Blueseventy Swim of the Week: Xu Joins 51-Club, Can CHN Medley Upset?

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Disclaimer: BlueSeventy 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 BlueSeventy Swim 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.

It’s been a huge week for international championship meets, with Australia, Russia, Japan, China and Sweden all hosting World Champ Trials events one week after similar meets for South Africa, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Canada, Ireland and Italy. And this week, it’s China rising above the tide with one of the most impressive backstroke swims in history from Xu Jiayu.

Xu went 51.86 to win the Chinese national title, coming within .01 of the world record. Xu becomes just the third man in history to break 52 seconds, the others being former world record-holder Aaron Peirsol (51.94 back in 2009) and current world record-holder Ryan Murphy (51.85 at the Rio Olympics last year). Murphy actually broke the world record leading off the medley relay, so Xu becomes the fastest swimmer ever in an individual 100 backstroke event.

Xu and Murphy should show down this summer after the two won gold (Murphy) and silver (Xu) at the Rio Olympics. And while that individual battle should be entertaining, Xu’s big swim also stirs up the almost-yearly chorus of questions about whether someone could end the American streak of men’s medley relay titles at major world events.

The threat to American Medley Relay Dominance

Since the year 2000, the American men have won the 4×100 medley relay at every long course World Championship and Olympic meet, with the exception of DQs in 2013, 2007 and 2001. That streak includes gold medal wins at the:

  • 2016 Olympics
  • 2015 World Champs
  • 2012 Olympics
  • 2011 World Champs
  • 2009 World Champs
  • 2008 Olympics
  • 2005 World Champs
  • 2004 Olympics
  • 2003 World Champs
  • 2000 Olympics

Over that same span in which the Americans have won 10 golds, the rest of the world has won just 3 – 2 from Australia and 1 from France.

But Xu’s big swim neutralizes what has historically been Team USA’s biggest advantage over the world. And other big swims from China’s young talent suggest that if everyone maintains their speed through Budapest this summer, China has a shot to hand Team USA its first outright (aka non-DQ) loss in the event of the new millenium.

Here’s a look at the top times from Chinese swimmers after this week compared to overall lifetime-bests for their likely American counterparts:

China USA
Xu Jiayu 51.86 51.85 Ryan Murphy
Yan Zibei 58.92 58.87 Cody Miller
Li Zhuhao 51.24 51.03 Tom Shields
Ning Zetao 47.65 47.52 Nathan Adrian
3:29.67 3:29.27

It’s worth noting that all four Chinese swimmers are the national record-holders in their respective events, while both Murphy and Miller are the American record-holders in their strokes.

Much depends on how Ning comes around. He’s been in some hot water with his federation and hasn’t swum any notable times this year. The dropoff from Ning is severe, with the highest Chinese 100 freestyler in the current world ranks being #18 Yu Hexin at 48.8. The Americans haven’t really shown their hands yet this year, with their national championship meet coming in late June to early July. But Adrian already sits #2 in the world in the 100 free (48.1) meaning Ning will absolutely have to be up to speed for China to have a shot at dethroning the Americans.

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In This Story

Comments

  1. ERVINFORTHEWIN says:

    Just with Nathan on the Anchor ( a 46. something ) , Usa has the edge in my view but it will be a fierce battle between GB , Usa And China .

  2. Breastroke says:

    I agree, it’ll be a sight to behold with all three countries having similar times.

  3. PK boo I\'m sad my name is too short now says:

    “But Xu’s big swim neutralizes what has historically been Team USA’s biggest advantage over the world.”

    I would argue that for the majority of the above races the biggest advantage was that we had Phelps and everyone else didn’t.

  4. SwimDawgs says:

    I know what the site is saying for the US relay but I’m thinking its more likely

    Back: Murphy
    Breast: Cordes
    Fly: Dressel
    Free: Adrian

    • Leonard says:

      if anything dressel will be the next person to do free behind adrian

    • sven says:

      I’d prefer Jack Conger for fly. First, he has the faster long course time by a decent margin. Second, Conger has a history of showing up big on relay swims. Having Conger and Adrian (two swimmers who are great on their own, but exemplary on relays) on the back half is absolutely deadly. Peaty will have his work cut out for him.

    • Swimmingly says:

      Shields?

  5. Tong Wu says:

    From the video of the 100BK final, it seemed to be a bad start — Xu was never set after the “take you mark” command.

    • Carlo says:

      Looks so but if it was a bad start it may have affected his power during the start. In backstroke you need to be set for maximum propulsion I think.

  6. marklewis says:

    The USA medley team has separated from the pack in the butterfly (MP), then stayed ahead in the freestyle.

    So,the USA needs a 50.+ split in the fly to move ahead of the pack.

    You know, Xu Jiayu was in the 400 medley final in Rio and swam only a 53.21 back spilt. Murphy was 51.85 WR.

    Adrian was 46.74 and Ning Z. was 47.95.

    USA swims faster in the relays, China slower.

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About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson just can’t stay away from the pool. A competitive career of almost two decades wasn’t enough for this Minnesotan, who continues to get his daily chlorine fix. A lifelong lover of writing, Jared now combines the two passions as Senior Reporter for SwimSwam.com, covering swimming at every level. He’s an …

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