2023 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
- July 23 – 30, 2023 (pool swimming)
- Fukuoka, Japan
- Marine Messe Fukuoka
- LCM (50m)
- Meet Central
- SwimSwam Preview Index
- Entry Book
BY THE NUMBERS — MEN’S 4×200 FREE RELAY
- 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.
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.
THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS
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|
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.
GREAT BRITAIN – CAN THEY RECLAIM THE TITLE?
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.
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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Marchand, Hadrien 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|