2023 World Champs Previews: Americans, Brits Set For Epic Clash In Men’s 4×200 FR



  • World Record: United States — 6:58.55 (2009)
  • Championship Record: United States — 6:58.55 (2009)
  • 2022 World Champion: United States — 7:00.24

After the U.S. went on a dominant run in the men’s 4×200 freestyle relay, winning five consecutive world titles from 2005 to 2013 while also capturing Olympic gold in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Great Britain has largely taken over as the team to beat in the event.

The Brits stormed to gold in 2015, and while Michael Phelps returned in 2016 to help keep the American streak alive at the Olympics, GBR defended the world title in 2017 and most importantly, won a dominant Olympic title in 2021.

But Australia also got its moment atop the podium at the 2019 World Championships, winning gold in a razor-thin final that saw the top five teams separated by just 1.19 seconds, and then last summer, the Americans returned to the top of the heap in a definitive manner, claiming the first U.S. world title in nine years.

Drew KiblerCarson FosterTrenton Julian and Kieran Smith combined for a time of 7:00.24, beating runner-up Australia by more than three seconds with four splits between 1:44.3 and 1:45.5.

And after we saw five different Americans clock 1:45-point at Nationals last month, we’re seemingly in store for a very similar performance from the U.S. foursome.


Smith has become the most reliable member for the U.S. on this relay over the last two years. Despite the team shockingly missing the podium at the Tokyo Olympics, Smith led off in what remains his lifetime best of 1:44.74, which made him just the third American sub-1:45, joining Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

Last year, Smith stamped the U.S. authority on the race when he anchored in 1:44.35, the second-fastest split in the field, and he also led them off en route to a dominant, world record-setting victory at Short Course Worlds in December.

Smith qualified to swim the individual 200 free at the World Championships once again at U.S. Nationals, but after winning the title at the 2021 and 2022 Trials, he was the runner-up this time.

Emerging as the country’s best 200 freestyler (so far) this year was Luke Hobson, who has shown signs this type of performance was coming after he fell to a distant eighth at the 2022 selection meet. Hobson went 1:46.14 at the 2022 Summer Nationals, but the biggest development we saw was his performance at the NCAA Championships, where he joined the elusive sub-1:30 club in the 200-yard free (1:29.63) while winning the individual title.

Hobson clocked 1:45.12 in the prelims at Nationals before backing it up with a 1:45.18 showing in the final, and really seems to have this race dialed in, having accomplished the rare feat of keeping all of his 50 splits sub-27 at night.

Smith was second in 1:45.63, and Kibler rounded out the top three in 1:45.75. Foster scratched the final but went 1:45.64 in the prelims, and fourth-place finisher Jake Mitchell (1:46.25) joined the sub-1:46 club in the prelims (1:45.82). (Kibler was also slightly quicker in the prelims.)

Strictly using flat start times from Nationals, the American add-up is less than two seconds shy of their World Championship-winning time, and well clear of what Australia went for silver in Budapest (7:03.50).

Split Comparison – 2022 Worlds vs 2023 Nationals

USA, 2022 Worlds Final USA, 2023 Nationals Flat Starts
Drew Kibler – 1:45.54 Luke Hobson – 1:45.12
Carson Foster – 1:45.04 Kieran Smith – 1:45.63
Trenton Julian – 1:45.31 Carson Foster – 1:45.64
Kieran Smith – 1:44.35 Drew Kibler – 1:45.67
7:00.24 7:02.06

If the lineup in finals ends up featuring Hobson, Foster and Kibler, it will give the U.S. a squad made up of three Texas Longhorns, which checks out given the dominance they’ve had in the 800 free relay in the NCAA in recent years.


James Guy, Matthew Richards, Tom Dean –  Great Britain (photo: Jack Spitser)

Without Duncan Scott, Great Britain was well off the pace at Worlds last year, though Tom Dean salvaged the bronze medal with a scintillating 1:43.53 anchor leg.

