Looking Ahead to Tokyo for the Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay

In just over a year, the Tokyo Olympic Games will commence. Although many of the races already have their early favorites, there is one relay on the men’s side that appears wide open: the 800m freestyle relay. 

Since Rio, no country has repeated a global title in this relay. At the Rio Olympics, the Americans led the field by almost 2.5 seconds to win the gold. That team consisted of Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas, Ryan Lochte, and Michael Phelps. Both Phelps and Dwyer are retired, while Ryan Lochte has faced multiple suspensions since Rio. Haas seems like a likely candidate to be on the relay, given that he won silver at the World Championships in 2017 and swam a 1:43.78 on the 800 freestyle relay at Pan Pacs in 2018. However, he only finished 14th in the individual 200 freestyle at the 2019 World Championships.

The Americans have an interesting mix of youth and veteran talent in the 200 freestyle that could prove pivotal in the quest for the gold. In addition to Haas, Andrew Seliskar, Blake Peroni, and Zach Apple swam on the relay that earned the bronze in 2019. All three of them are looking for their first Olympic berth in this event after being pivotal pieces in both the NCAA and on Team USA for the past couple of years. Notably, Peroni broke the American record in the 200 yard freestyle in 2018, though it has been broken since then.

The man who broke that record, Dean Farris, is also a contender for this relay. Farris holds a best time of 1:46.39 from last summer’s National Championships, which ranks 6th among active Americans since 2016. Just ahead of Farris are Kieran Smith and Jack LeVant with times of 1:46.21 and 1:46.39, respectively. LeVant swam in the prelims of the relay in 2019 winning a bronze medal for his efforts. Smith has been on fire recently, smashing the 500 freestyle American record at the SEC championships, which puts him into a good position going forward. One of the youngest contenders and the 7th fastest American since 2016 is Luca Urlando. Although he is a medal contender in the 200 fly, he has great endurance and speed in the 200 freestyle, which may propel him to a relay spot. 

The biggest question for the Americans is if superstar Caeleb Dressel is training for the 200 freestyle. Though it is not a part of his usual lineup, Dressel has swam the 200 several times over the course of the past year, posting a best time of 1:47.31 just before the lockdown started. However, given his versatility and speed, Dressel may be added to the relay by the coaches come Tokyo. 

Top American 200 Freestyles Since 2018

Name Age Time Meet
Townley Haas 23 1:45.56 8/9/18
Andrew Seliskar 23 1:45.70 7/26/18
Blake Peroni 24 1:45.93 7/28/18
Kieran Smith 20 1:46.21 8/1/19
Jack LeVant 20 1:46.39 7/26/18
Dean Farris 22 1:46.45 8/1/19
Luca Urlando 18 1:46.51 8/1/19
Zach Apple 23 1:46.56 8/9/18

At the 2017 World Championships, Great Britain came out on top in this event with a team of Stephen Milne, Nicholas Grainger, Duncan Scott, and James Guy. Although they faded to a disappointing 5th place finish in 2019, they have shown that they have enough speed to put together a threatening relay. Scott and Guy have been staples for the nation in the 200 free, both producing times consistently in the 1:45 range. Guy, the 2015 world champion in the 200 free, owns a post-Rio best time of 1:45.18. Scott has a personal best of 1:44.91, which he earned at last year’s world championships where he finished third in the individual 200 free behind the now-suspended Sun Yang.

The main weakness that Great Britain has is finding solid contributors on the other two legs. At the 2019 World Championships, they had Tom Dean and Calum Jarvis swim their middle legs, both swam times between 1:46 and 1:47, but it will take more to win in Tokyo. However, Dean is only 20, and has shown rapid improvement in his 200 freestyle over the past couple of years, dropping from a 1:50-range down to a 1:46-range. In the limelight of his first Olympic Games, Dean may prove to be the boost the Brits need to win. He went a 1:46.0 on a flat start in March of 2020, right before swimming was shutdown for the global coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Dean‘s Times Improvements

Since April 2018

Date Time
April 2018 1:50.35
July 2018 1:47.64
July 2019 1:47.34
March 2020 1:46.03

