2023 World Champs Previews: U.S. Powerhouse Has WR In Sights In Women’s 400 Medley Relay



  • World Record: United States — 3:50.40 (2019)
  • Championship Record: United States — 3:50.40 (2019)
  • 2022 World Champion: United States — 3:53.78

The United States has won three consecutive world titles in the women’s 400 medley relay, and appear well on their way to a four-peat in Fukuoka.

Australia did upend the Americans at the Tokyo Olympics, but without a top-tier breaststroker, and the U.S. having the reigning world champion on back and fly, not to mention the world record holder on breast, it will be an uphill battle for the Aussies.


Regan Smith‘s emergence at the 2019 World Championships played a significant role in the United States absolutely decimating the field in the medley relay, as Smith broke the 100 back world record on the lead-off and Lilly KingKelsi Dahlia and Simone Manuel followed as they shattered the world record in 3:50.40 and won gold by more than three seconds.

The Americans fielded a very strong lineup en route to winning the crown last year, but were a staggering 3.38 seconds slower than that 2019 squad. Taking down that record is a tall task, but if everything aligns, the U.S. has a chance.

Smith has been on unbelievable form this year, producing numerous sub-58 swims in the 100 back, including a 57.71 that ranks second all-time in her career behind her 57.57 from 2019.

King has really hit her stride after a so-so 2022, leading the seasonal world rankings in 1:04.75, more than a second faster than she split on last year’s relay.

Defending 100 fly world champion Torri Huske was also off form on the 2022 relay (56.89) based on her individual performance (55.64), and she’s already been much faster in 2023 at 56.18.

The freestyle leg has generally been where the U.S. has clearly been weaker than Australia, but the difference may be negligible this year given the performance of Kate Douglass at U.S. Nationals, as she fired off a time of 52.57 to top veteran Abbey Weitzeil (53.11), who also broke 53 in the prelims.

World Record Splits (2019 Worlds) 2023 U.S. Nationals Flat Start
Regan Smith – 57.57 Regan Smith – 57.71
Lilly King – 1:04.81 Lilly King – 1:04.75
Kelsi Dahlia – 56.16 Torri Huske – 56.18
Simone Manuel – 51.86 Kate Douglass – 52.57
3:50.40 3:51.21

Theoretically, if Smith and King simply match their times from Nationals (giving King some leeway as she’ll have a takeover at Worlds), and Huske is able to match her flat start PB of 55.64 (again with the benefit of a takeover), Douglass would need to split 52.29 in order for the Americans to snag the world record.


As we dove into last month, Australia has an interesting situation on their hands as their top backstroker, world record holder Kaylee McKeown, is also their fastest breaststroker this year.

With Jenna Strauch (knee injury) and Chelsea Hodges (hip surgery) absent from the Australian Trials, Abbey Harkin won the 100 breast in 1:07.20, slower than McKeown’s best time of 1:06.86 from February.

Australia could move some pieces around in order to have McKeown swim breast, such as slotting Mollie O’Callaghan onto the backstroke leg and shifting Shayna Jack to free, but their fastest lineup figures to be sticking with Harkin.

Split Comparison

Using flat start times from Australian Trials, other than McKeown’s breast time

McKeown on BK McKeown on BR
Kaylee McKeown – 57.50 Mollie O’Callaghan – 58.42
Abbey Harkin – 1:07.20 Kaylee McKeown – 1:06.86
Emma McKeon – 56.74 Emma McKeon – 56.74
Mollie O’Callaghan – 52.48 Shayna Jack – 52.64
3:53.92 3:54.66

A poor 100 breast from Harkin, or a standout 100 back from O’Callaghan could sway things, but right now the optimal lineup is to use McKeown on back.

In the race for the title, even if the Aussies are faster than the U.S. on back, fly and free, the breaststroke deficit is likely too much.


Canada has won bronze at each of the last two World Championships and the Tokyo Olympics, and although they are missing some key members of their free relays from past years, that shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the medley.

Ingrid Wilm has been faster than Kylie Masse in the 100 back this year. Photo: Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

With the backstroke/butterfly duo of Kylie Masse or Ingrid Wilm and Maggie MacNeil in attendance, they’ll certainly have a chance to reach the podium, and while they don’t have Penny Oleksiak to serve anchor duties, Summer McIntosh should be able to take over that role if needed (she split 53.33 at the Commonwealth Games) and they also have Taylor Ruck on the team.

Breaststroke has always been Canada’s Achilles’ heel, and that will be the case again this year, though they did win bronze with a 1:07+ split last year and might not give up much ground to Australia this time around.

Sophie Angus was the only woman to break 1:08 at the Canadian Trials in 1:07.47 (1:07.68 in the final). This will be her chance to get redemption for last year, when a lackluster prelim swim in the 100 breast (1:08.76) saw her left off the medley relay entirely in Budapest.

Finishing fourth last year was Sweden, who finished in 3:55.96 and then won the European title two months later in 3:55.25.

