan, who was a close second to Huske in both the 100 free and 100 fly at U.S. Trials. Either way, the U.S. should pick up at least a second on the third leg after losing ground in Tokyo.
Butterfly Advantage: U.S.
Breaststroke has always been a weak spot for Australia on this relay, and last year’s relay finalist, Chelsea Hodges, fell to third in the women’s 100 breast at Aussie Trials with Jenna Strauch claiming the win in 1:06.49. That’s almost a second slower than Hodges was on the Olympic relay (1:05.57), but given she was 1:06.6 individually in Tokyo, Australia won’t lose much there if Strauch can have a strong relay swim.
The U.S. has Lilly King on breast, who fell to Lydia Jacoby in the individual event last summer and thus her spot in the relay final. King should, at worst, hold firm with Jacoby’s 1:05.0 split from last year.
Breaststroke Advantage: U.S.
Freestyle swimming in Australia is so deep that they lost 75 percent of their world record-breaking 400 free relay from Tokyo and haven’t missed a beat. Mollie O’Callaghan (52.49) and Shayna Jack (52.60) lead the world rankings in the 100 free to give the Aussies an edge over either Huske (53.35) or Curzan (53.58).
Freestyle Advantage: Australia.
Then we come to backstroke, where, for all intents and purposes, the two teams are deadlocked with Kaylee McKeown and Regan Smith. McKeown won the Olympic gold in the 100 back, Smith has been faster this year, and they were both 58.0 on the relay lead-off in Tokyo.
Backstroke Advantage: None.
The overall advantage clearly goes to the Americans, and the Aussies would need to pull out something big, and hope one of the U.S. swimmers falters, to have a chance.
|Regan Smith – 57.76||Kaylee McKeown – 58.31|
|Lilly King – 1:05.32||Jenna Strauch – 1:06.49|
|Claire Curzan – 56.35||Brianna Throssell – 57.31|
|Torri Huske – 53.35||Mollie O’Callaghan – 52.49|
Tier 2: Canada & China
The Canadians have been a steady presence in this event of late, and among the nations competing in Budapest (AKA removing Russia from the mix), they’ve been third-best at the last two World Championships and the 2021 Olympic Games.
The one thing that’s always stood in Canada’s way from truly contending for gold? Breaststroke. And that won’t change this year.
The Canadians had the slowest breast split in the field in Tokyo, and still finished only a second back of gold medal-winning Australia. In fact, if Canada had any breast split in the field outside of eighth-place Japan’s, they would’ve won.
Of course it doesn’t work like that, but we can’t emphasize enough how strong the team is on three legs and then equally as weak on the other.
That puts them at a distinct disadvantage against the U.S. and Australia, and they may need Masse, MacNeil and Oleksiak to be on point if they want to stay on the podium with China lurking.
The Chinese quartet comes with the caveat that their “season-best” times were set in September at the Chinese National Games, which we can assume they were peaking for. Nonetheless, China has a very strong team.
They were fourth in Tokyo, a second and a half back of Canada, but an improved breaststroke from Yu Jingyao makes them a medal threat. Based on season-bests, China is up by over two seconds on Canada, the majority of which comes from breaststroke. They’re actually slightly outpacing Australia as well.
|Kylie Masse – 58.41||Peng Xuwei – 59.27|
|Sophie Angus – 1:07.60||Yu Jingyao – 1:05.63|
|Maggie MacNeil – 57.13||Zhang Yufei – 56.24|
|Penny Oleksiak – 53.64||Yang Junxuan – 53.42|
We can confidently predict that Masse, MacNeil and Oleksiak will all be faster than their season-bests in Budapest, but for China, we can only say the same about Zhang Yufei (55.39 split in Tokyo) and Yang Junxuan (53.02 flat start at the Olympics).
Canada will also have Pickrem (1:06.4 relay split), Kelsey Wog (1:06.4 flat start) and Rachel Nicol (1:06.6 flat start) in Budapest, so they’ll have some options if one of them is lighting it up in their other events.
Tier 3: The Field
The Swedes are the most prominent team we haven’t touched on yet, as they finished fifth, .14 back of China, in Tokyo.
Led by sprinting superstar Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden boasts a strong team that’s complemented by sisters Sophie and Louise Hansson. The fourth member of that Olympic relay, Michelle Coleman, won’t race in Budapest, however, leaving a hole to be filled.
Last year Coleman took on backstroke, while L. Hansson swam fly and Sjostrom was on free. While Hansson has made big strides on backstroke of late, the most likely occurrence is that we’ll see Hanna Rosvall slide into Coleman’s lead-off spot. Rosvall set a 100 back PB of 1:00.81 in April, about a second slower than Coleman was in the Olympic relay.
An add-up of that foursome puts Sweden into a tier below China and Canada, coming in at 3:57.35.
The other Olympic finalists from last summer were Italy, Japan and Russia. However, we know the Russians won’t be in attendance, and Japan hasn’t entered this event.
Great Britain should also factor into the final, though it should be mentioned that Molly Renshaw didn’t race at British Trials and was 1:06.2 in the 100 breast last year. Freya Anderson and Anna Hopkin are both capable of 52-mid splits on free, which helps their cause as well. The Brits will miss Kathleen Dawson on the lead-off leg, however.
|Hanna Rosvall – 1:00.81||Margherita Panziera – 1:00.20||Medi Harris – 59.24|
|Sophie Hansson – 1:06.60||Benedetta Pilato – 1:05.70||Molly Renshaw – 1:07.58|
|Louise Hansson – 56.89||Elena di Liddo – 57.84||Laura Stephens – 58.43|
|Sarah Sjostrom – 53.05||Silvia di Pietro – 54.91||Anna Hopkin – 53.45|
That eighth and final spot in the championship heat is seemingly up for grabs, with France and the Netherlands in the mix, but both having a glaring hole somewhere.
The edge would probably go to the Dutch, as Maaike de Waard could step in on fly to join Kira Toussaint (back), Tes Schouten (breast) and Marrit Steenbergen (free). The retirements of Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Femke Heemskerk certainly sting.
France has three solid legs but their top female breaststroker is entered at 1:08.7.
|Place||Country||Season-Best Add-Up||Worlds Entry Time|