2023 World Champs Preview: China Eyes Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay Upset Over Italy, U.S.



  • World Record: USA (Murphy, Andrew, Dressel, Apple) – 3:26.78 (2021)
  • World Junior Record: RUS (Zuev, Gerasimenko, Minakov, Shchegolev) – 3:33.19 (2019)
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: USA (Murphy, Andrew, Dressel, Apple) – 3:26.78
  • 2022 World Champion: ITA (Ceccon, Martinenghi, Burdisso, Miressi) – 3:27.51

Last year, Italy captured gold in the men’s 4×100 medley relay after having previously never made the podium in the event. This year, there’s a chance that China could be destined for the same fate.

Yes, there’s the question of whether Chinese swimmers will focus their efforts instead on the Asian Games in Hangzhou two months later. But if they taper for the World Championships in Fukuoka, they are a legitimate threat to disrupt the established order with top performers in three of the four strokes so far this season.

27-year-old Xu Jiayu owns the top 100 backstroke time in the world this season (52.26), 24-year-old Qin Haiyang has the best 100 breaststroke time globally (57.93) by nearly half a second, and 18-year-old Pan Zhanle is the season’s top 100 freestyler (47.22). On the butterfly leg, Wang Changhao is ranked 19th this season with a 51.45, giving China a cumulative season-best total of 3:28.86 — the fastest in the field this year.

Of course, season-best times only tell part of the story. We know the Italians will almost certainly be much faster than what they have shown so far this season as they aim to defend their crown. However, the numbers indicate that China could be on the verge of its first-ever medal in this event if they’re clicking at the right time.

The Traditional Powerhouses

Only five countries have ever won this event at Worlds — the United States (13 times), Australia (three times), France (once), Great Britain (once), and Italy (once).

Defending champion Italy should be tough to beat again this year. The team boasts the fastest 100 backstroker of all time in 22-year-old Thomas Ceccon, who was within a second of his leadoff split from last year with a season-best 52.86 at the Sette Colli Trophy last month. Butterfly specialist Federico Burdisso was within half a second of his lifetime best with his 51.86 at April’s Italian Championships, but freestyle anchor Alessandro Miressi seemed a bit off form at the same meet with a 48.61, more than a second off his national record (47.45) from the 2021 European Championships. Nicolo Martinenghi earned a runner-up finish in the 100 breast at April’s Italian Championships (59.06) behind Federico Poggio (personal-best 58.73), but the 23-year-old national record holder will likely still take over relay duties with his lifetime best sitting at 58.26.

With the projected lineup of Ceccon, Martinenghi, Burdisso, and Miressi, the Italians’ season bests add up to only 3:32.39, which ranks sixth in the field. But there’s no reason to panic just yet given their recent track record, which includes a European record en route to last June’s world title (3:27.51) as well as a European title in August (3:28.46).

Since this race takes place on the last day of the meet, many of the lineup choices such as Martinenghi vs. Poggio will likely be decided by results from individual events earlier in the week. The U.S. faces a similarly difficult decision for its backstroke duties between Hunter Armstrong (season-best 52.33) and Ryan Murphy (52.39), who rank second and third in the world this season, respectively.

The Americans boast top-five performers in every stroke, with 30-year-old breaststroke specialist’s Nic Fink climbing to second in the world rankings at U.S. Trials last month with a personal-best 58.36. He’ll hand off to newcomer Dare Rose, a 20-year-old rising Cal senior, who became the sixth-fastest U.S. performer ever in the 100 fly at Trials with a 50.74. Entering the meet, his lifetime best was only 51.40. Ryan Held could assume his role as freestyle anchor again, with his season-best 47.63 from prelims at Trials ranking fifth in the world this season, but Trials winner Jack Alexy (47.75) is another solid option.

The Americans’ cumulative season bests add up to 3:29.06, a couple tenths behind China and the only other squad in the field under 3:30.

Australia will be hungry for a podium finish in this event after missing a medal last year by just half a second behind Great Britain. With the same quartet of Isaac Cooper, Zac Stubblety-Cook, Matthew Temple, and Kyle Chalmers, the Aussies are a solid bet to be even faster than last year’s fourth-place finish in 3:31.81. Cooper has already been almost a second faster than his 54.29 backstroke leadoff so far this season (53.46) while Stubblety-Cook logged a flat-start 100 breast in June (59.68) that was faster than his swinging split from Worlds (59.88). The experienced back half of Temple (51.35) and Chalmers (47.44) both have flat-start season bests that are about half a second away from their swinging splits at Worlds last year. Australia’s total of season-best flat starts (3:31.93) is only about a tenth of a second slower than its time at Worlds last year.

