2023 World Champs Preview: U.S. Winning Streak At Risk in Men’s 4×100 Free Relay

2023 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

BY THE NUMBERS: MEN’S 4×100 FREESTYLE RELAY

  • World Record: USA (Phelps, Weber-Gale, Jones, Lezak) – 3:08.24 (2008)
  • Championships Record: USA (Dressel, Pieroni, Apple, Adrian) – 3:09.06 (2019)
  • World Junior Record: USA (Magahey, Urlando, Chaney, Foster) – 3:15.80 (2019)
  • 2020 Olympic Champion: USA (Dressel, Pieroni, Becker, Apple) – 3:08.97
  • 2022 World Champion: USA (Dressel, Held, Ress, Curry) – 3:09.34

The last time the American men were without their biggest star at the World Championships, Michael Phelps watched from home as the U.S. missed the 4×100 freestyle final entirely in 2015. Since then, though, they haven’t lost the event at a major international long course meet (Olympics or World Championships), a winning streak surpassed only by Katie Ledecky’s historic run in the women’s 800 free dating back to 2013.

In the absence of a conditioned Caeleb Dressel, the Americans surprised many at U.S. Trials by still producing five swimmers who snuck under 48 seconds in the 100 free. They showed off impressive depth — only 20 swimmers in the world have achieved that feat this season — all but ensuring they will remain medal contenders this year in Fukuoka.

However, the question is whether the experience of returning world champion Ryan Held will be enough to lead the rookie quartet of Jack Alexy, Destin Lasco, Matt King, and Chris Guiliano past veterans from Great Britain, Australia, and Italy. Or will the Americans finally be dethroned in the men’s 4×100 free relay?

High British Ceiling

Great Britain may not have the best entry time or lowest cumulative total of season bests, but they check just about every other box: experience, depth, and recent momentum.

Not to mention added motivation — the Brits failed to qualify for the Olympic final two summers ago by just .04 seconds and missed the Worlds podium last year by .19 seconds. There’s reason to believe this could be their year, though.

The slowest member of the British relay last year, 20-year-old Matt Richards, is now the fastest this season with a winning time of 47.72 at the British Championships in April. Lewis Burras (47.99), Duncan Scott (48.00), and Tom Dean (48.32) have all appeared in form this season, but expect them to be even faster in Fukuoka. Dean anchored last year’s national record-breaking relay in 46.95.

Can Americans Perform Under Pressure?

A strange phenomenon occurred at U.S. Trials late last month where five of the top six finals finishers fired off lifetime bests in prelims, but four couldn’t replicate them during the evening session. Giuliano was the only one who lowered his personal best from prelims with a 47.98 in the final. The fastest time by an American this season came courtesy of Held in prelims (47.63), but he was just 48.08 in the final.

The five 47-point times from Alexy (47.75), Giuliano (47.98), King (47.93), Lasco (47.87), and Held (47.63) bode well for their chances of repeating even with at least three new faces in the lineup, but the regression from prelims and relative experience leave the U.S. more vulnerable than it has been in nearly a decade.

King Kyle & Co.

Kyle Chalmers was the fastest man in the field last year, blazing a 46.60 split to bring the Aussies back from fifth to second place on the anchor leg.

Don’t be surprised if Chalmers is once again roaring past the competition on the final leg. The question is whether his teammates can keep him within striking distance throughout the first three legs of the race.

18-year-old Flynn Southam placed second behind Chalmers (47.44) with a personal-best 47.77 at Aussie Trials. 24-year-old Jack Cartwright went 48.21 in prelims, his fastest time in years and another sign that this quartet should be even quicker than last year’s silver medal squad. 19-year-old Kai Taylor joins the team this year after clocking a 48.41 in April that he couldn’t quite beat at Aussie Trials (48.60).

Wild Card: Italy

On one hand, Italy should be a reliable pick in this showdown. The quartet of Alessandro Miressi, Thomas Ceccon, Lorenzo Zazzeri, and Manuel Frigo is back after claiming silver at the Tokyo Olympics (3:10.11) and bronze at Worlds last year (3:10.95). Their entry time of 3:10.50 from last year’s European Championships victory has them seeded 2nd behind the United States in the entry book, and they recently broke the world record in the SCM version of this event at Short Course Worlds last December.

On the other hand, the quickest Italian man so far this season is Miressi (48.37), with Ceccon (48.89), Zazzeri (49.21), and Frigo (48.97) not too close behind. Their cumulative total of flat-start season bests adds up to just one hundredth of a second faster than Israel’s (3:15.45 vs. 3:15.44).

Other Finals Contenders

China boasts the fastest man in the world this season — 18-year-old Pan Zhanle, whose 47.22 ranks as the 11th-fastest time in history — as the centerpiece of its squad. In fact, the top four Chinese performers in the event this season have all posted personal bests with Wang Haoyu’s 47.89, Chen Juner’s 48.53, and Wang Shun’s 48.81. Haoyu ranks 15th in the world this season. Historically, China has not had success in this event, missing the final by over a second last year, but that could change this year.