The Swedes have Hanna Rosvall (1:00.63), Sophie Hansson (1:05.99), Louise Hansson (57.00) and Sarah Sjostrom (52.99) having all put up strong times this year, putting them ahead of Canada based on season-best add-ups.

Split Comparison: CAN vs SWE (2022-23 Season-Bests)

Canada Sweden
Ingrid Wilm – 58.80 Hanna Rosvall – 1:00.63
Sophie Angus – 1:07.47 Sophie Hansson – 1:05.99
Maggie MacNeil – 56.54 Louise Hansson – 57.00
Summer McIntosh – 54.39 Sarah Sjostrom – 52.99
3:57.20 3:56.61

Given McIntosh’s free time comes from a Pro Swim Series meet, Canada’s add-up is a bit conservative. She can probably split sub-53 at this point, but Sjostrom was also nearly sub-52 (52.04) at Euros last year.

China could also shake things up and earn a medal, with a very strong team forming with Wang Xueer (58.99), Tang Qianting (1:05.97), Zhang Yufei (56.48) and Cheng Yujie (53.26).

From the times listed above, the only one that doesn’t come from this year is Tang’s breaststroke split, which is from 2022 (she doesn’t appear to have an official time this year). Those times give China a 3:54.70 add-up, which pushes them ahead of Canada and Sweden.

France and the Netherlands are two other nations that should be expected to be in the final.

Pauline Mahieu, Charlotte BonnetMarie Wattel and Beryl Gastaldello combined to win silver at Euros in a French Record time of 3:56.36, and all four will be back in Fukuoka, putting France firmly in the hunt.

The Dutch team is firing with the emergence of breaststroker Tes Schouten, one of the world’s fastest this year at 1:05.71, and Marrit Steenbergen split a blistering 52.23 last year on the anchor leg at Euros. Kira Toussaint and Maaike de Waard round out the team. This quartet went 3:57.01 at Euros last year with Schouten splitting 1:06.7.

Italy was seventh last year, but are missing a few key pieces this year.

The British team is shaping up with Lauren Cox (59.79), Kara Hanlon (1:06.36), Keanna MacInnes (57.97) and Freya Anderson (53.48) giving them a season-best add-up of 3:57.6, much quicker than they went at the European Championships (4:00.05).


Place Nation Entry Time 2022 Worlds Finish
1 USA 3:53.78 1
2 Australia 3:54.25 2
3 China 3:57.73 6
4 Canada 3:55.01 3
5 Sweden 3:55.25 4
6 Netherlands 3:57.01 5
7 France 3:56.36 8
8 Great Britain 3:59.44 DQ

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4 months ago

You would think USA would not do anything risky with changes as they should be very comfortable favourites. Why chance it when you don’t need to?

4 months ago

Split predictions for the US

Smith 57.3 (People are underestimating her form this year from ASU training)
King 1:04.5
Huske 55.7
Douglass 51.8 (I think everyone is underestimating her too, I doubt she was fully tapered for Nats)

3:48.3 if my calculations are correct.
Definitely an optimistic prediction but with relay swings and good swims all of those splits are possible.
I’m not sure how Huske will do but I’m pretty sure Smith and Douglass will blow expectations out of the water at this meet.

4 months ago


4 months ago

Rooting for Sweden. They have come 4th and 5th countless times in medley and free relays and this is their chance against a weaker Canada

Reply to  Splash
4 months ago

I thought they’d put Sjostrom on fly but I assume then they don’t have a freestyler. I’d love for them to get bronze so much.

Reply to  Joel
4 months ago

They have Michelle Coleman put her 100 hasn’t been close to her 50 speed this year (24.43/54.26). Hard to justify taking Hansson off fly unless she does the backstroke but either Rosvall or Coleman can fill that spot…

4 months ago

This is one of the clearest races of the meet. No question USA will win. I almost want to say there’s not even a question that they will WR because they so clearly should based on their times.

Reply to  Sub13
4 months ago

I never expect WRa since they’re vaunted and nobody should be set up for disappointment…that being said yea lol I’d be surprised if it didn’t go down.

4 months ago

There such an enormous gulf between the American and Australian breast leg this year that the Americans would have to DQ to lose.

Reply to  Troyy
4 months ago

It’s possible Australia is faster on 3/4 legs and still loses by over 2 seconds

Reply to  Sub13
4 months ago

Yeah but I can also see the backstroke legs be really close.

Reply to  Lisa
4 months ago

but not the other legs?

Reply to  jeff
4 months ago

Sure maybe and the other is probably freestyle and we’ll see how Douglass gonna do when she’s on the anchor cause it will be her first time on long course since she did short course last year.

4 months ago

The question will be for the USA will be whether to go with the hot hand in the women’s breaststroke and women’s butterfly or go with the experience.

Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
4 months ago

Whoever has the fastest time in the individual goes. Simple as that.

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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