Overreacting: Brits Whiff In 400 Free Relay, Popovici Looking Dangerous

2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

It’s time to read way too much into what went down during Day 2 prelims in Tokyo, with a couple of notable British misses, a smooth looking 16-year-old, and a potential relay upset among the emerging storylines on Sunday evening.

Brits Miss 400 Free Relay Final

A pair of key misses from Great Britain on Day 2 is headlined by the men’s 400 freestyle relay, as the coaches opted to leave off both Duncan Scott and Tom Dean and paid for it as they finished .04 outside of a finals position in ninth.

The only glaringly-weak split for the Brits came from Joe Litchfield, who went 49.41 swimming third, digging Jacob Whittle a hole he couldn’t climb out of despite a 47.50 anchor.

The team finished in an overall time of 3:13.17, with the ROC team (Russia) 3:13.13 to eke into Lane 8 for the final.

Scott and Dean did have the men’s 200 free prelims earlier in the session, which certainly would’ve factored into the decision to leave both off the relay.

The British men have only become a player on the world stage in the 400 free relay recently, not even fielding a time at the either the 2016 Olympics or 2017 World Championships before finishing fifth at the 2019 Worlds.

That was followed by a silver medal and new National Record two months ago at the European Championships, as Dean, Matthew RichardsJames Guy and Scott combined for a time of 3:11.56. That put them at least in the conversation to vie for a medal in Tokyo, but that chance is now lost.

Making the situation worse is the fact that Litchfield was held out of the men’s 100 backstroke heats in order to swim the relay, and his personal best time of 53.75 would’ve snuck him into the semi-finals.

The lone British entry in the 100 back was Luke Greenbank, who added four tenths to his PB and narrowly missed earning a second swim, clocking 53.79 to tie for 17th overall. A scheduled swim-off with Italian Simone Sabbioni was cancelled, and the start lists for Monday morning’s finals session indicate Greenbank has conceded the first alternate position to Sabbioni.

Greenbank is considered a favorite by many to win bronze in the 200 back later in the competition, and either he or Litchfield will be relied upon heavily at the end of the meet in the men’s 400 medley relay.

Popovici Smoothly Advances In 200 Free

Appearing to be almost immune to pressure, Romania’s David Popovici had a flawless Olympic debut in the men’s 200 free heats, putting together an effortless 1:45.32 to qualify fourth into the semi-finals.

The 16-year-old set a new Romanian Record earlier this month at the European Junior Championships in 1:45.26, but was only seeded with a time of 1:48.38, which placed him in the non-circle-seeded second heat.

That forced Popovici to take it upon himself to go fast enough to advance to the next round, but he had no problems at all, and any concerns of struggling with a double-taper after Euro Juniors have been quickly washed away.

He’s now a premier contender to medal in the 200 free, which several had forecasted after that 1:45.2 a few weeks ago, and the anticipation only builds for his eventual 100 free showdown with the likes of Caeleb Dressel and Kyle Chalmers. (Chalmers had a great start to the meet of his own, splitting 46.63 on Australia’s prelim 400 free relay.)

South Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo was the top qualifier out of the men’s 200 free, as the 18-year-old lowered his World Junior Record down to 1:44.62.

Italian Men In Prime Position In 400 Free Relay

The Italians were far and away the fastest team in the men’s 400 free relay heats, blasting a new National Record of 3:10.29 to qualify first for the final by over a second.

Italy has always been competitive in this event, usually in the final, but they’ve never won an Olympic medal in the men’s 400 free relay and have only claimed one medal over the previous six World Championships.

That all looks like it’s going to change on Monday morning, as Italy was spotless with all four of their swimmers splitting under 48 seconds, including lead-off man Alessandro Miressi missing his National Record by .01 on the opening leg (47.46).

The Americans sit second in 3:11.33, and will bring in two-time world champion Caeleb Dressel for the final. Exchanging Dressel for Brooks Curry, the U.S. could be up to two seconds faster than their prelim time if the rest of the teams holds steady, with Dressel owning a best of 46.96 and Curry having gone 48.84 in the prelims.

Nonetheless, the Italians look great.

Notable Finals/Semi Misses

  • Women’s 100 Back: Anastasiya Shkurdai (BLR)*
  • Men’s 200 Free: Katsuhiro Matsumoto (JPN), Ji Xinjie (CHN), Elijah Winnington (AUS), Ivan Girev (RUS), Dominik Kozma (HUN)
  • Women’s 100 Breast: Kanako Watanabe (JPN), Reona Aoki (JPN), Jessica Hansen (AUS), Alia Atkinson (JAM), Kierra Smith (CAN), Tes Schouten (NED), Benedetta Pilato (ITA)*
  • Men’s 100 Back: Luke Greenbank (GBR), Simone Sabbioni (ITA), Markus Thormeyer (CAN),
  • Women’s 400 Free: Tamsin Cook (AUS), Ajna Kesely (HUN), Anastasiia Kirpichnikova (RUS), Anna Egorova (RUS), Merve Tuncel (TUR)
  • Men’s 400 Free Relay: Great Britain

*Shkurdai was a DNS in the 100 back; Pilato was disqualified in the 100 breast

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Troyy
1 month ago

Does anyone know why Pilato was DQd?

