2023 World Champs Preview: With Olympic Berths in Play, Strategy is Key in Mixed Medley


By the Numbers – Mixed 4×100 Medley Relay

Since its first appearance at the 2015 World Championships, reception to the 4×100 mixed medley relay can be best described as varied. Opinions range from apathetic to referring to it as a gimmick or medal grab to being great competition. But regardless of one’s views, its inclusion in the Olympic program has validated it in the eyes of national swimming federations as entry to the event in Paris is solely based on placing at these World Championships or at the 2024 World Champs.

The 2022 meet saw Team USA become the first 2x champion in the event, as the first three editions were all won by different teams (Great Britain in 2015, the United States in 2017, and Australia in 2019).

The team of Hunter Armstrong, Nic Fink, Torri Huske, and Claire Curzan won gold in a time of 3:38.79, a time that was just off the American and Championship record time of 3:38.56 but more than a full second off of Great Britain’s world record of 3:37.58 from the Tokyo Olympics. They beat both the silver medalists, Australia, and the bronze medalists, the Netherlands, by over two seconds.

A Fistful of Champions

Torri Huske

courtesy of Fabio Cetti

The number three seems to carry some significance when it comes to this event. The US will be looking for its third gold, there were three major international swim meets last year, and all three were won by different teams. Coincidentally, the order of finish at the 2022 Worlds (the US, Australia, and the Netherlands) represented the subsequent winners at each meet. Australia would go on to win the gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and a few weeks later, the Netherlands would win gold at the 2023 European Championships.

The US appears to be in a great position to repeat its gold medal performance and qualify for Paris. SwimSwam looked at several possible relay combinations previously, so this section won’t go into great detail regarding them here, but the best line-up follows the M/M/F/F format that the team used last summer.

USA 2022 Lineup vs. 2023 Projected Lineup

Stroke 2022 Worlds 2022 Split 2023 Projected Line-up 2023 Season Best Lifetime Best (Flat Start)
Back Armstrong 52.14 Armstrong 52.33 51.98
Breast Fink 57.86 Fink 58.36 58.36
Fly  Huske 56.17  Huske 56.18 55.64
Free Curzan 52.62  Douglass 52.57 52.57
Total 3:38.79 3:39.44 3:38.55

Emma McKeon courtesy World Aquatics

Using their 2023 season-best times, the relay team of Armstrong, Fink, Huske, and Kate Douglass is less than three-quarters of a second away from last year’s time. If one were to conservatively average a half-a-second drop in reaction times for the last three legs (Fink’s reaction time in the relay last summer was .11, and his flat start at Trials this year in the 100 breast was .71), then this relay, if firing on all cylinders, could potentially see a time in the low 3:37 range meaning a new world record.

Australia and the Netherlands employed a F/M/M/F order in both of their swims last summer. Australia only exchanged Shayna Jack’s 52.92 from Worlds with Emma McKeon’s 51.88 at the Commonwealth, and the Netherlands swam the same quartet at both meets.

Despite McKeon’s split being more than a second faster than Jack’s, the Aussie team only improved their time by .04 seconds as the first three legs added time. The Dutch added time from Worlds to Europeans, with breaststroker Arno Kamminga adding a few tenths of a second.

Comparison of Australia vs. the Netherlands at 2022 Championships Meets

AUS Worlds AUS Commonwealths Best Times Flat Starts Stroke NED Worlds NED Euros Best Times Flat Starts
McKeown, 58.66 McKeown, 59.01 McKeown, 57.45 Bk Toussaint, 59.72 Toussaint, 59.49 Toussaint, 58.65
Stubblety-Cook, 58.92 Stubblety-Cook, 59.52 Stubblety-Cook, 59.51 Br Kamminga, 58.28 Kamminga, 59.19 Kamminga, 57.80
Temple, 50.84 Temple, 50.89 Temple, 50.45 Fl Korstanje, 50.99 Korstanje, 50.72 Korstanje, 51.41
Jack, 52.92 McKeon, 51.88 McKeon, 51.96 Fr Steenbergen, 52.55 Steenbergen, 52.33 Steenbergen, 52.98
3:41.34 3:41.30 3:39.37 Cum. Time 3:41.54 3:41.73 3:40.84

If we take the fastest splits from each meet, the Australians would have a time of 3:40.30, and the Dutch would have a time of 3:40.82, both of which are faster but not enough to catch the Americans. However, both teams have room for improvement. Kammiga’s personal best in the 100 breast is 57.80, and McKeown has already swam 57.5 in the backstroke this season. If the Australian can all hit good form, the United States could be in jeopardy.

Three 2022 Meets Outside of British Trials

Looking at the past, the British must have felt elated to emerge victorious from the 2020 Summer Olympics and take home the world record in this event. The squad of Kathleen Dawson, Adam Peaty, James Guy, and Anna Hopkin set a new benchmark time of 3:37.58, winning by over a second, yet injuries and poor form have plagued them since. Dawson has been dealing with back injuries and missed the 2022 championship season. Peaty has been dealing with mental health issues and only swam at the Commonwealth Games.

