What are the odds that the Men’s Chinese National Team’s 4×100 Medley Relay could win gold and dethrone the star-studded US team? The United States Men have won 12 of the 16 4×100 medley relays that have been contested since 1973 at the World Championships. Only two other nations, France and Australia have ever won the event. At the Olympics, the United States have never lost the medley relay since the relay was first swum in 1960 (they’ve won every year except 1980, the boycotted year, where Australia took gold).
At first glance, you’d have to imagine that a team with any combination of Ryan Murphy, Cody Miller, Kevin Cordes, Caeleb Dressel, Tom Shields, and Nathan Adrian would be untouchable. But the prospect that China could give the USA a serious run for their money isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem after China’s Xu Jiayu swam an Asian Record of 51.86 in the 100 backstroke earlier this week.
At the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia the US team had a serious challenge from the Australian team that finished just .16 behind the US team. Although the US team won gold, lead off swimmer Ryan Murphy split 53.05, well short of the World Record time he’d swim just one year later.. The splits for the US and Australian teams were:
|Backstroke||Ryan Murphy||53.05||Mitch Larkin||52.41|
|Breaststroke||Kevin Cordes||58.88||Jake Pachard||59.16|
|Butterfly||Tom Shields||50.59||Jayden Hadler||51.91|
|Freestyle||Nathan Adrian||47.41||Cameron McEvoy||46.6|
Although it was the Australian’s who finished second at the last World Championships, it was the relay team from Great Britain who won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Great Britain finished in second in Rio in a time of 3:29.24 led by breaststroke world record holder Adam Peaty. Australia finished third inRio in a time of 3:29.93. China was disqualified at the 2016 Olympic Games in finals and therefore did not medal. Even though this is the case, China has emerged over the last year as serious contender in the medley relay in 2017 with a chance to knock off the USA. China has never medaled in the 400 medley relay at Worlds. Great Britain and Australia likely will not have the firepower outside of their stars to contend with the United States.
Chinese backstroker Xu Jiayu set a new Asian Record in the 100m backstroke earlier this week in a time of 51.86, just .01 off of Ryan Murphy’s world record time set in Rio. Jiayu joins Murphy and Aaron Peirsol as the only three men to have broke the 52 second barrier in the LCM 100 backstroke.
Also at the Chinese National Championships, three swimmers broke a minute in the 100m breaststroke. Yan Zibei won the event in a 59.28, just over a half second ahead of second place. The Chinese did not have any finalists in the 100m breaststroke in Rio so having three men break a minute shows some serious improvement. The US team will certainly have either Cody Miller or Kevin Cordes as the breaststroke leg of the medley relay in Budapest. Miller won bronze individually in the 100m race in Rio in 58.87. He also split 59.03 on the 4×100 medley relay in Rio where the team won gold and set an Olympic record in 3:27.95.
For the Chinese, young phenom Li Zhuhao has solidified himself as the premier butterflier. Zhuhao set the Chinese record in the 50m butterfly earlier this week at Chinese Nationals by clocking a 23.36. He also finished just outside of the medals in 5th in the 100 fly at the Rio Olympics. That’s one spot behind the three-way tie for silver. In Rio, Zhuhao clocked a 51.26. For the Americans, Michael Phelps was the butterflier in Rio and insists that he will remain retired. So, will it be Caeleb Dressel or Tom Shields swimming the third leg of the medley in Budapest? Shields split 50.59 in 2015, but Dressel just recently broke the American record in short course yards at NCAAs by going a blazing 43.58.
Nathan Adrian is likely to be the last leg of the USA relay, unless Shields swims butterfly. If Tom Shields were to swim the butterfly leg, it would be a very interesting choice as to whether Dressel should swim the freestyle leg. I have a hard time believing the American record holder in the 50 and 100 freestyles as well as the 100 butterfly could be left off a medley relay. Ning Zetao has been China’s fastest 100 freestyler over the past few years, but was recently dismissed from the Chinese National Team for three violations. Zetao won the gold in Kazan in 2015 in the 100 freestyle by going 47.84. If Zetao can’t swim in Budapest later this year, it will be interesting to see who the Chinese use to anchor their relay. Distance champion Sun Yang is currently the top seed entering finals at the 2017 Chinese National Championships. Yang posted a 49.13 to qualify first.
Based off of the flat start times we have today and assuming Ning Zetao could swim for China, the relays would likely look something like this. This is without converting any short course yards times to meters. It is worth noting that Caeleb Dressel’s American record in the 100 yard butterfly converts to 49.77, but we all know that time converters haven’t yet caught up to some of the ‘video-game’ times that are being put up in yards.
|Backstroke||Ryan Murphy||51.85||Xu Jiayu||51.86|
|Breaststroke||Cody Miller||58.87||Yan Zibei||59.28|
|Butterfly||Tom Shields||51.03||Li Zhuhao||51.26|
|Freestyle||Nathan Adrian||47.52||Ning Zetao||47.65|
Both teams will likely be faster than these final times with relay starts but we used flat starts for the sake of comparison.
Regardless of who is on each respective relay, the 400 Medley Relay in Budapest is sure to be quite the battle. China has an opportunity to dethrone a USA team that has been so dominant in this event for so many years.