Australia’s Men’s 400 Medley Relay Still Chasing a Second on Americans


As the doors closed upon the final session of the 2016 Swimming Australia Olympic & Paralympic Trials in Adelaide over the last week, there is much to reflect on. The Australians are the hottest thing in the world in sprinting right now, with Cam McEvoy reviving the men’s group to match the furor of their women. Mitch Larkin is swimming as well as he ever has; Mack Horton and Emma McKeon are proving the prophecies true; and the Dolphins qualified everyone through to Rio that they really needed to qualify through to Rio, save for a mild upset here-or-there (the same of which could not be said for the simultaneous qualifying meets in France and Britain, for example).

While there’s still some holes in Australia’s overall lineup, in totality, the major questions have been answered, save for one: the men’s 400 medley relay.

The Australians have the best bookends in the world with Mitch Larkin and Cam McEvoy now sitting as favorites in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle, respectively, at least until the United States has its Olympic Trials in late June.

The middle is where the Australians lack the same power, especially with the country’s former top butterflier Jayden Hadler missing the final altogether at this meet.

There’s been some concern over the breaststroking in Australia since Brenton Rickard lost form and eventually retired in 2013, and Christian Sprenger followed in 2016. A stroke that has been locked-in for a decade-or-more seems to have its next torch-bearer, as 21-year old Jake Packard continues to improve (he was 59.65 this week).

But 59.65 isn’t the split it used to be, not when the likes of Adam Peaty has burst through into the 57-second range on flat starts.

As the French have largely flopped at their trials, the battle for gold has five primary contenders: the United States, Australia, Great Britain, Russia, and Japan. Australia will have all of these countries beat, save maybe the Americans depending on where Ryan Murphy’s improvement curve carries to this summer, and should have top honors on the freestyle leg.

The Americans have a huge group of contenders (Kevin Cordes, Cody Miller, Nic Fink, and Andrew Wilson, to name a few), but none have really given them the 58-low relay split potential that they’d need to really put things away.

On the totality of those three legs, the Australians have a slight advantage for gold.

The challenge on the butterfly leg was well-answered by a pair, Southport’s 22-year old David Morgan (51.64) and St Peters Western’s Grant Irvine (51.76) went 1-2 in that race, and after strong swims from both in the 200 fly as well, plus an Irvine 51.68 on an actual medley relay swim to close the meet and Morgan split 51.26. Those are solid silver-medal times, but the United States’ ace-in-the-hole is the butterfly. On the 3rd leg of this relay, either Tom Shields (50.5 split at Worlds) or Michael Phelps (the world #1 last year) could put an insurmountable gap on the Australians unless Morgan and Irvine continue to improve.

But if the Australians want to at least repeat their silver medal, and at most make up the .15-second deficit they had to the Americans in Kazan, there’s a glaring hole: the breaststrokes.

A potential performable Australian 400 medley relay could look something like this:

  • Mitch Larkin – 52.0
  • Jake Packard – 58.9
  • David Morgan/Grant Irvine – 50.9
  • Cam McEvoy – 46.4

That totals to a 3:28.2, which would be a new Australian Record.

The Americans’ 90th-percentile scenario looks something like this:

  • Ryan Murphy 52.2
  • Kevin Cordes 58.5
  • Michael Phelps – 49.9
  • Nathan Adrian/Caeleb Dressel – 46.8

That totals to a 3:27.4.

The on-paper advantage, with an in-form Phelps, is clearly to the Americans, but this relay will come at the end of the meet, so depending on how Phelps plans his overall Olympic schedule, a 49.9 is no guarantee given the physical strain of an Olympic run. If the Australians are going to win, though, it will require McEvoy to run down the American anchor, and with Nathan Adrian having about 7 inches of size on him, that would be a powerful wake for the Aussie anchor to fight through.

This race isn’t a runaway, and McEvoy’s 47.0 ensures a competitive final at least for Rio, but it’s going to take some magic for the Australians to keep the Americans from winning their 8th-straight gold medal in this relay.



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4 years ago

Wasn’t Cordes 58.3 split at worlds in prelims of mixed relay? I realize it is a mixed relay, but if Murphy comes in even with Larkin (both ahead of the field) Cordes could probably get clean water just on his first pull out. However I know he is going to have a much safer start than normal, so that could make that advantage moot. If Adrian is back to 2012-13 form, and obviously if Phelps is able to deliver a split in the realm of his fly last summer, USA has nothing to worry about. Americans, more than any other country in the world put so much emphasis on relays and Adrian always swims way above his current form on… Read more »

samuel huntington
Reply to  SamH
4 years ago

“Americans more than any other country in the world put so much emphasis on relays”

I think the French men may disagree 🙂

Team Rwanda
4 years ago

I wish Joe Schooling was Australian. And sorry if this is a stupid question, but what happened to Christian Sprenger, retired? last I checked he was injured.

Teamr Rwanda
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

That makes sense. Thank you

4 years ago

China are surely far more likely to be a threat than Japan.

Reply to  Iain
4 years ago

Yes agree, China a bigger threat then Japan.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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