Day 4 Relay Speculation: Lochte, Conger, Phelps…Pick Two


If one were to look at the results of the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200 free, and then look at the results from this morning’s relay, the simple conclusion is that the Americans will use the top four finishers from Trials: Townley HaasConor DwyerJack Conger and Ryan Lochte in tonight’s 800 free relay final.

Haas and Dwyer finished 1-2 at the Trials (with Dwyer winning bronze and Haas taking 5th in the Olympic final last night), and Conger (1:45.73) and Lochte (1:45.80) put up respectable splits this morning that would normally definitely get them into the relay final.

However, there’s of course the Michael Phelps factor. As we know Phelps elected to sit out of the Trials in this race, and though he did the same thing in the 100 free and was put on the team in the 400 free relay final, he proved himself in that event in the relay time trial held during the American Olympic camp. He didn’t do anything like that in the 200 (to our knowledge), but his 47.12 freestyle split in the 400 free relay tells us his freestyle is in fine form.

There’s no doubt Phelps is capable of putting up a respectable leg; he split 1:46.08 at Pan Pacs in 2014 before he got serious about his comeback, and anchored for gold in 1:44.05 in London. That swim came maybe a little over an hour after he finished 2nd in the 200 fly final, which will be the main reason Phelps is left off tonight, if he is.

Now four years older than he was in London, two all-out 200m swims in the same session is a tall task. Even if they used him and he went two seconds slower than he did in London they could still conceivably win, but they could also easily win without him. With Phelps still having a lot of events on his plate after tonight (200 IM, 100 fly, medley relay), logic points to the U.S. not using him and going with the original four.

Of course, there’s the chance, that with Phelps’ longtime coach Bob Bowman at the helm, Phelps is put on the relay in an attempt to maximize his gold medal count at his final Olympics.

If Phelps were used, the coaches would have a decision on their hands with Conger and Lochte. Conger outsplit Lochte this morning by seven one-hundredths, 1:45.73 to 1:45.80, though Lochte had a very safe takeoff. Subtracting their reaction times and just looking at their “through the water” split, Lochte has the edge 1:45.31 to 1:45.45. However, we can’t discount the fact Conger has excellent relay starts which he’s perfected with the Texas Longhorns over the past few years.

Another thing to remember is that in the 400 free relay the coaches went with youth over experience, choosing Ryan Held over Anthony Ervin despite Ervin putting up a slightly faster leg in the morning. That could be a point in Conger’s favor.

Whatever decision is made, I’m sure all three men will be involved in the discussion. Right now I’d say it’d be hard to leave either Lochte or Conger off of the relay tonight, but you never know. We’ll find out the official lineup about an hour before tonight’s action gets underway.

As for the other teams heading to the final tonight some changes will be made, though none as controversial as this one.

The only team other than the Americans who made the final out of heat 1 were the Netherlands, who will no doubt exchange Ben Schwietert (1:47.92 this morning) for Sebastiaan Verschuren, the 200 freestyle European champion this past May. The Dutch men also won this relay at Europeans, so look for them to potentially be in the fight for a medal, though they will be out in lane 8.

The top seeds for tonight will be Great Britain, who will exchange in James Guy tonight for Robbie Renwick (1:48.17 this morning). Guy placed 4th in the 200 freestyle last night. They’ll be looking to upset the Americans like they did last year in Kazan, and they’ll have a shot with rising star Duncan Scott posting the fastest split this morning in 1:45.05.

Cameron Kurle, who competed in the individual 200 freestyle, won’t appear to get a shot in the relay after a disappointing 1:49.08 in the 200 free heats, finishing a distant 35th.

The Russians will move in Danila Izotov tonight, who was solid on their 400 free relay, likely in exchange for Vyacheslav Andrusenko (1:47.50 this morning).

Germany will probably keep the same team from this morning, potentially bringing in individual 200 free qualifier Christoph Fildebrandt, though his individual swim was slower (1:47.81) than any of the morning legs. If that were the case, 400 IM specialist Jacob Heidtmann would likely be the one coming out.

The Japanese men will bring back the same four tonight for sure, but the Australians will definitely make at least one change. Cameron McEvoy will join the team tonight after his 100 free semi-final, taking the place of Jacob Hansford (1:47.70). They’ll probably also move in David McKeon, who had a poor 200 free showing after making the final in the 400 free. McKeon was just 1:48.38 in the 200 free prelims, but went 1:46.61 at Australian Trials in April and proved his solid form finishing 7th in the 400 free. An addition of McKeon would move out this morning’s lead-off Daniel Smith, who was 1:47.55.

The final team, Belgium, will likely also making a change, adding Pieter Timmers to the lineup and moving out Louis Croenen (1:48.35 lead-off), who has the 200 fly final tonight. Timmers will also compete individually tonight, racing the 100 free semis. Timmers scratched the individual 200 free, but was originally entered with a time of 1:47.34.

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4 years ago

I think Phelps should just sit out, yea he would make the relay faster but only by like .8, why not allow the younger kids a chacne to experience and Olympic final? I dont think U.S will lose to GBR and its not like Conger or Ryan is that much slower that having Phelps would make the relay great, I think Conger will for sure step up as this is his only swim at Rio, and Phelps should just focus all in on the 200 fly

Reply to  Kaez
4 years ago

If Phelps will make the relay faster, he should be in. You can’t go with what you think will beat the world, you need to go with the fastest relay you can field. Even without Phelps, we win on paper every time. But in 2000, we won the 4×100 free on paper every time as well. And in 2008, the French had us dead to rights on paper. We have got to respect the fact that Britain or Australia could go completely lights-out and be considerably faster than anyone thought.

A silver medal is great. But silver looks awfully silly around your neck when you left Michael Phelps in the stands.

Reply to  Jack
4 years ago

Phelps is the most likely American swimmer to flat start break 1:45, I’m serious. He is probably thinking about the 200 fly now, then the relay after he is finished swimming.

Lennart van Haaften
Reply to  Jack
4 years ago

Yes, he went 1:44.0 four years ago when he wasn’t in his best shape, and his freestyle appears fine right now, so he’ll almost surely be faster than Lochte and/or Conger. That’s all the coaches should care about, except when Phelps prefers to be left off, i.e., when he himself thinks his 200 free is not good enough. Phelps is a proven performer on this stage, unlike Conger (who hasn’t had the change to proof himself of course).

4 years ago

Vanluchene was slower than Croenen this morning when you factor in the starts

Interesting to see if the Aussies swim McKeon. He seemed to have shaken his tourist status in the 400m, but it was back with a vengeance in the 200m.

Germany need to risk the change if they want a medal IMO

4 years ago

I think only if Lochte is willing to give Phelps his spot.
Even if Phelps split a 146 (which he will likely be faster) US should have no problem winning

Hate to see them take away this opportunity from Conger

Reply to  BKP
4 years ago

Conger at least swam prelims 😛
It isn’t about winning. It’s about the fastest combination to win. Not to barely squeeze in.

Reply to  SwimmerFoxJet
4 years ago

In that case, Phelps in, Conger out. If Phelps wants to swim it anyway. Lochte shut it down at the end of the prelim…he will be 145 low or maybe even a little faster

Grand Moff Tarkin
Reply to  BKP
4 years ago

I didn’t see it, did he shut it down or did he bring his own piano?

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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