The only nation to swim at all three of the major competitions last summer was Great Britain. At the 2022 Worlds, Guy’s fly split was nearly a full second slower than his split in Tokyo, and the team used Freya Anderson instead of Hopkin. The team ultimately placed 4th in a time of 3:41.65, utilizing Medi Harris and James Wilby on the front half.

At Commonwealths, England swam 3:44.03 with Lauren Cox swimming the backstroke as Harris is Welsh, and at the last of their championships in Rome, back as one team, Harris, Wilby, Jacob Peters, and Hopkin finished 3rd in a time of 3:44.69.

With the three championship meets and the way in which the United Kingdom is broken into its constituent nations for Commonwealths, it is hard to see who was on form for what meet. Employing the same F/M/M/F order appears to be best for Team GB. Using times from the British Trials, the team of Harris, Wilby, Peters, and Anderson is nearly a full second faster than if the team was Oliver Morgan, Wilby, Keanna MacInnes, and Anderson.

Comparing the British Swims at the 2022 Championship Meets and 2023 Trials

Stroke 2022 Worlds 2022 Commonwealths 2022 Euros 2023 Trials 
Bk Harris – 59.51 Harris (Wales) – 59.48 Harris – 1:00.20 Harris – 59.82
Br Wilby – 58.49 Wilby (England) – 58.94 Wilby – 59.31 Wilby – 59.94
Fl Guy – 50.95 Guy (England) – 51.19 Peters – 51.84 Peters –  51.16 Guy – 51.63
Fr Anderson – 52.70 Anderson (England) – 53.09 Hopkin – 53.34 Anderson – 53.48 Hopkin – 53.52
3:41.65 3:42.70 3:44.69 3:44.40

Harris and Peters’ times from the 2023 British trials show that they are in good form; both are close to or better than they were last summer. Wilby, Guy, and Anderson have been a little off, but with the nature of British selection procedures, they may not have had to fully taper to make the team. While certainly in contention to medal, as their time from last year’s Worlds was just .11 outside of bronze, all four will need to drop time to contest with the Australians or the United States.

Just a Few Seconds More

Finishing 5th-8th last summer were the teams of Italy, China, Japan, and Germany. Italy and China, in particular, must have been disappointed in the results, as China finished 2nd at the Olympics in a time that was nearly five seconds faster, and Italy finished 4th at the Olympics in a time that was more than two seconds faster. Japan and Germany, which didn’t final in Tokyo, ended up swimming slower than their 9th- and 10th-place times from the Olympics.

Italy and China used the M/M/F/F alignment, while both Japan and Germany used the oft-maligned female breaststroker. Japan went M/F/M/F, while Germany went M/F/F/M, most likely due to roster constraints. Of these four, Italy and China seem to be the teams most likely to improve upon last year.

Comparison of Italy vs. China at 2022 Worlds and Their Best Flat Start Times

Italy 2022 Worlds Italy: Best Flat Start Stroke China 2022 Worlds China: Best Flat Start
Ceccon – 52.26 Ceccon – 51.60 Back Xu – 52.90 Xu – 51.86
Martinenghi – 57.93 Martinenghi – 58.26 Breast Yan – 59.25 Qin – 57.93
Di Liddo – 57.72 Bianchi – 57.22 Fly Zhang, Y – 57.74 Zhang, Y – 55.62
Di Pietro – 53.76 Morini – 54.21 Free Cheng, Y – 53.66 Cheng, Y – 53.26
3:41.67 3:41.29 Total 3:43.55 3:38.67
xu 100 FINALE

Jiayu Xu (photo: Mike Lewis)

If Thomas Ceccon can be close to replicating his WR time, the Italians will immediately do better. Nicolo Martinenghi set his personal best of 58.26 at Worlds last summer, and Sofia Morini‘s 54.21 was set at the Sette Colli this summer. Italy’s big question will be Ilaria Bianchi, whose personal best dates back to 2018 and has a season-best of 58.45.

The Chinese squad just needs consistency. Xu Jiayu’s 100 back time in the relay (52.90) was much faster than his individual swim (53.49) but still off his best by more than a second. Qin Haiyang, Zhang Yufei, and Cheng Yujie have all swum faster this season than their stroke’s respective splits from 2022, so if they can swim similar times, China could easily contest for the gold medal.

Japan, too, could make the final should they all hit their peaks simultaneously. While a medal threat in the 200 breast, Ippei Watanabe does not have the speed in the 100, while compatriot Reona Aoki comes in as the 3rd seed in the women’s 100 breast. Subbing in Rikako Ikee for Rika Omoto in the freestyle could make the Japanese more competitive than last year, but Ikee already has four individual events and may not want to overload her schedule.

The Breaststroke Candidate

One team that could jump into the mix is Canada — that is, if they can find a breaststroker. Canada finished 11th last year at Worlds going M/F/F/M with a time of 3:48.39. However, some key substitutions (and swimming F/M/F/M) saw the team swim 3:43.98 at the Commonwealth Games to earn silver.

