arena Swim of the Week: Italian Men Rise To The Occasion In 400 Medley Relay

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Disclaimer: Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Swim of the Week is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.

History tells us it takes something special to beat the American men in the 400 medley relay.

The U.S. is undefeated in the event at the Olympics, and coming into the 2022 World Championships, their only losses at Worlds that weren’t the result of a disqualification (something that’s incredibly happened three times at the last 10 Worlds prior to Budapest) came in 1998 and 2019.

Three years ago in Gwangju, it was the perfect storm for Great Britain to orchestrate an upset, as not only did they have their ace in the hole, Adam Peaty, make up nearly a second and a half on the U.S. on the breaststroke leg, but the Brits also had Duncan Scott unload the second-fastest relay split in history (46.14) to run down the Americans and win gold.

Great Britain wouldn’t have Peaty or Scott to use in Budapest, and it appeared as though the U.S. would sail to another victory in the medley relay.

However, a glimmer of hope appeared for some of the other contenders when the American’s top swimmer, Caeleb Dressel, was forced to withdraw from the competition a few days in. Dressel had out-split everyone in the field at the Tokyo Games on the fly leg by well over a second, helping the U.S. break the world record in 3:26.78.

The Italians won bronze at the Games, well back of the Americans in 3:29.17, but the team was swimming well in Budapest. And if we look at the splits from Tokyo, Italy lost 2.04 seconds to the U.S. on fly, and finished 2.39 seconds behind them overall. That means that over back, breast and free, they were only 35 one-hundredths slower.

Still a tall order with Michael Andrew, a 50-point 100 flyer and fourth in the individual event, taking over Dressel’s spot, but there had to be a sense of belief within the Italian squad coming into the relay final.

Thomas Ceccon had broken the 100 back world record and won gold in that event earlier in the competition, Nicolo Martinenghi had claimed victory in the 100 breast, and Alessandro Miressi, though not at his best, made the final of the 100 free. On fly, Federico Burdisso was right on his PB to finish 10th overall.

In fact, coming into the relay final, Italy actually had the faster add-up time from flat-start swims done at the competition (using each swimmer’s fastest time regardless of round).

Italy USA
Thomas Ceccon – 51.60 Ryan Murphy – 51.97
Nicolo Martinenghi – 58.26 Nic Fink – 58.55
Federico Burdisso – 51.45 Michael Andrew – 51.11
Alessandro Miressi – 47.89 Ryan Held – 47.85*
3:29.20 3:29.48

*Time from leading off the mixed free relay since Held didn’t race individually

As it turned out, all four men stepped up in a big way, helping Italy claim its first-ever World Championship title in a relay.

Ceccon led off in 51.93, giving the Italians an early six-tenths-of-a-second lead on Ryan Murphy (52.51) and the Americans, and then Martinenghi dropped a scintillating 57.47 breaststroke leg, extending the lead despite an equally impressive 57.86 from Nic Fink.

Andrew and Burdisso both had massive performances on butterfly, as Andrew was more than a second faster than he was in the individual final (50.06 to 51.11), while Burdisso was eight-tenths quicker than he was individually (50.63 to 51.45).

Italy held a slight lead going into the final exchange, where Miressi would go head-to-head with Ryan Held, who had split 46.99 on the 400 free relay early in the meet.

While Miressi had a bit of an up-and-down meet, only managing to crack 48 seconds once in five flat-start 100 free swims (PB of 47.45), he pulled out a 47.48 anchor leg to hold the U.S. at bay, as Held came in just over a tenth quicker in 47.36.

At the touch it was gold for Italy, clocking a time of 3:27.51 to set a new National Record and match the European Record set by Great Britain in Tokyo. The Americans were close behind in 3:27.79, and there was a massive gap before the Brits came in for bronze in 3:31.31.

Italy USA
Thomas Ceccon – 51.93 Ryan Murphy – 52.51
Nicolo Martinenghi – 57.47 (1:49.40) Nic Fink – 57.86 (1:50.37)
Federico Burdisso – 50.63 (2:40.03) Michael Andrew – 50.06 (2:40.43)
Alessandro Miressi – 47.48 (3:27.51) Ryan Held – 47.36 (3:27.79)

And while some look at Italy’s victory and say it was only because the Americans didn’t have Dressel, there’s no disputing they earned this win. Their time of 3:27.51 ties Great Britain for the third-fastest relay in history. The only two faster are the world record set by the U.S. last summer in 3:26.78, and the American squad that set the world record in 2009 at 3:27.28 and had it stand for 12 years.

All-Time Performances, Men’s 400 Medley Relay

  1. United States (Murphy, Andrew, Dressel, Apple), 3:26.78 – 2021 Olympics
  2. United States (Peirsol, Shanteau, Phelps, Walters), 3:27.28 – 2009 Worlds
  3. Great Britain (Greenbank, Peaty, Guy, Scott) / Italy (Ceccon, Martinenghi, Burdisso, Miressi), 3:27.51 – 2021 Olympics / 2022 Worlds
  4. United States (Murphy, Fink, Andrew, Held), 3:27.79 – 2022 Worlds
  5. United States (Grevers, Cordes, Dressel, Adrian), 3:27.91 – 2017 Worlds
  6. United States (Murphy, Miller, Phelps, Adrian), 3:27.95 – 2016 Olympics
  7. Great Britain (Greenbank, Peaty, Guy, Scott), 3:28.10 – 2019 Worlds
  8. United States (Murphy, Wilson, Dressel, Adrian), 3:28.45 – 2019 Worlds
  9. Germany (Meeuw, Feldwehr, Starke, Biedermann), 3:28.58 – 2009 Worlds

So take nothing away from the Italians. They were a real threat coming in, and took full advantage of the opportunity that was presented en route to winning a historic gold for the country.

It put a capstone on what was a phenomenal meet as a whole for the nation, winning five gold medals and nine overall to rank third in the medal standings and set a new national standard.

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1 month ago

What happened to CD?

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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