Olympic Relay Qualification Update: Pre-European Championships

Earlier this year, SwimSwam took a closer look at the chase for the four Wildcard spots for Olympic relay qualification. With the relay qualification period ending on May 31, the European Swimming Championships taking place this week will be many countries’ last chance to claim one of those Wildcard spots. 

A brief explanation of the relay qualification procedures ahead of Tokyo:


  1. The top 12 teams from prelims of each Olympic relay at the World Championships are selected to the Olympics. The finish order from prelims is what matters, so if a team is disqualified in the final (like the Dutch mixed 400 medley relay was), the team’s spot at the Olympics is secure.
  2. The next 4 best relays from the qualification period, March 1st, 2019 through May 31, 2021, will receive a spot – if the relay is swum at a FINA approved Olympic qualifying event. This includes most Olympic Trials meets, the Southeast Asian Games, the World Championships, World Juniors, Euro Juniors, the World University Games, the FINA World Cups (where a few countries have actually swum times that will get them selected), and a selection of other important international meets.
  3. If any of the top 12 teams from the World Championships, or any of the next 4 best teams during the selection period, decline their spot, then the next-fastest team during the selection period goes. So, if a top-12 team at the World Championships declines their spot, it’s not necessarily the 13th team from the World Championships that is selected.

A few notes:

  • Countries can swim any athlete that is entered in any individual event in a relay, even if they have not achieved the OST/”B” standard for the corresponding stroke and distance of the relay in which they are entered.
  • Each NOC gets additional relay-only athletes, but those athletes must have hit the OST/”B” standard for the corresponding stroke and distance of the relay in which they are entered. So, if a swimmer is racing the breaststroke leg of the medley relay, that swimmer must have at least a “B” cut in the 100 breaststroke, if they are a relay only swimmer. If that breaststroker on the medley relay has no cut in the 100 breaststroke but is swimming, say, the 1500 free, they’re still eligible for the relay.
  • Countries must confirm their participation in a relay no later than June 11th, 2021 and must confirm their relay-only athletes by no later than June 27th, 2021.
  • No ‘aggregate relay times,’ the relay must actually be raced to be considered.

Relay-only swimmers, if a country has:

  • 1 qualified relay – 2 additional athletes
  • 2 qualified relays – 4 additional athletes
  • 3 qualified relays – 6 additional athletes
  • 4 qualified relays – 8 additional athletes
  • 5 qualified relays – 10 additional athletes
  • 6 or 7 qualified relays – 12 additional athletes

These relay-only athletes that are chosen for a specific event must swim that event in prelims or finals, or the nation will be disqualified in that relay.

For those interested, here is where relays stood at the beginning of the year:

Since the top 12 teams from the 2019 World Championships are already qualified, the focus here will only be on the race for the four Wildcard spots. Countries can decline their qualification spot, which will open up a slot to the next fastest relay. 

Editor’s note: FINA doesn’t officially publish an up-to-date ranking for relay qualifying, so we’ve done our best to compile the current rankings manually.

Women’s 400 Free Relay

Rank May 2021 January 2021
Country Time Country Time
Wildcard #1 France 3:35.64 France 3:35.64
Wildcard #2 Brazil 3:38.59 Brazil 3:40.39
Wildcard #3 Denmark 3:38.87 Singapore 3:40.92
Wildcard #4 Singapore 3:40.92 Switzerland 3:41.30
Out #1 Switzerland 3:41.30 Italy 3:41.84
Out #2 Israel 3:41.61 Denmark 3:42.20
Out #3 Italy 3:41.84 South Korea 3:42.58
Out #4 South Korea 3:42.58 Turkey 3:43.03

There have been two changes in the women’s 400 free relay since January. First, Brazil was able to drop their qualification time by nearly two seconds at a 3:38.59 during a Time Trial at the Brazilian trials meet. While their rank has not changed and are still sitting in the second Wildcard spot, they would need three teams to overtake them.

