Early Olympic Relay Look: Women’s 4×100 Free Relay

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.

Olympic-Qualified Relays

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.

Nation
1 2019 Worlds Australia
2 2019 Worlds Canada
3 2019 Worlds Sweden
4 2019 Worlds USA
5 2019 Worlds Japan
6 2019 Worlds Netherlands
7 2019 Worlds China
8 2019 Worlds Germany
9 2019 Worlds Russia
10 2019 Worlds Hong Kong
11 2019 Worlds Czech Republic
12 2019 Worlds Poland
13 Wild Card Great Britain
14 Wild Card France
15 Wild Card Denmark
16 Wild Card Brazil

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.

The Favorites

Australia
Swimmer Split
Emma McKeon 52.19
Cate Campbell 52.43
Madison Wilson 52.76
Meg Harris 52.92
TOTAL: 3:30.30

Australia has been pretty unbeatable in this event over the past decade. They won Olympic golds in 2012 and 2016, plus Worlds golds in 2015 and 2019. (The lone loss of this Olympic cycle was 2017, when the Australians were missing world record-holder Cate Campbell and lost to the U.S. by three-tenths.)

This season, Australia has the top three swimmers in the world. Their slowest leg is ranked #5 worldwide this season. Enough said.

The Contenders

USA
Swimmer Split
Abbey Weitzeil 53.52
Erika Brown 53.59
Olivia Smoliga 53.55
Natalie Hinds 53.55
TOTAL: 3:34.21

The U.S. is expected to be without two-time defending world champ Simone Manuel, who split 51.9 on the end of this relay in 2019 but missed the U.S. team in the 100 free while dealing with Overtraining Syndrome. Manuel is on the team as a 50 freestyler, and could be called into action here if she trains well over the next few weeks.

It’s a bit surprising that the U.S. remains #2 in the world in aggregate times even without Manuel, but this field is brutally close, with five nations within a second.

China
Swimmer Split
Zhang Yufei 52.90
Yang Junxuan 53.21
Wu Qingfeng 53.84
Zhu Menghui 54.54
TOTAL: 3:34.49

This relay comes right at the beginning of the Olympics, but does overlap with heats and semifinals of the 100 fly, a key event for Zhang YufeiStill, China has risen fast here after finishing 5th at 2019 Worlds.

Netherlands
Swimmer Split
Femke Heemskerk 53.05
Ranomi Kromowidjojo 53.13
Marrit Steenbergen 54.18
Kim Busch 54.28
TOTAL: 3:34.64

The Dutch team finished second at Euros last month and were one spot out of the medals at 2019 Worlds. They’ve got two elite legs in Heemskerk and Kromowidjojo, both ranked in the top 7 in the world this season in the 100 free. The question is whether their other two legs can get under 54.

Canada
Swimmer Split
Penny Oleksiak 52.89
Kayla Sanchez 53.57
Maggie MacNeil 54.02
Katerine Savard 54.51
TOTAL: 3:34.99

Canada took bronze at 2019 Worlds. Their best split there (a 52.1 from Taylor Ruck) didn’t finish in the top four at Canadian Trials, but could still wind up on this relay as she was pre-selected to the roster.

Great Britain
Swimmer Split
Freya Anderson 53.40
Anna Hopkin 53.43
Lucy Hope 53.89
Abbie Wood 54.40
TOTAL: 3:35.12

The Brits won Euros last month to claim a wild card Olympic berth in 3:34.17 – a full second faster than this projection. For lack of a reasonable 4th leg in world ranks, we used Wood’s relay split from Euros (plus half a second to roughly factor out a relay exchange).

The Field

France took bronze at Euros in 3:35.92. Marie Wattel is #9 in this season’s world ranks with a 53.32.

Right behind France, Denmark broke a national record in 3:36.81, with Signe Bro leading off in 53.73. If Pernille Blume can return to anywhere near her career-best 52.6, they’ve got a shot to join that medal-contending field.

Sweden‘s hopes ride on world record-holder Sarah Sjostrom and how she’s recovering from elbow surgery. The blessing in disguise to Sjostrom’s broken elbow might be that the longtime butterfly superstar can finally focus on relays instead of extending her energy across a busy fly/free individual event lineup.

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Togger
1 month ago

With the Aussies proven in this event and with a second per swimmer to play with, got to think there’s no way they’re losing this.

Must be one of the longest non-American relay winning streaks if they do. East Germans perhaps?

Mediocre Swammer
1 month ago

Their best split there (a 52.1 from Taylor Ruck) didn’t finish in the top four at Canadian Trials, but could still wind up on this relay if she does make their Olympic team.”