Great Britain won this event in 2019, took Olympic silver in Tokyo, and earned bronze last year in Budapest, but they feature a new lineup this year that could miss the podium without breaststroke specialist Adam Peaty. James Wilby (59.94 at April’s British Championships) is replacing Peaty for the second year in a row, and figures to be the only holdover from last year’s group. Oliver Morgan joins the squad on the backstroke leadoff instead of Luke Greenbank after going faster in the heats of British Champs (53.77) than Greenbank swam at Worlds last year (53.81). In the 100 fly, Jacob Peters (51.16) outdueled James Guy (51.63), who helped the Brits medal at the 2019 World Championships, Tokyo 2021 Olympics, and 2022 Worlds. Matthew Richards swam the fastest time at British Champs with a 47.72 in prelims before Lewis Burras (47.99) beat out Duncan Scott (48.00), Richards (48.02) and last year’s relay selection, Tom Dean (48.32), in the final.

France placed 5th behind the four aforementioned powerhouses at Worlds last year, but there’s reason to believe they could make a jump this year. Maxime Grousset has been elite as both a butterflier (50.61) and freestyler this season (47.62), Florent Manaudou has experienced a resurgence in the 100 free with a season-best 48.12, and Mewen Tomac own a top-10 this season in the 100 back (52.87). The question mark appears to be on the breaststroke leg as no Frenchman has been under a minute in the 100 breast so far this season, with Clement Bidard the closest at 1:00.65. They could try out versatile superstar Leon Marchand on the breast leg, but he doesn’t appear to have swam the event since the 2019 World Junior Championships (1:02.38). Marchand swam fly last year, registering a 51.50 split, which is also an option if the French opt for Grousset over Manaudou on the freestyle anchor.

Other Finals Contenders

Japan didn’t contest this event last year after placing 6th at the Tokyo Olympics, but they could be back with a vengeance this year.

The Japanese boast top-16 times in the world this season in each stroke. Ryosuke Irie (52.93 100 back, 10th this season), Ippei Watanabe (59.52 100 breast, 16th this season), Naoki Mizunuma (51.35 100 fly, 14th this season), and Katsuhiro Matsumoto (47.85 100 free, 11th this season) have the third-best cumulative season-best total (3:31.65) behind only the U.S. (3:29.06) and China (3:28.86).

Germany doesn’t have any big names on its team, but each stroke is solid. The quartet should be the same as last year’s 6th-place squad: Ole Braunschweig (season-best 53.47), Lucas Matzerath (59.09), Jan Eric Friese (51.72), Rafael Miroslaw (48.52).

Canada and Austria both have some electric butterfly specialists in Josh Liendo and Simon Bucher, but their lack of sub-1:00 breaststroke legs pose problems as they attempt to escape the morning heats. Javier Acevedo (season-best 53.83 100 back), James Dergousoff (1:00.89 100 breast), Ilya Kharun (51.45 100 fly, 19th this season), and Josh Liendo (47.86 100 free, 12th this season) have a cumulative total of 3:34.03 that is not improved by putting Blake Tierney on backstroke (54.49), Liendo’s world-leading 50.36 on butterfly, and Acevedo on free (48.50).

Austria, meanwhile, has cumulative season-best total of just 3:35.45 with their projected lineup of Bernhard Reitshammer (54.53), Valentin Bayer (1:01.03), Bucher (51.20, 11th this season), and Heiko Gigler (48.69). However, they could shave a second or two off that mark if Bayer can be closer to his 59.54 from last year’s European Championships.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Rank Country Cumulative Season Bests Entry Time
1 United States 3:29.06 3:27.79
2 Italy 3:32.39 3:27.51
3 China 3:28.86 3:31.61
4 Australia 3:31.93 3:31.81
5 Japan 3:31.65 3:34.17
6 France 3:32.25 3:32.37
7 Great Britain 3:32.59 3:31.31
8 Germany 3:32.80 3:32.63


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4 months ago

Canada is going Acevedo, Dergs, Liendo, Gaziev

4 months ago

I think the aussies will be on the podium here

Reply to  Swimguy94
4 months ago

They’ll be too far behind at halfway.

4 months ago

Think France could get bronze here

Reply to  PFA
4 months ago

If they’re able to mitigate the breastroke weakness and utilize both Grousset and Manaudou they very well could imo, but that’s a very big if

Reply to  CasualSwimmer
4 months ago

I think Marchand is gonna swim the breastroke leg in finals not sure why they wouldn’t let him if France does this they are more likely to medal

Reply to  CasualSwimmer
4 months ago

Given Marchand is a 2:06 in the 200 LCM, and the fastest relay swimmer in yards over the 50 and 100 BR, he should be at least a 58.5 on a relay.

For reference, ZSC has split 58.6.

Alison England
4 months ago


Reply to  Alison England
4 months ago

That’s brave. Italy looked great last year but they’re yet to show their best so far.

Reply to  Alison England
4 months ago

USA and who cares about second – last!

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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