James Dergousoff Photo Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

Canada’s glaring weakness for both genders is the breaststroke. Sophie Angus won the Canadian Trials in 1:07.68, and James Dergousoff won the men’s 100 in 1:00.89, and while both times were close to their personal bests, they will not be competitive on the world stage. Canada, however, has multiple medal contenders across the fly, free, and women’s back and will look to rely on them.

The team will most likely use the F/M/F/M order again, utilizing their star sprinters Maggie MacNeil and Josh Liendo, most likely in that order for the fly and free legs. If Taylor Ruck is in good form, she could be used in the free with Liendo sliding to fly. Canada could also opt to use Javier Acevedo or Ruslan Gaziev (who anchored the Commonwealth relay in 47.80) on the free and keep MacNeil on the fly. Regardless of the order, Canada needs to field a strong prelim squad to get a chance to utilize their stars in the final.

The Facts, The Math, and The Truth

The mixed medley relay falls on the fourth day of competition. The fourth evening is relatively busy with the semis of men’s 100 free, the finals of the 50 breast, the semis of the 200 IM, and the finals of the 800 free and 200 fly. On the women’s side, also scheduled are the finals of the 200 free and the semis of the 50 back and 200 fly.

Moreso, for the men, there is a lot of overlap. Male breaststrokers have the 50 at night, and with 16 men swimming in the semifinals of the 100, it would be a safe bet that most teams move away from male freestylers, especially in prelims.

As it occurs in the middle of the schedule, it is possible that some of the swimmers may have already competed in several events, while for others this relay could be their first.

Order is vital in this relay. As the numbers show, calculating the difference that a male can make up against a female in the butterfly vs. trying to rest your best stars leads to some complicated decisions. With only three spots available for Paris at this World Championships, look to see many teams go after this relay. After all, if one falls short here, there is only one chance remaining — a chance that is only a DQ away from evaporating into nothing.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Rank Team Place at 2022 Worlds Entry Times
1 USA 1st 3:38.79
2 China 6th 3:43.55
3 Australia 2nd 3:41.30
4 Netherlands 3rd 3:41.54
5 Great Britain 4th 3:41.65
6 Italy 5th 3:41.67
7 Canada 11th 3:43.98
8 Japan 7th 3:45.08

Dark Horse: France – The 12th seed this year, France entered with their time of 3:46.77 from their 6th place finish at the 2022 European Championships. As a combined team, the French have no entrants in the 50 or 100 breaststrokes. They could use Clément Bidard, who is listed as relay only, or Charlotte Bonnet, who owns the 100 national record but is not swimming it at this meet. Using their season-best times, it appears that the best order for the French would actually be M/M/F/F, not the F/M/M/F used at the European Champs. Mewen Tomac was .01 off his personal best in the 100 back at French Nationals, Marie Wattel’s 57.34 in the 100 fly is her fastest outside of an end-of-season championship meet, and Beryl Gastaldellos 53.6 from March is only .20 off her personal best. With Bidard, their cumulative in-season time would be 3:44.46. However, swapping in Pauline Mahieu for the back and Maxime Grousset for the fly yields a time that is only .06 slower, and using a line-up of Tomac, Bonnet, Grousset, and Gastaldello is only .16 slower than the original. The French will need to balance the needs of their individual swimmers with the need to swim fast in prelims to have a chance to make the finals.

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4 months ago

If you think mixed relays are a good thing, you must also think it would be a good idea for FIFA to have a mixed World Cup. The men could play the first half and the women the second. Or vice-versa. Or each team could decide who goes first. Or they could have the option of fielding 6 men/5 women in one half and 6 women/5 men in the other half. Imagine how much “fun” it would be! Imagine the “strategy” involved! Enough said. Mixed events are plain dumb and ridiculous!

4 months ago

I wish this article was longer, plus more facts and stats used. Need a deeper dive on this.

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
4 months ago

I pick China to upset USA

4 months ago

According the Swedish television Sjostrom is more likely to do mixed medley than mixed freestyle…

Reply to  Splash
4 months ago

Does Sweden even have a male breaststroker?

Reply to  Mark Wild
4 months ago

Oh I just meant in reference to the free mixed relay article where if Sjostrom swims they might final, but it looks like she will just do mixed med.

4 months ago

Not a fan. Fine for domestic competition, disagree it should exist at world & Olympic level. More medals for the power nations. & if you don’t have a male breaststroker your stuffed. & some nations don’t take it seriously which makes a mockery of the event

Reply to  felix
4 months ago

Everyone takes it seriously now it’s an Olympic event.

Reply to  felix
4 months ago

maybe those nations should take it more seriously to compete for a medal?

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  felix
4 months ago

You’re confusing mixed medley for mixed free

Mixed medley is Olympics event, Mixed free is not.

All top swimming countries take mixed medley seriously.

4 months ago

guys i just ordered my pea cock subscription for 5$ a month!

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  Chris
4 months ago


4 months ago

Last year’s results and this year’s predictions really display how much Peaty carries GBR relays. Their other swimmers are good but it was AP that made them great in Tokyo.

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  saltie
4 months ago


4 months ago

Dougie could do fly or free.

Reply to  Chris
4 months ago

Why would they put her on fly when they have two faster fly legs?