The U.S. is looking good entering Fukuoka, but it’s hard to dispute the fact that, at least on paper, the Brits look better.

In April, Matt Richards (1:44.83) and Dean (1:44.93) both went sub-1:45 at the British Championships, and James Guy unleashed his fastest flat start in six years to place third (1:45.85).

Scott, the Olympic silver medalist in the 200 free (behind Dean) in 2021, was back in fourth at 1:45.90. When Duncan Scott is your fourth-best 200 freestyler, you’re in good shape.

Split Comparison – USA vs GBR

USA, 2023 Nationals Flat Starts GBR, 2023 Nationals Flat Starts
Luke Hobson – 1:45.12 Matt Richards – 1:44.83
Kieran Smith – 1:45.63 Tom Dean – 1:44.93
Carson Foster – 1:45.64 James Guy – 1:45.85
Drew Kibler – 1:45.67 Duncan Scott – 1:45.90
7:02.06 7:01.51

Similar to Dean, Scott and Guy have both shown an ability to step up and perform on relays, with both having split 1:43 in the past. Given that history, and the fact that Great Britain already have the edge over the Americans in terms of flat start times from their respective national meets, it might be the Brits’ time to reclaim the crown.


After an upset win (of sorts) at the 2019 World Championships, Australia has been in the podium picture of this relay at the last two major meets, but hasn’t been within three seconds of gold.

Elijah Winnington, 2022 FINA Swimming Championship, Budapest, 2022 courtesy of Delly Carr, Swimming Australia

Elijah Winnington. Photo: Delly Carr, Swimming Australia

That could very well be the case again this year, as the top-four swimmers from the Australian Championships have an add-up of 7:06.60, a far cry from the projections for the U.S. and Great Britain.

Kai Taylor broke through to win the national title in 1:46.25, and he was followed by Alexander Graham (1:46.68), Thomas Neill (1:46.82) and Elijah Winnington (1:46.85).

However, the Aussies do have the capability of being quite a bit faster. Burgeoning star Flynn Southam is the quickest Australian this year at 1:46.24, and Graham (1:45.22), Winnington (1:45.55) and Neill (1:45.70) own sub-1:46 best times (Neill also split 1:44.74 on the relay in Tokyo).

There’s also the possibility Kyle Chalmers steps in for the relay final, which seems likely after he raced the 200 free prelims at Australian Nationals in 1:46.97. He split 1:45.35 in Tokyo, and was only off the team last year due to him only deciding to enter the competition at all relatively last-minute.

Chalmers also didn’t race the event at the Commonwealth Games amidst a heavy schedule, though Winnington, Southam, Zac Incerti and Mack Horton still stormed to gold in 7:04.96, all splitting in the 1:46s.

Whether they use Chalmers or not, Australia seems firmly entrenched in the bronze medal position, though there are a few other nations putting that at risk.


Last year it was the Brazilians challenging Australia for the third step on the podium, but this year the biggest outside medal contenders appear to be China and South Korea.

The Chinese men have five swimmers 1:46.77 or faster this year, led by rising teenage star Pan Zhanle, who put Sun Yang‘s Asian Record on notice when he clocked 1:44.65 in May.

Reigning 200 IM Olympic champion Wang Shun is the second-fastest Chinese swimmer this year 1:45.71, and with two more 1:46.6 swimmers in the mix, they all of a sudden are venturing into 7:03 territory and challenging Australia.

Hwang Sunwoo. Photo: Fabio Cetti

Perhaps the most intriguing team outside of the top three is South Korea. Last year, they finished sixth at the World Championships in a National Record of 7:06.93, using the same four swimmers that went 7:15.03 to take 13th at the Olympics.

Hwang Sunwoo is the fastest swimmer in the world this year (1:44.61) and the odds-on favorite for silver in the 200 free individually behind David Popovici, and he’s got Lee Ho-Joon (1:45.70) and Kim Woomin (1:46.10) backing him up. Lee Yoo-Yeon, who was on the relay the last two years, won’t be at Worlds, so it will be Yang Jaehoon stepping in as the fourth leg. Yang anchored in 1:43.73 at SC Worlds where South Korea took fourth, and there’s a chance he’s diving in fourth in Fukuoka with the South Koreans in medal position.