Denmark has made the most of their opportunities this year as Signe Bro, Jeanette Ottesen, Julie Kepp Jensen, and Emilie Beckman swam a 3:38.87 in April to move up three spots in the rankings. Denmark now sits in the third Wildcard spot, over two seconds ahead of fourth place Singapore.

Switzerland, Israel, and Italy will be competing in Budapest to jump into one of the Wildcard spots. The Israeli team of Anastasia Gorbenko, Daria Golovaty, Lea Polonsky, and Andi Murez set an Israeli national record in April with a time of 3:41.61 and would need to drop another .70 seconds to be in a position to qualify. Switzerland’s best time this year is a 3:50.07 and Italy has yet to swim the relay this year. 

Women’s 800 Free Relay

Rank May 2021 January 2021
Country Time Country Time
Wildcard #1 Italy 7:59.68 Italy 7:59.68
Wildcard #2 Brazil 8:00.92 Great Britain 8:03.77
Wildcard #3 Turkey 8:02.76 Belgium 8:05.13
Wildcard #4 Great Britain 8:03.77 Spain 8:06.97
Out #1 South Africa 8:04.71 Singapore 8:07.00
Out #2 Belgium 8:05.13 Brazil 8:07.77
Out #3 Israel 8:06.91 Thailand 8:11.88
Out #4 Spain 8:06.97 France 8:12.60

The women’s 800 free relay has seen quite some changes since we first looked at the rankings in January. Brazil and Turkey have jumped into Wildcard spots.

The Brazilian team of Larissa Oliveira, Nathalia Almeida, Gabrielle Roncatto, and Aline Rodrigues dropped nearly seven seconds at the Brazilian trials and now sit in the second Wildcard slot. 

Turkey set a new national record in this relay in April as Gizem Guvenc, Beril Boecekler, Merve Tuncel, and Deniz Ertan teamed up to swim an 8:02.76 to put them into the third Wildcard spot. 

Israel, following their success in the 400 free relay, set a national record in April in the 800 free relay. Andrea Murez, Anastasya Gorbenko, Lea Polonsky, and Daria Golovati combined to swim a 8:06.91 in Stockholm and take a whopping 17 seconds off the previous record. Israel has the potential to be even  faster as their best individual swims add up to 7:59.66.

It will be interesting to see how Great Britain approaches this relay at Euros. Will they try to improve their ranking and make a run at a medal in Tokyo? The Brits had six women swim under 2:00 at the British trials but their aggregate time is only 7:50.19, still around four seconds away from challenging for Bronze. Seeing how they swim this in Budapest will provide some insight into their plans for Tokyo. 

Women’s 400 Medley Relay

Rank May 2021 January 2021
Country Time Country Time
Wildcard #1 Poland 4:02.63 Czech Republic 4:03.02
Wildcard #2 Czech Republic 4:03.02 South Korea 4:03.38
Wildcard #3 South Korea 4:03.38 Hong Kong 4:03.52
Wildcard #4 Finland 4:03.49 Spain 4:03.87
Out #1 Hong Kong 4:03.52 Poland 4:04.27
Out #2 Belarus 4:03.61 France 4:04.32
Out #3 Spain 4:03.87 Denmark 4:04.33
Out #4 France 4:04.32 Brazil 4:04.96

The women’s 400 medley relay has seen a lot of changes over the past few months.

Poland, who were previously on the outside looking in, have used a national record swim to jump up three spots into the first Wildcard spot. Alicja, Tchorz, Dominika Sztandera, Klaudia Nazieblo, and Kornelia Fiedkiewicz swam a 4:02.63 earlier this month and now have their eyes on qualifying for Tokyo. 

Finland and Belarus were two countries who were previously unranked. Finland now occupies the last Wildcard spot. Belarus is only .12 behind them as Anastasiya Kuliashova, Alina Zmushka, Anastasiya Shkurdai, and Nastassia Karakouskaya teamed up for a new Belarusian record of 4:03.61 in April. 

