Cracking the Relays: Men's 800 free

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.

We’ve already looked at the men’s 400 and the women’s 400, where we’ve picked the Americans and the Dutch to win, respectiely.

As a reminder, to see the full selections for all of the men’s and women’s races, click here:
(Women’s part 1 | Women’s part 2) (Men’s part 1 | Men’s part 2)

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.

Team Racing

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.

1. USA
2. China
3. Russia

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9 years ago

My prediction is USA, China, and France.

“everyone else is building relays around a single superstar (Yang, Biedermann, Agnel)”

Sun Yang’s family name is Sun, not Yang. 😀
(also Park Tae Hwan’s last name is Park, in case anyone is still confused.)

9 years ago

USA has this relay in the bag, almost to the point where they shouldn’t be asked to swim it and just be given their gold. The race is for minor medals, which I think will be very very exciting because there will a lot of changes in the leaders of the race (minus the USA of course) in each legs.

9 years ago

Im just hoping for the Chinese to put Sun Yang on the lead off the see him try to beat Phelps, Biedermann, Agnel and whoever. It’ll be a very interesting race. But knowing the Chinese, they probably want to put their man on anchor, as they have in the past. My gut feeling is that this race is going to be “closer” than it looks on paper. The Chinese and Russians are two teams that’re known to drop a lot of time through taper. Remember pre09? Going into Rome there were reports that the US had 6 guys and their relay could put any 4 in any order and could still win. Well, they won that relay by less than… Read more »

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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