Hungary was only a tenth of a second away from bronze last year thanks in large part to Kristof Milak’s 46.89 anchor. But with Milak out of Worlds this year, Nandor Nemeth (season-best flat start 48.75, last year’s Worlds split 47.97) and Szebasztian Szabo (season-best flat start 48.95, last year’s Worlds split 47.37) must shoulder the load. They face a tall task leading Hungary back into the final among a crowded field, especially with Daniel Meszaros (season-best 49.18) and Richard Marton (season-best 50.00) rounding out the squad.

Canada is hoping that a bit of fresh blood will be enough to make the podium leap this year. Josh Liendo headlines a trio of returners, along with Javier Acevedo and Ruslan Gaziev. They’re joined by Liendo’s University of Florida teammate, newcomer Edouward Fullum-Hout, who replaces 27-year-old Yuri Kisil. Fullum-Hout owns a season-best time of 49.43, so he’s got some work to do to reach the 48.13 split that Kisil clocked last year.

The Brazilians have looked sharp this season, with eight swimmers under 49 seconds at the Brazil Trophy last month. University of Tennessee standout Gui Caribe went 48.11, though his season best still stands at 47.82 from last December. Marcelo Chierighini fired off a 47.86 in prelims before posting a 48.14 in the final. Victor Alcara (season-best 48.56) and Felipe Souza (48.70) will likely complete Brazil’s quartet, giving them a cumulative total of season bests that ranks fifth in the field.

The emergence of Maxime Grousset this season (47.62) alongside veteran Florent Manaudou (season-best 48.12) certainly makes France’s relay team a more formidable foe. But they’ll also need contributions from Guillaume Guth (48.90) and Max Berg (49.02) in order to truly contend in Fukuoka.

After making its first-ever Worlds relay final in the men’s 4×200 free relay last year, South Korea is aiming to carry that momentum over to the 4×100 free relay. Last year, they broke a national record in the heats (3:15.86), but didn’t make the final with a 12th-place finish. With Sunwoo Hwang (season-best 48.21) and Hojoon Lee (48.91) leading the way, the South Koreans should be even faster than last year, but it still might not be enough to make their first final in this event.

Israel returns all four members of their 9th-place relay team from last year that broke the national record in 3:15.35. Rising Indiana University senior Tomer Frankel appears ready to take another step forward as his personal-best 48.18 from last month is nearly a second faster than his leadoff leg from last year (49.08). He’s joined by Denis Loktev (season-best 48.54), Gal Cohen Groumi (49.28), and Meiron Amir Cheruti (49.45).

SwimSwam’s Picks

Rank Country Season Best Time (Cumulative) Entry Time
1 Great Britain 3:12.03 3:11.14
2 United States 3:11.29 3:09.34
3 Australia 3:11.83 3:10.80
4 Italy 3:15.44 3:10.50
5 China 3:12.45 3:15.39
6 Brazil 3:12.94 3:12.21
7 France 3:13.66 3:16.13
8 Canada 3:14.57 3:11.99

 

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Mike Denes
8 months ago
Christine Breedy
8 months ago

I see that you’ve forgotten Giuliano’s pic ‘in this story’—do NOT underestimate this young man based on lack of international experience!

Troyy
8 months ago

GB off the podium? Someone salty that SS picked them to win.

Sub13
8 months ago

Interesting numbers, but even with the inexperience of some US men this year, I can’t vet against them. So many times it’s been predicted that they’ll be taken down but they never are.

I predict USA win and very close between GB and Aus for second. But of course I would love to see a surprise. Despite some PBs, I don’t think Aus or GB showed their best at trials and they have strong potential to drop some time.

snailSpace
8 months ago

I hate how reliant our freestyle relays are on Milak.
Of note though, Boldizsar Magda produced a 48.37 rolling start split at Euro Juniors a few weeks ago, which is promising at least. Sucks that he didn’t qualify for Fukuoka.

Horninco
8 months ago

Australia/Italy/USA

Tom
8 months ago

Today, my father asked me to clean his car for him, and so I spent the whole morning doing it. 
After sometime, I went back inside, and my father asked me how was the car looking.
“Dressel,” I just replied.
He just smiled and nodded. He knew that it was washed.

Swimnerd
8 months ago

You gotta think Cam could go for the 100 off a relay swing for the AUS team. Probably looking at 47 low/47 mid with his speed and a jump

Sub13
Reply to  Swimnerd
8 months ago

A newspaper here reported that Kyle “convinced” Can to swim it and that he’s going to. But Australian media is notoriously terrible so who knows. Rohan Taylor said last week Can wasn’t swimming it.

Oceania
Reply to  Sub13
8 months ago

Kyle just needs to ‘convince’ the team selectors now…

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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