Noting its potential to win a medal in a relay event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Brazil will send six swimmers to compete on the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay, per Brazilian outlet Globo Esporte. With six swimmers on the roster for a four-man relay, two athletes will be allowed to rest during prelims and save their energy for the final.
Sending six or more swimmers to compete on a four-person relay is a tactic that has been used by relay powerhouses such as the United States, France, Russia, and Australia for decades. Brazil, which has brought up a multitude of world-class male sprinters, including the World Record holder in the 100 LCM freestyle Cesar Cielo, has never swum a full six swimmers in the 4 x 100 free relay at the Olympics.
At the Rio 2016 Olympics, Brazil was represented by Marcelo Chierighini, Nicolas Oliveira, Gabriel Santos, and Jaoa de Lucca in the finals of the 4 x 100 free relay, where they placed 5th (3:13.21) in front of a home crowd. Of the four, de Lucca was the only swimmer afforded a morning of rest, with Matheus Santana swimming the anchor leg of the preliminary relay instead.
The past two summers (2017 and 2018, respectively), Brazil’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay has fared extremely well on the world stage. In 2017, at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, the Brazilian quartet of Santos, Chierighini, Cielo, and Bruno Fratus nearly chased down the Americans, who led from start to finish. Brazil won the silver medal in a time of 3:10.34 to Team USA’s 3:10.06, thanks greatly to Chierighini’s 46.85 split over the second leg of the race.
Brazil finally captured gold in the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, where the team of Santos, Chierighini, Marco Antonio Ferreira, and Pedro Spajari recorded a time of 3:12.02, the fastest time in the world in 2018. While Santos and Ferreira posted rather pedestrian splits of 48.93 and 48.53, respectively, Chierighini dropped a 47.62 as the second leg of the relay, while youngster Spajari blasted a 46.94 to surge home. While the Brazilian men proved themselves a force to be reckoned with in Tokyo last August, it is important to remember that the gold medal they won in the 400 freestyle relay came at the expense of the American team which was disqualified for swimming out of order.
Team USA’s Caeleb Dressel, Blake Pieroni, Zach Apple, and Nathan Adrian combined for a (nearly) world-topping time of 3:11.67, a new Pan Pacs Record. However, following a 48.76 lead-off by Dressel, Apple dove into the pool, splitting a 47.92, which was followed by a 47.72 from Pieroni and a 47.27 from Adrian; however, Pieroni, instead of Apple, ought to have been the second swimmer on that relay, with the resulting mix up bringing on the DQ.
In January, Brazil’s CBDA (Brazil’s Confederation of Water Sports) hosted a training camp for the 8 fastest nationally-ranked men in the 100 LCM freestyle at the Maria Lenk pool in Rio de Janeiro. The camp, which received the blessing of COB (Brazilian Olympic Committee), also invited the swimmers ranked 9th-20th in the 100 free to attend, though each athlete would be responsible for their own travel, lodging, and meals. A separate training camp with identical criteria is also scheduled to happen at the Maria Lenk Pool in February for Brazil’s 8 fastest 200 freestylers, some of which were also selected for the first camp in January. Based on 2018 rankings for the 100 LCM freestyle, the 8 athletes invited to each camp should include:
4 x 100 freestyle relay camp expected invitees:
- Pedro Spajari, 47.95
- Gabriel Santos, 47.98
- Marcelo Chierighini, 48.36
- Marcos Antonio Ferreira Junior, 48.46
- Bruno Fratus, 48.51
- Breno Correia, 48.78
- Joao de Lucca, 49.05
- Cesar Cielo*, 49.29
*Cielo has been contemplating retirement, a decision he says will be made in 2019. After Cielo, the 9th-fastest Brazilian man in the 100 free in 2018 was Andre Luiz Calvelo de Souza at a 49.47.
4 x 200 freestyle relay camp expected invitees:
- Fernando Scheffer, 1:45.51
- Luiz Altamir Melo, 1:46.84
- Breno Correia, 1:47.94
- Joao de Lucca, 1:47.98
- Kaue Carvalho, 1:48.81
- Lucas Peixoto, 1:48.85
- Murilo Sartori, 1:48.91
- Giovanny Lima, 1:49.23
With six athletes, all of whom must swim in either the prelims or the finals of the race, Brazil could increase its chances of earning a medal of any color at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Though the 2018 FINA World Championships in Hangzhou, China, will be a distant memory by Tokyo, perhaps Brazil will still be able to summon some of the magic it used to smash the World Record in the men’s 4 x 200 SCM freestyle relay, a feat which was accomplished by Luiz Melo, Fernando Scheffer, Leonardo Santos, and Breno Correia. Brazil’s SCM relay was a stark contrast to its LCM 4 x 200 free relay, which missed the podium entirely at Pan Pacs, finishing 4th in 7:11.65. The fact that Brazil fared better in SCM than LCM would not surprise most swim fans, given Brazil’s history of producing 50-meter specialists of both genders in all four strokes; however, with a 1:44.87 split from Sheffer, as well as the world record in December, it is evident that Brazil is capable of something special in the freestyle relays, particularly the 4 x 100. Will they have enough firepower to surpass the reigning Olympic champions from the United States, or silver and bronze medalists France and Australia? We can’t say. But knowing that this event has become one of Brazil’s highest priorities will make watching one of the most anticipated events of the Games even more exciting.