Top 8 British Swimmers in the 200 Freestyle Since 2018

Name Age Time Date
Duncan Scott 23 1:44.91 7/26/19
James Guy 24 1:45.95 7/22/19
Tom Dean 20 1:46.03 3/13/20
Calum Jarvis 28 1:46.53 4/6/18
Matthew Richards 17 1:47.23 7/7/19
Cameron Kurle 22 1:47.63 4/8/18
Stephen Milne 26 1:48.08 4/6/18


The 2019 World Champions were Australia, who swam the fastest time out of any of the teams since Rio, 7:00.85. Despite not being a major factor in this relay in the past, the Australians have shown that they are definitely one of the top contenders for a medal come Tokyo. The team consisted of Clyde Lewis, Kyle Chalmers, Alexander Graham, and Mack Horton, who managed to finish almost a whole second ahead of the 2nd place Russians. Horton was the 400 freestyle silver medalist behind Yang in 2019, while Chalmers finished second to Dressel in the 100 freestyle. Lewis’ semi-finals time in the 200 free at the World Championships in 2019 was the best (legal) swim of any round, in spite of winding up 6th in the individual race, and he will be a top contender for the individual Olympic title in Tokyo. This is a fairly young, but experienced one. Chalmers and Lewis are only 21 and 22 respectively, but each have individual international medals to their names already. Horton and Graham, though 24 and 25, are still performing at a very high level and most likely will still have plenty in the tank for Tokyo. 

Top 8 Australian 200 Freestyle Times Since 2018

Name Age Time Date
Lewis Clyde 22 01:44.90 7/22/19
Kyle Chlamers 21 01:45.56 4/6/18
Mack Horton 24 01:45.89 4/6/18
Elijah Winnington 20 1:46.13 12/18/18
Alexander Graham 25 1:46.14 6/10/19
Jack Cartwright 21 1:46.38 8/9/19
Jack Alan Mcloughlin 25 1:46.82 6/10/19
Cameron Mcevoy 26 1:47.43 8/23/19

Additional contenders include Italy, Russia, Japan, and China. The Italians are more known for their distance squad, but many of their top swimmers are beyond capable of throwing together a very quick 200 freestyle. At the 2019 World Championships, they finished just off of the podium, a slim .03 behind the Americans for fourth. 

Russia won the silver medal in 2017 and 2019, with very similar squads both times. Their team has relied on the presence of Mikhail Dovgalyuk, Mikhail Vekovishchev, and Aleksandr Krasnykh. However, Russia is facing an Olympic ban due to a violation of anti-doping laws. Following the guidelines set forth in it, Russia may not be able to participate in the Olympics under a team, and any athletes found positive will also be banned. Although the implications for this relay remain unknown, the Russian team may be factored out before the games even begin.

Top Russian 200 Freestyle Times Since 2018

Name Age Time Date
Martin Malyutin 20 1:45.46 4/12/19
Mikhail Dovgalyuk 24 1:45.56 7/26/19
Aleksandr Krasnykh 24 1:46.25 4/24/18
Mikhail Vekovishchev 21 1:46.43 4/24/18
Ivan Girev 19 1:46.54 4/12/19
Viacheslav Andrusenko 27 1:46.89 4/24/18
Nikolay Snegirev 23 1:46.97 7/6/19
Aleksandr Shchengolev 17 1:47.43 8/21/19

Japan hasn’t performed as strongly in this event since their bronze medal in 2016, but they may be a threat in front of their home crowd. China isn’t in a very strong position to medal after the loss of Sun Yang. However, if his suspension is reduced (though highly unlikely), China may get the boost it needs to get on the podium. Both countries are known for producing out-of-nowhere swimmers from their youth contingents, who could rise to the challenge with the extra year, but that’s hard to quantifiy.

