Early Olympic Relay Look: Women’s 4×100 Medley 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 USA
2 2019 Worlds Australia
3 2019 Worlds Italy
4 2019 Worlds Canada
5 2019 Worlds China
6 2019 Worlds Sweden
7 2019 Worlds Great Britain
8 2019 Worlds Japan
9 2019 Worlds Germany
10 2019 Worlds Netherlands
11 2019 Worlds Switzerland
12 2019 Worlds Russia
13 Wild Card Belarus
14 Wild Card Finland
15 Wild Card Hong Kong
16 Wild Card South Africa

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

USA
Swimmer Split
Regan Smith 57.92
Lilly King 1:04.72
Torri Huske 55.66
Abbey Weitzeil 53.52
TOTAL: 3:51.82

When the U.S. broke the world record with four relatively young swimmers (17/22/24/22) in 2019, it looked like we could be seeing a potential dynasty for a nation that won Olympic gold in 2016, then Worlds gold in both 2017 and 2019. But the world is closing in fast, and we’ve got three true gold medal contenders up in this top category.

For the U.S., Smith has the potential to be faster – she was 57.5 when setting the world record back in 2019. King has never been significantly faster on relays, but is the world record-holder at 1:04.1. The 18-year-old Huske is an Olympic rookie. Weitzeil has split 52 plenty of times before. The wild card is Simone Manuel, a potential 51-second split for Team USA who missed the Olympic team in the 100 free. She’s on the team as a 50 freestyler and could be a coach’s decision to join this relay at the end of the meet if she recovers well from three weeks away from training this spring.

Australia
Swimmer Split
Kaylee McKeown 57.45
Chesea Hodges 1:05.99
Emma McKeon 55.93
Cate Campbell 52.43
TOTAL: 3:51.80

Australia has the new world record-holder in backstroke with McKeown. They’ve also got McKeon, one of the top fly legs in the field, and one of the most dangerous anchors in Campbell. Breaststroke is really the only hurdle for Australia – they lost 1.2 seconds to the U.S. on that leg in 2019.

Canada
Swimmer Split
Kylie Masse 57.70
Kelsey Wog 1:06.77
Maggie MacNeil 56.14
Penny Oleksiak 52.89
TOTAL: 3:53.50

All of these teams have the ability to get out front, or at least stay with the lead pack, on backstroke. That’s an absolutely key element to getting your breaststrokers and butterflyers clean water. Canada also has a bit of a breaststroke issue, but they’ve got the defending world champ in butterfly, plus the defending Olympic champ in the 100 free.

The most likely scenario is a dead heat through backstroke, with the U.S. pulling out to a breaststroke lead. Then the run-down will begin, with MacNeil, McKeon, Campbell and Oleksiak trying to run down the less-experienced U.S. back half.

The Contenders

China
Swimmer Split
Fu Yuanhui 59.58
Tang Qianting 1:06.40
Zhang Yufei 55.62
Yang Junxuan 53.21
TOTAL: 3:54.81

These two are probably outside of medal contention unless something wonky happens with one of the top three. China should have an excellent back half – Zhang Yufei might wind up with the best fly split of the field. But they’ll need more out of the front half to stay in the race.

Great Britain
Swimmer Split
Kathleen Dawson 58.08
Molly Renshaw 1:06.21
Harriet Jones 57.79
Freya Anderson 53.40
TOTAL: 3:55.48

The British team won Euros by two full seconds, going 3:54.0 – so don’t put too much stock in this aggregate time exactly. Dawson should stick with the top backstrokers out of the gate. Anderson is a relay machine on the anchor leg. Laura Stephens swam the final of this relay at Euros and split 57.5. She could be an option over Jones.

The Field

Japan has a really high ceiling… but they’ve got a real puzzle to solve. Rikako Ikee could swim fly or free, depending on her status coming off of a battle with leukemia. Natsumi Sakai is the top backstroker this year, but also the top 100 freestyler after Ikee. Here are two potential lineup options based on season-bests:

Japan v1
Swimmer Split
Natsumi Sakai 59.54
Kanako Watanabe 1:06.51
Suzuka Hasegawa 57.70
Rikako Ikee 53.98
TOTAL: 3:57.73
Japan v2
Swimmer Split
Anna Konishi 59.93
Kanako Watanabe 1:06.51
Rikako Ikee 57.77
Natsumi Sakai 54.32
TOTAL: 3:58.53

Italy could take advantage of the breaststroke weakness across almost all of these contenders. Martina Carraro is the new national record-holder and a strong breaststroker. Italy was third at Euros in 3:56.3, with Arianna Castiglioni taking the breaststroke leg.

Italy
Swimmer Split
Margherita Panziera 59.01
Martina Carraro 65.86
Elena di Liddo 57.85
Federica Pellegrini 53.86
TOTAL: 3:56.58

Sweden has all the pieces to be elite here… but their best swimmer is coming off of a broken elbow that might blow the whole operation. Sweden was fourth at Euros without Sarah SjostromCurrent projections (with season-bests) would have them back in the 3:57s, but if Sjostrom can come anywhere near her world-record-level 51.7 speed, they rise to just outside the top three in a hurry.

Sweden
Swimmer Split
Michelle Coleman 1:00.00
Sophie Hansson 1:05.69
Louise Hansson 56.73
Sarah Sjostrom 54.84
TOTAL: 3:57.26

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ACC
2 months ago

That freestyle leg is the big question mark for the US. If Weitzel can go a 52 then she can probably hold off a charging Cate Campbell, but it’ll be tight.

Boomer
Reply to  ACC
2 months ago

I think the best Weitzeil has gone is a 52 high, and Campbell is at least a 51 high so if the deficit after the fly leg is anywhere close to 1 sec, Aus has a good chance.