With six European teams within 1.69 seconds of each other, the women’s 400 medley relay may be the most intriguing relay to watch in Budapest.

Men’s 400 Free Relay

Rank May 2021 January 2021
Country Time Country Time
Wildcard #1 Canada 3:15.06 Canada 3:15.06
Wildcard #2 Belgium 3:15.34 Belgium 3:15.34
Wildcard #3 Netherlands 3:15.54 Netherlands 3:15.54
Wildcard #4 Serbia 3:15.72 Serbia 3:15.72
Out #1 China 3:16.23 China 3:16.23
Out #2 Ukraine 3:16.24 Singapore 3:16.82
Out #3 Singapore 3:16.82 Switzerland 3:16.85
Out #4 Switzerland 3:16.85 Ireland 3:17.38

The only change to the rankings is Ukraine moving into the second “Out” position. In March, Valentyn Nesterkin, Sergii Shevtsov, Illya Linnyk, and Artem Bodnar swam a 3:16.24, which featured a 47.67 split from Shevtsov. The swim broke a nearly 17 year old Ukrainian record in the event. The previous record of 3:18.95 was set back at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

China did not swim this relay at their trials meet last week and it appears that they have decided not to try to swim this relay in Tokyo with their chance of medaling being a long shot.

Similar to the women’s 400 medley relay, the men’s 400 free relay has a bunch of teams close together timewise. Looking ahead to Euros, there are five teams separated by 1.51 seconds and it will be a fun relay to watch for teams looking to qualify for Tokyo.

Men’s 800 Free Relay

Rank May 2021 January 2021
Country Time Country Time
Wildcard #1 Hungary 7:07.67 Belgium 7:12.99
Wildcard #2 Belgium 7:12.99 New Zealand 7:13.06
Wildcard #3 New Zealand 7:13.06 Hungary 7:13.64
Wildcard #4 Ireland 7:13.91 Ireland 7:13.91
Out #1 Canada 7:14.01 Canada 7:14.01
Out #2 South Korea 7:15.05 South Korea 7:15.05
Out #3 Serbia 7:15.28 Serbia 7:15.28
Out #4 Netherlands 7:17.36 Netherlands 7:17.36

The biggest mover on the list is Hungary, who have all but officially clinched a spot in Tokyo. The Hungarians dropped nearly six seconds from their previous time as Gabor Zombori, Nandor Nemeth, Balazs Hollo, and Kristof Milak set a new Hungarian record back in March with a 7:07.67. Hungary’s time gives them a legitimate chance to make Finals in this race as they currently have the ninth fastest time behind Germany at 7:07.65 and Brazil at 7:07.64.

With Hungary in the driver’s seat for a qualification spot, the teams to watch this week in Budapest will be on the other four european teams. The Belgians would need three teams to swim faster than them in the next two weeks to not qualify for Tokyo. With their fastest swimmer (Alexandre Marcourt) being only 1:48.51 this year, they might not have the speed right now to swim faster than their 7:13.06 ranking. 

The Irish, on paper, have more in them as their four fastest swimmers this year have a 7:12.81 add-up time.

The Dutch will have some work to do if they want to swim this relay in Tokyo. Based on times swum this year, their aggregate time is 7:14.17. Serbia is probably the longest shot to qualify as their fastest time this year in the 200 is 1:50.83.

Men’s 400 Medley Relay

Rank May 2021 January 2021
Country Time Country Time
Wildcard #1 Italy 3:32.66 Italy 3:32.66
Wildcard #2 Ireland 3:35.86 Ireland 3:35.86
Wildcard #3 South Korea 3:36.53 South Korea 3:36.53
Wildcard #4 France 3:36.61 France 3:36.61
Out #1 Netherlands 3:36.77 Netherlands 3:36.77
Out #2 Turkey 3:36.85 Turkey 3:36.85
Out #3 Switzerland 3:36.98 Switzerland 3:36.98
Out #4 Croatia 3:37.18 Croatia 3:37.18

There have been no changes to the rankings since we first published them earlier this year. 