Isn’t Taylor Ruck already on the Olympic team, due to being pre-selected for at least one event?

LTyke
Reply to  Mediocre Swammer
1 month ago

She is. She was pre-selected in the 100 free, but also made the team this past week in the 100/200 back.

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  Mediocre Swammer
1 month ago

Ruck always has a longer more relaxed style but her freestyle turnover was noticeably slower than normal during trials. I suspect it is a combo of injury/illness and she’ll be noticeably better in Tokyo.

Gail Dummer
Reply to  Awsi Dooger
1 month ago

I read that Ruck is nursing an injury

Relay Enthusiast
1 month ago

The field vs Australia would be close in this one. Femke Heemskerk, Penny Oleksiak, Zhang Yufei and maybe Siobhan Haughey or Freya Anderson. I think Australia would win.

Also when GB went 3:34.1 Hopkin went 53.6 but went 52.6 later in the same meet, she had a really bad swim. So GB should’ve been 3:33.1 at the euros. Anderson and Wood will drop loads of time when tapered. GB were doing loads of training during the meet. Not rested.

Dee
Reply to  Relay Enthusiast
1 month ago

They did have a few days rest before Euros. Not much, but I think coaches just wanted to give them enough to avoid confidence hitting bad swims. They’re attempting to recreate the US team culture of becoming accustomed to winning and keeping team morale high. The feeling in 2016 was that going to Euros in heavy training hit confidence/belief and hurt us in Rio.

Bobo Gigi
Reply to  Dee
1 month ago

“the US team culture of being accustomed to winning”
It’s more a losing culture about the US women’s 4X100 free relay.

Boobstroke
Reply to  Dee
1 month ago

Flashbacks to like 7 4th places 💀💀

Kromo08
1 month ago

I would love for the Netherlands to win another medal in the relay. I would pick Busch/ Toussaint (whoever is faster in prelims) – Kromowidjojo – Steenbergen – Heemskerk. I think it will be really difficult, but if they’re on good form they have a chance. Hopefully Heemskerk will split below 52 seconds again

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Kromo08
1 month ago

Heemskerk is a great relay swimmer

Koen
Reply to  Kromo08
1 month ago

I think the main determinant on the Dutch imo will be consistency for Steenbergen (she’s clawing her way back from an injury), and whether Kromo can get back into a 52 split (her Euros performance in the 100 free wasn’t on par with what she did at Dutch trials and what we’re used to from her). Heemskerk seems to have found her confidence (as evidenced by the Euros title), and was remarkably consistent (3x 51 splits) so I really wouldn’t be surprised to see her do that again at the Olympics.

Texas Tap Water
1 month ago

Correction, Emma McKeon swam 52.19 in the trials.

tingo
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
1 month ago

Also didn’t C1 go 52.43 in April this year. Aussie women are 99% to win gold again. Their B team (5th to 8th) would be in the hunt for a medal.

Old Man Chalmers
1 month ago

“Manuel is on the team as a 50 freestyler, and could be called into action here if she trains well over the next few months.”

I think you mean weeks

Breezeway
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
1 month ago

I’ll ask. If she says “yes”, she’s in, period.

eagleswim
1 month ago

the aussies also lost by a tenth in 2013, so 2017 wasn’t the “lone loss”. it was the one international meet you didn’t mention so I had to look it up to make sure haha

Boobstroke
Reply to  eagleswim
1 month ago

Damn does anyone know what happened to Megan Romano?

Shane Potsdam
Reply to  Boobstroke
1 month ago

Long retired. She was great at the WC in 2013 though.

Sub13
Reply to  eagleswim
1 month ago

They said lone loss in this Olympic cycle. 2013 was three years before the last Olympics, so probably not considered part of THIS Olympic cycle.

Eagleswim
Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

They added “this Olympic cycle” after I pointed out the error. Prior to that the only modifier was the “in the past decade” from the previous sentence

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
1 month ago

Wow, I didn’t realize that the non-Aussie contenders were that close.

I fancy the Dutch here to snag a medal, with relay monster Femke Heemskerk capable of dropping a 51 split (she did like three 51s at the Euros)

The interesting dilemma for the USA is if they use someone like Manuel (pending adequate recovery from OTS) or Huske (fastest flat start American this season) in the finals team. They are by no means assured of a spot on the podium. Just looking at the times, they have four very solid legs as listed, but no real X factor (that Heemskerk, Oleksiak, Zhang Yufei etc certainly are). Maybe Weitzeil comes closest in that category.

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Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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