Top 10 200 Freestyle Times World Wide Since Rio 2016

Swimmer Country Time
Danas Rapsys LTU 1:44.38
Sun Yang* CHN 1:44.39
Clyde Lewis AUS 1:44.90
Duncan Scott GBR 1:44.91
Townley Haas USA 1:45.03
Park Taehawn KOR 1:45.16
James Guy GBR 1:45.18
Katsuhiro Matsumoto JPN 1:45.22
Aleksandr Krasnykh RUS 1:45.23
Martin Malyutin RUS 1:45.46

*Currently suspended

Top 10 200 Freestyle Times Since World Wide Since 2018

Swimmer Current age Country Time
Danas Rapsys 24 LTU 1:44.38
Clyde Lewis 22 AUS 1:44.90
Duncan Scott 23 GBR 1:44.91
Sun Yang* 28 CHN 1:44.93
Katsuhiro Matsumoto 23 JPN 1:45.22
Martin Malyutin 20 RUS 1:45.46
Xinjie Ji 22 CHN 1:45.48
Fernando Scheffer 22 BRA 1:45.51
Mikhail Dovgalyuk 24 RUS 1:45.56
Townley Haas 23 USA 1:45.56
Kyle Chalmers 21 AUS 1:45.56
Dominik Kozma 29 HUN 1:45.57

*Currently Suspended

Top 800 Freestyle Relay Times Since Rio 2016

Team Time Meet
United States 7:00.66
2016 Olympic Games
Australia 7:00.85
2019 World Championships
Great Britain 7:01.70
2017 World Championships
Russia 7:01.81
2019 World Championships
Italy 7:02.01
2019 World Championships
Japan 7:03.50
2016 Olympic Games
China 7:04.74
2019 World Championships

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Wheel Snipe Seli
4 years ago

There’s been a lot of discourse on Australia, USA, and GBR, but have we forgotten about Japan? Seto is arguably the best middle distance swimmer in the world right now, and Hagino certainly could be once again. Can he get back to his old 1:45 form for a home Olympics? Seto recently dropped a 1:46 2 free, but given his 2 fly/4 IM I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a 1:44 high. Throw in Matsumoto’s 1:45 low from Gwangju, and suddenly Japan’s looking real dangerous.

Reply to  Wheel Snipe Seli
4 years ago

It’s hard to get a good handle on Japan, since they missed the final last year thanks in large part to a 1:48.0 anchor from Seto. Matsumoto is a good 3rd leg, but they’re lacking somewhat on a 4th leg, all presuming Hagino gets it back together.

A lot for Japan could come down to event selection. The 800 free relay final for men comes in the same session as the 200 fly final, which I presume Seto will swim.

All-in-all, there’s a lot of hurdles between Japan and a medal in this relay. I don’t see them getting there unless a couple of other countries have issues (which, all of the top countries have had happen to them in… Read more »

Not the frontman of Metallica
4 years ago

Even though I agree with Australia being favorites on paper I wouldn’t be surprised if USA pulls out that all-American Olympic team spirit to grab the gold. Also for third no idea, would be fun with Italy or Japan but for some reason I’m leaning a little bit towards Brazil?

Reply to  Not the frontman of Metallica
4 years ago

Other countries have massive team spirit too. Australia for the win

4 years ago

Gonna call it now

Matt Richards
Tom Dean
Duncan Scott
James Guy

If they are all at their bests, no one will touch them

Duncan 44 low / 43 high ( done it before in a relay )
Guy 43mid/43 high( done it before in a relay )
Dean 44high / 45 mid ( done it before in a relay )
Marr Richards ( all he needs is a 46 high lead off

Reply to  John
4 years ago

Isn’t Duncan’s best relay his 1.44.9 relay lead off? Not sure he has split much faster than that flying. Dean’s best was 1.46.0 at Worlds, but he has improved drastically and has raced out of his skin in relays previously.

Corn Pop
Reply to  John
4 years ago

But they did not do it in 2019. We only have real & recent swim sd to go by . Or fortune telling.

Reply to  Corn Pop
4 years ago

They actually swam really well in 2019. Duncan led off in 1.44. Calum Jarvis swam 1.45.5 (PB is 1.46.5). Tom Dean swam 1.46.0 (PB at the time was 1.46.8). James swam 1.45.4 (SB was 1.46.0). They all swam about as well as they could have in that form. James is swimming back to his best now, and was consistently 1.44s on relays at his best previously. Tom Dean has improved almost a second in 2020. I think it’s a safe bet that GBR will send a far better team to Tokyo, but obviously so will everybody else.