This should be a very fun relay to watch this week in Budapest. All of the teams on the list aside from South Korea will be competing and with the separation between Ireland and Croatia being only 1.32 seconds, none of these teams (aside from Italy) should feel comfortable with their current spot. Fans at home should keep an eye on the relay lineups as this should give an indication on how countries have decided to attack these relays.

Mixed 400 Medley Relay

Rank May 2021 January 2021
Country Time Country Time
Wildcard #1 China 3:38.41 China 3:38.41
Wildcard #2 Japan 3:44.75 Japan 3:44.75
Wildcard #3 Brazil 3:45.51 South Korea 3:47.92
Wildcard #4 South Korea 3:47.92 Brazil 3:48.61
Out #1 Switzerland 3:48.98 Switzerland 3:48.98
Out #2 Denmark 3:49.10 Denmark 3:49.10
Out #3 South Africa 3:49.90 South Africa 3:49.90
Out #4 Turkey 3:50.49 Turkey 3:50.49

The biggest mover on the rankings for the mixed 400 medley relay was Brazil. Guilherme Basseto, Felipe Lima, Giovanna Diamante, and Larissa Oliveira set a new Brazilian and South American record at the Brazilian Olympic Trials with a time of 3:45.51. This moves them into the third Wildcard spot. 

As of right now, there are no European teams in any of the Wildcard spots. Due to the wide time differences between teams in this event, there is realistically only one spot available to qualify for the three European teams on this list. Switzerland, Denmark, and Turkey would all need to drop more than a second to qualify, while finishing ahead of the other two teams.

It should be noted that while China set the World Record in the event in October, as they did not finish in the Top 12 at the 2019 World Championships, they can only qualify via a Wildcard. 

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3 years ago

Like to see updated standings now after the Men and Women have completed the 4*100 Free Relays at the European Championships. They have might have changed a lot, think we will also see several countries outside the 4 wild card times that are faster than some of the Top 12 times from the 2019 World Champs (already qualified unless they turn down their selection spot).

3 years ago

South Korea’s aggregate times haven’t improved since their Olympic Trials?

Reply to  Aquajosh
3 years ago

Not sure you can do an aggregated relay time for the Olympics, think you can only use relay times that the country have done.

Reply to  Dan
3 years ago

They had national records in what, three of the four strokes on the men’s side? You’d think they would at least try to get that men’s 400 medley relay in.

3 years ago

The Dutch men will only swim the 4×100 free relay, at least that’s the only one they’re entered in when I checked the startlist 😉
And they had a little set back, since Kyle Stolk is not swimming Europeans due to not being in good shape (he posted that on Instagram last week), but he was part of the 4×100 that swam their current best time if I remember correctly

3 years ago

I think the GBR women will also be trying to get a 4×1 time tomorrow, then we see if they get picked for Tokyo.

3 years ago

I do not remember reading the reason from FINA for why they have Top 12 relays at the World Championships automatically qualified for the Olympics. I think it is to encourage countries to participate but if you have a country disqualified it makes it much harder to end up having the fastest countries at the Olympics. Since the times from the World Championship themselves count, I would like to see this changed to Top 10 and then have 6 at large spots.
To emphasis this point it is nice when the lists you have in presentation showing the Top 12 teams that were already qualified via the 2019 World Champs.

Last edited 3 years ago by Dan
3 years ago

You’ve missed two South African relays which are currently in qualifying spots:
Women’s 4x100m Free – 3:40.29
Women’s 4x100m Medley – 4:01.92

Craig Jones
3 years ago

RSA woman’s 4 x 100 medley 4:01.92 and 4 x 100 free 3:40.29 in April at their aquatic champs