Two down, four to go. As we inch closer and closer to the meet, we move onto a closer inspection of the longer, 800 free relays.
While the American men have dominated the 400 free relay, this 800 has not always borne out the same theme. Though the USA has won the last three World Titles, prior to that they went through a 23-year drought where they didn’t take a single gold in this race.
USA – Cumulative: 7:04.65 – 25.5
Ryan Lochte (1:45.30) – 26
Michael Phelps (1:45.61) – 26
Peter Vanderkaay (1:46.65) – 27
Ricky Berens (1:47.09) – 23
Conor Dwyer (1:47.35) – 22
Dave Walters (1:47.78) – 23
Notes: The Americans have depth in this relay, and between Between Phelps, Vanderkaay, Walters, Berens and Lochte, they’ve ended each of the last four years with at least two swimmers ranked in the top 5 in the world in this race. If you go back to 2006 with Phelps and Klete Keller, that makes five straight years. In that same time period, nobody else has done that even once.
Russia – Cumulative: 7:07.90 – 22.25
Danila Izotov (1:46.14) – 19
Nikita Lobintsev (1:45.93) – 22
Alexander Sukhorukov (1:47.59) – 23
Evgeny Lagunov (1:48.24) – 25
Artem Lobuzov (1:48.85) – ??
Sergey Perunin (1:48.75) – 23
Notes: This edition of the Russian 800 free relay doesn’t seem nearly as strong as it has in past years, but they still managed to end the 2010 season as the European Champions and with the world”s 2nd-ranked time. If the Russians are the best that the world has to throw at the Americans this year though, the US should feel very confident about their chances.
China – Cumulative: 7:07.88 – 19.75
Sun Yang (1:44.99) – 19
Lin Zhang (1:47.30) – 24
Yunqi Li (1:47.69) – 17
Haiqi Jiang (1:47.90) – 19
Shun Wang (1:48.44) – 17
Notes: Again, the top Chinese swimmers fluctuate so heavily from year-to-year, it’s hard to nail down exactly who will be on their relay, but the times will probably look pretty similar regardless. The advantage that this relay has is Sun Yang. Though he’s not swimming the individual race, it’s possible that he’s the best in the world in this race.
Germany – Cumulative: 7:08.77 – 22.75
Paul Biedermann (1:45.47) – 24
Tim Wallburger (1:47.61) – 21
Benjamin Starke (1:47.91) – 24
Clemens Rapp (1:47.78) – 22
Notes: Biedermann is the star here, but the rest of the rest of his German countrymates are definitely stepping up their games to match him.
France – Cumulative: 7:12.00 – 23.5
Yannick Agnel (1:45.47) – 19
Jeremy Stravius (1:47.45) – 23
Gregory Mallet (1:49.31) – 27
Sebastian Rouault (1:49.77) – 25
Notes: The French aren’t nearly as deep or as good in the 200 as they are in the 100, but with Agnel on the anchor, they’re still pretty good. They can definitely outswim the 7:12 that their cumulative times imply
Australia – Cumulative: 7:10.64 – 20.75
Thomas Fraser-Holmes (1:47.19) – 19
Kenrick Monk (1:47.53) – 23
Ryan Napoleon (1:47.68) – 21
Tommaso D’orsogna (1:48.24) – 20
Notes: Not your daddy’s (err, older brother’s) Australian 800 free relay that won three-straight titles form 1998-2003 with the likes of Michael Klim, Ian Thorpe, and Grant Hackett. This is a nicely-balanced relay without a star to bring them home.
For each of the past three years, the Americans and Russians have finished 1-2 in the World Rankings, and aside from the 2009 World Championships, the Americans have had a sizable advantage at that. While the American depth in the 200 free is unmatched by anyone in the world, their real advantage has been the presence of two superstar 200 freestylers to bookend the relay. In 2008, Phelps and Vanderkaay were gold and bronze individually at the Olympicsm and Lochte ended the year as the third-fastest in the world.. They were separated only by Park Tae Hwan (who doesn’t have a relay to swim with), and none of the other relay finalists had more than one swimmer place in the top 8.
In 2010, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps went 2 and 4 in the world. In fact, the only year in the last Olympiad where they didn’t dominate the individual race was 2009, where the Russians significantly closed the gap, but the Americans still had three swimmers in the world’s top 5. In 2011, expect more of the same, at least from Lochte and Phelps, with Vanderkaay also capable of top-5 times.
The funny thing is that, beyond the Americans, there are very few concentrations of power in this 200 free. There’s no France-US-Russia monopoly, like there is in the 100. It’s the Americans, and then there’s a huge dropoff of that consolidation. Only the Russians and Americans had two swimmers raked in the top 15 in 2010, and everyone else is building relays around a single superstar (Sun, Biedermann, Agnel).
Unlike the 400 free relay, the 800 free relays are fairly young. The Chinese, in what is becoming more-and-more of a theme, are the youngest as they average under 20 years of age (with the above-predicted relay). The Americans are aging at 25.5, and after London are going to be hurting to fill out this squad with the same top-heavy skills that they’ve been able to do for the past few seasons.
The better question is not “who will win,” it’s “how fast will the Americans go.” I think they could push for sub-7 minutes. Phelps and Lochte should both be 1:44’s, especially with a relay start. I think more realistically, they will swim about a 7:01. Nobody else is going to get below 7:05 this year, with the young Chinese and Russians building for 2012.