4 years ago

Depth wins relays- you usually need 5-6 great swimmers to take Olympic Gold (that’s why the US/AUS get gold/silver in nearly every womens relay event).
With that in mind the US/AUS seem to me be the favourites, with GB a bit thinner on the ground but still a threat.

Reply to  torchbearer
4 years ago

No I’m pretty sure you need exactly 4 great swimmers to take Olympic gold.

Reply to  Reid
4 years ago

And then you need all 4 to peak at the Olympics, on that day, and for all 4 to do heats and finals, while other teams have rested swimmers etc…it is rare for a team with the JUST the best 4 on paper and no back up to pull off a win. It happens, but not often.

Reply to  torchbearer
4 years ago

GBR made the world final last year without swimming Guy or Scott in heats, without our 5th fastest 200 freestyler in Gwangju, and with Tom Dean leading off almost 1.5s slower than his new PB. I don’t think we’re thin at all?

4 years ago

The U.S. men’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay does not currently have a swimmer who can pop a sub 1:45 (flat start).

Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
4 years ago

Only 4 swimmers went sub 1:45 in 800 free relay at Worlds in ’19. 1 from USA (Blake P.) 1 from AUS, 1 from GB and Sun Yang. In ’17, similarly, only 4 swimmers were sub 1:45 in 8Free relay…Haas was one of them. Haas also split sub 1:44 at PanPacs. While it is true these are not flat start times, there are only 3 people in the World that will be competing in Tokyo who have been that fast since Rio.

4 years ago

I won’t pull any punches on this one; I think GBR will win gold. I’ll say pretty confidently that, baring a disaster, we’ll have three 1.44 legs in Tokyo, and there is no shortage of talent fighting out over the fourth leg. The two Welshman, Jarvis and Richards, are top of the list, but Ed Mildred might be an interesting wildcard.

Mildred won EYOF in a time of 1.49.3 last summer. That was a 2s PB and marked a 10s improvement over the previous two years. He dropped a 100fr PB of 50.4 earlier this year too, which isn’t too shabby for a 16 year old 200 fly swimmer.

Craig Jones
Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

Is Jacob Whittle in the mix – or still too young/ wrong distance?

Reply to  Craig Jones
4 years ago

Couldn’t see it myself. I think he’ll be in Tokyo for the 4×1 though.

Reply to  Dee
4 years ago

It comes down to 2 things for GB:
1) Not wasting Scott on the lead off.
2) Whoever does lead off coming in 45 high/ 46 low. If we are on the hip or even the knee after leg 1 no country closes as well as Dean, Scott and Guy on legs 2, 3 and 4.

Hot Takes:
4 years ago

A whole bunch of people are gonna dislike this but I just see the upcoming talent in the US as something that can’t be over looked. I think the Ausies go in the Favorites and we see a few members of team USA pop off and grab the gold.

Reply to  Hot Takes:
4 years ago

Kieran Smith immediately comes to mind !

4 years ago

Really interested to see, with the extra year, if Dressel goes for a relay spot on this. His recent in-season swim was pretty impressive and could be one of the game-changers for the US team…but then again, I didn’t check the Olympic schedule to see how that would fit in even if he could post a fast time.

Also, assuming if competitive swimming starts back up in the fall, are there any big meets in the works? SC worlds, Winter Nats, ISL, etc?

Reply to  BKP
4 years ago

Heats and finals of the 800 relay are during the same sessions as the heats and semis of the 100 free, but Dressel has shown he can handle doubles (and even triples) before.

Anyways, I would be really surprised if Dressel didn’t swim in at least the heats of the 4×200 relay. He actually qualified to swim it 2017 (he was sixth at trials), but the coaches didn’t want him swimming triples on consecutive days, so he agreed to defer his spot. That won’t be an issue this year with no 50 fly or mixed free relay.

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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