As the dust settles on U.S., Australian, Canadian, and French Olympic Trials, we’re taking a bird’s-eye view of how the relay battles are shaping up.
The top 12 relays at 2019 World Championships earned Olympic berths for their nations. Four more nations earned berths by putting up the fastest times among unqualified nations over a 15-month period leading up to the Olympics.
|7||2019 Worlds||Great Britain|
Aggregate times below are based on season-bests from September 2020 through June 2021. Lifetime-bests or time drops can obviously change the picture significantly. We’ll do a more in-depth preview of each relay event in the coming weeks, but this first-look projection is aimed at specifically seeing the impacts of recent Olympic Trials meets on the Olympic relay picture.
Great Britain didn’t even medal in this race at the 2019 World Championships – but the pure math still considers them the favorites. Why? Well, it’s because they’ve got the top two 200 freestylers in world ranks for the season in Scott and Dean, plus two more swimmers inside the top 18.
But no matter what the math says, this one isn’t as simple as it looks. Russia beat Great Britain pretty soundly in their head-to-head European Championships matchup last month. They’ve also probably got as many lineup options as any team in the world. We used their top four in world ranks in the aggregate above. But it was actually Malyutin, Schegolev, Aleksandr Krasnykh (1:46.5 split) and Mikhail Vekovishchev (1:46.4 split) who won Euros in 7:03.48. (The Brits were 7:04.61 with Dean, Richards, Guy and Scott).
Add in the possibility of using backstroker Evgeny Rylov (1:46.5 this year) and Russia could legitimately swim an almost entirely different lineup between heats and finals, resting their top swimmers and allowing several men to swim-off for the final relay spots.
The reigning world champs, Australia should be right in the mix with Russia and Great Britain. They don’t have the relay-carrying 1:44 standout like the top two yet – Chalmers is just #7 in the world this season. But Australia does have all four men between 7th and 12th, with tremendous depth.
McLoughlin is the 4th Australian in this season’s world ranks. But Australia used Clyde Lewis (1:45.5 leadoff) and Mack Horton (1:44.8 flying start) to win this relay at 2019 Worlds. Lewis is not on the Olympic roster as of now; Horton is.
As good as those top three are, the U.S. barely scrapes into the contenders category here. The depth is very good, with all six selected relay swimmers sitting in the top 25 in world ranks this season. But the Americans have just two men in the top 10, and they’ll need someone to step up with a 1:43/1:44 type swim if they want to challenge the top three nations.
We’ve speculated about the potential for Team USA to use star sprinter Caeleb Dressel here, but after he went 1:46.6 at U.S. Trials, it’s hard to say if he’s a significant upgrade over any of the 1:45/1:46 types above.
Italy took fourth at 2019 Worlds, just .03 behind the U.S., with straight 1:45s. So far this year, their national leader is Stefano Ballo at 1:46.76, and they were well behind Russia and Great Britain at Euros. But there’s good depth and a high ceiling for this group.
The true mystery contender is China, which tied a national record with a 7:04.74 at 2019 Worlds – but that was with a 1:44.9 anchor from Sun Yang, who is now ineligible for the Tokyo Olympics.
France earned the top wild card spot via a fourth-place finish at Euros. They were 7:07.24, getting a 1:46.9 leadoff from Jordan Pothain.
Brazil and Germany were both in the 2019 Worlds field and went 7:07s in the final. Fernando Scheffer has been 1:46.2 for Brazil this year; Lukas Martens has been 1:46.4 for Germany.
Hungary is also intriguing, with Kristof Milak going 1:45.7 individually at Euros.