M d e
Reply to  Boomer
2 months ago

I think the limit is about 1.2.

If Cate is in the water within that of any US swimmer other than a suddenly in form Manuel I like her chances.

Pacific Whirl
2 months ago

Any options for Curzan or Douglass to anchor this medley relay?

W_P_1
Reply to  Pacific Whirl
2 months ago

Why though? Neither of them are faster than Abby.

Admin
Reply to  Pacific Whirl
2 months ago

It’s not implausible, but it would take one of them really doing something special, and maybe one of the top two freestylers struggling, for that to happen – ala what we saw at the 2019 World Championships with Regan Smith leading off the 400 medley relay in spite of not being in the 100 back individually.

Given the overall challenges of the US this year in sprint freestyles, it’s within reach. That being said, it would probably have to be BOTH, because unless they were genuinely worried about the prelims relay not qualifying to the final, they probably wouldn’t make that shakeup just to drop a few tenths in the heats.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

No way they’re dropping a veteran for rookies. They’d have to go 52.6 in prelims to justify it. That ain’t happening.

Admin
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
2 months ago

But again, they did just that at Worlds in 2019.

Also, this is a 400 medley relay. So it’s not a free relay “prelims finals” situation. Something really unusual and unexpected would have to happen for any prelims 400 medley relay swimmers to race in finals. But, maybe they give Kate a crack at the 400 free relay prelims to see what happens there.

But if Kate pops a 2:07-low in the 200 IM, while Abbey and Erika Brown both go 54s in the 100 free individual event…they’d sure think really hard about making that change.

Togger
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

I think Worlds in 2019 had the distinction of people qualifying a year out from the meet.

It’s justifiable to say to someone “your firm isn’t what it was last year and this 17 year old’s got way faster since a year ago” but saying “your form isn’t what it was last month and this 16 year old’s got way faster since 6 week’s show” is much less plausible.

Gets even more controversial if they add Simone. This is probably Weitzeil’s best shot at gold and she earned it at Trials by beating Simone.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Togger
2 months ago

Team USA will conduct time trials at the Olympic Team Training Camp. Don’t be surprised if Katie Ledecky is swimming in the final of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics as was the case at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

RUN-DMC
Reply to  Togger
2 months ago

Abbey and all Team USA swimmers earned the right to be on the team. No one earned any right to swim a relay.

The coaches decide who is on the relays, and they will do a good job selecting the four fastest swimmers.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

How the heck did USA Swimming even allow Kathleen Baker to swim at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships with a bruised/broken rib?

Jamie5678
Reply to  Pacific Whirl
2 months ago

I think the US team need to be very careful about overcomplicating and overthinking the options and making things worse.

Debating Curzan, Douglas, Manuel etc. betrays first and foremost a lack of faith in Weitzeil. There’s a pleasing purifying quality to the US trials and people seem to want to keep swimming the 100 free especially until they get the result that they want. Weitzeil won and unless she has a disaster in the 100 free (which probably won’t happen) she’s earned the right to swim.

Swimswummer
Reply to  Pacific Whirl
2 months ago

Makes no sense when both Abby and Erika have been and are faster than both Curzan / Douglass

Miss M
2 months ago

Did not realise the Australian aggregate was actually faster than the US. Ok, it’s 0.02,but still. So much is going to hinge on Kaylee vs Regan and then whether Chelsea can hold her own and which Lilly King comes to swim.

Jamie5678
Reply to  Miss M
2 months ago

This surprised me too. I had thought that the US were still favourites but it’s really too close to call. Canada are then really the clear favourites for bronze in this one.

… At this stage at least. The sprint freestyle relays are a little bit different in this respect because we won’t be much wiser when they line up – but by the time the medley relay happens we should have some inkling what kind of shape people are in from the individual swims.

gllr0302
Reply to  Jamie5678
2 months ago

imagine your team consists of two reigning world champs and a reigning Olympic champ, all in the appropriate events, and you seem solidly third best!

96Swim
Reply to  Miss M
2 months ago

Given the first three legs for the US are basically right at the WR for their legs it is kind of amazing that this one looks close.

M d e
Reply to  96Swim
2 months ago

Because Australia also have 2 legs right at the WR (McKeon’s fly a small stretch), and another that is the WR.

Both teams have 1 bad leg.

Joel
Reply to  Miss M
2 months ago

Yes, not sure why Aus isn’t listed first

Willswim
2 months ago

Abbey has what it takes to hold off a charging C1 and Penny! Gold medal USA!

Eddie
2 months ago

If abbey weitzeil can work on that back half at training camp, I really think she’s going to surprise us all as USA’s top sprinter this year, and even a medal contender.

Samuel Huntington
Reply to  Eddie
2 months ago

Well she already is the top sprinter for the USA – first in the 100 and second in the 50 at Trials. However, I don’t see her as a medal contender.

Boomer
Reply to  Eddie
2 months ago

Well she’s had years and years to work on that back half, what makes you think she can make rapid progress in a month

CY~
2 months ago

Fu Yuanhui and Arianna Castiglioni didn’t make their teams

Eric the Eel > Michael Phelps
2 months ago

Australia is ahead of america by 0.02 sec

Qqq
2 months ago

Out of respect for Manuel, can we come to some consensus as to what she is recovering from? Some stories it’s OTS, in this story it’s from taking three weeks off in the spring (and if anything she probably did better than she otherwise would have had she not taken the time off).

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Qqq
2 months ago

They’re related. The treatment for OTS is almost complete rest for an extended period,

Qqq
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
2 months ago

Absolutely. But the phrasing as “recovering from three weeks off” makes it sound like she took a vacation, not that she was recovering from a condition.

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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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