The only other nation with two swimmers sub-1:46 this year is Germany, with Lukas Martens and Rafael Miroslaw both in the 1:45-high range. They don’t appear to have the depth to field a strong foursome, however.

The Brazilians were fourth last year in 7:04.69, but their form is a bit of a question mark with Fernando Scheffer (1:46.28) their only swimmer under 1:47 in 2023. On top of that, Murilo Sartori is the only other returner from the Budapest lineup in Fukuoka, so they may not even make the final.

The French team is intriguing, with Leon MarchandHadrien Salvan and Roman Fuchs having raced the final last year and placed seventh, and Wissam-Amazigh Yebba should be able to step in for a solid fourth leg.

Hungary, the reigning European champion, won’t be as impactful as expected due to the absence of Kristof Milak, though they could still sneak into the final.

Japan is another nation that has been a player in this race several times, but outside of Katsuhiro Matsumoto, they’re severely lacking in the 200 free.

Israel is flying under the radar but have two 1:46s this year, and we also can’t overlook Italy. Their fastest swimmer this year is sprinter Thomas Ceccon at 1:46.52, but they’ve got three more men who are 1:47.13 or faster.

Italy won silver at Euros last year in 7:06.25, and not too far behind in fourth was another country flying under the radar, Switzerland, who don’t have a massive roster headed to Fukuoka but will be bringing all four swimmers who combined to go 7:08.26 last year in Rome.


Place Nation Entry Time 2022 Worlds Finish
1 Great Britain 7:04.00 2
2 USA 7:00.24 1
3 Australia 7:03.50 3
4 China 7:09.53 8
5 South Korea 7:06.93 6
6 France 7:06.97 7
7 Italy 7:06.25 9
8 Switzerland 7:08.26

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4 months ago

I cant see usa win this
More probably:

Richards 1:44.9
Guy 1:44.9
Scott 1:44.2
Dean 1:43.6

Kibler 1:45.3
Foster 1:44.8
Hobson 1:44.7
Smith 1:44.1

Claire Curzan Fan
4 months ago

I aspire to attain your level of delusion

4 months ago

I think King Kyle would definitely swim this event. He is much more motivated this year than he was last year when he seriously considered quitting the sport.

Last edited 4 months ago by Oceanian
4 months ago

Tejas does not lose 4 x 2, not while Eddie is roaming along pool banks. USA for the win.

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

Tejas lost 4×200 in 2019 Worlds and 2020 Olympics.

Eddie was not dead in 2019 and 2020.


Not enough Texas swimmers then. 3/4 Longhorns will power the relay to victory over 4/4 Brits.


4 months ago

If Scott is back splitting 1:44 or faster it’s gameover for the Brits. I must say I find the Aussie men’s 4×2 quite unimpressive this year but still hoping they can salvage it with a bit more rest and the inclusion of Chalmers at Worlds. On paper the Chinese beat them comfortably and Wang Haoyu looks primed to break out in the 200 but they might have other priorities.

4 months ago

China and Korea both have faster add ups than Australia. Could definitely see either of them on the podium.

I do expect Australia to perform significantly better than the season bests so far, with multiple guys on the team capable of much more, but no guarantees.

4 months ago

On potential GB are big favorites, but this will likely be a very close race

4 months ago

There’s a wide consensus on how this relay will pan out. If Scott returns to something close to his best, GBR will not only win, but probably break the WR. The USA are very solid and have more depth but are likely to fall short as they lack a bit of star power. I expect Australia to drop quite a bit of time. Their trials were weird. It was won by Taylor in a low 1.46 who only made the final because Chalmers(yet again) scratched. All the other guys who made the relay team swam on average about one and half seconds off their PB’s. That’s why I think they’ll make a big time drop but probably not enough to… Read more »

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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