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:
|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|
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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