Luigi
Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

“Illegal kick” is all they say on the Italian Swimming Federation’s website 🤷‍♂️

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Luigi
1 month ago

Did someone mention Cody Miller?

Last edited 1 month ago by Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Luigi
1 month ago

Any video review?

the one and only
Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

I watched her prelim and noticed a suspect kick with one of her legs after the dolphin one. Looked very subtle and when you watch her kick in general one of her legs always makes a funky little kick motion after the frog kick.

Joel Lin
1 month ago

Whittle 47.5 split as a 16 year old. Mind boggling.

I’d wildly speculate that some US NCAA coaches might be rehearsing that handshake & small talk when they “just happen to pass alongside him” on the pool deck this week.

CY~
Reply to  Joel Lin
1 month ago

but he’s doing ISL?

Dan
Reply to  CY~
1 month ago

Maybe with the new rules that the NCAA are starting to use maybe he could still do college swimming?

Max C
Reply to  Dan
1 month ago

My uneducated impression is that NIL does not include competing in professional leagues… Maybe he could deny the money but that seems like a waste.

Admin
Reply to  Max C
1 month ago

Yes. While everyone is still trying to figure out exactly what this all means, that’s my impression too, Max C.

At the moment, there’s probably a loophole there, but hopefully they clarify soon.

Eras
1 month ago

So Matsumoto was 17th?

Last edited 1 month ago by Eras
Admin
Reply to  Eras
1 month ago

Television commenters were presenting as though it was a swimoff for the semifinals, but in reality it was a swimoff for alternate. So far, no scratch has been announced, so he remains 17th.

boknows34
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

TV commentators with a lack of awareness? *pretends to be shocked*

Dan
Reply to  boknows34
1 month ago

I watched an international broadcast, was this on the US broadcast or another country?

boknows34
Reply to  Dan
1 month ago

I was watching Eurosport and they think Matsumoto is now in the semi final having won the swimoff.

Last edited 1 month ago by boknows34
CY~
Reply to  Eras
1 month ago

he won the swim-off to be first alternate, unless there’s a scratch in the top16?

PhillyMark
1 month ago

Did someone make SS take down the lane-line pulling article?

Admin
Reply to  PhillyMark
1 month ago

No. We misidentified the swimmer and needed to correct it before republishing.

SwimCoachSean
1 month ago

What happened to the lane line pull at olympics article that was posted for a few minutes?

PhillyMark
Reply to  SwimCoachSean
1 month ago

Let them post!
Let them post!

boknows34
Reply to  SwimCoachSean
1 month ago

See Braden’s comment.

Luigi
1 month ago

I have never been so excited before for Italy’s chances in Olympic swimming relays. We are legitimate contenders to a medal in both the men’s 4×100 free and the men’s medley relay. If all stars align.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Luigi
1 month ago

Good luck!

By the way, congrats on winning UEFA Euro 2020/2021. “It’s coming Rome!”

Lopez
Reply to  Luigi
1 month ago

You have 3, proven to be in shape, fantastic legs in the medley, what are your thoughts on Burdisso?

Luigi
Reply to  Lopez
1 month ago

He is at the moment our weak leg, although he might surprise us. But three very good legs out of 4 might do the trick for a minor medal

Dan
Reply to  Luigi
1 month ago

Looks like Santo C. made the right move

Luigi
Reply to  Dan
1 month ago

I don’t think Santo will have the honor to swim the final, though. They will go with Ceccon me thinks

HJones
Reply to  Luigi
1 month ago

He will still get a medal, so not that bad I guess. He could walk away with another in the medley relay as well based on how their BK, BR and FR legs have looked thus far.

DDias
Reply to  Luigi
1 month ago

And very interesting, I think Italy made a very safe relay exchange in all swimmers:0.33,0.31 and 0.3.

Hopper
Reply to  Luigi
1 month ago

I remember in Beijing when the Men’s Medley relay happened and Dan Hicks said that the Italians were “not expected to contend”. Oh how things have changed…

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
1 month ago

Team Great Britain has temporarily commandeered the choke label from Australia.

Relay Enthusiast
Reply to  Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
1 month ago

So dumb this morning. They could’ve stuck Duncan Scott on the anchor and if they were in a good position he could coast his leg. Richards and Whittle were outstanding, especially as they are 18 and 16. Guy was ok, not his best. Joe Litchfield was a complete disaster.

Would love to have seen a team of Matt Richards (48.2 lead-off), Jacob Whittle (47.5 split this morning), Tom Dean (48.3 flat start) and Duncan Scott (splits 46’s most years).

Would’ve been a medal contender for sure.

LAWolf
Reply to  Relay Enthusiast
1 month ago

Totally agree the problem is with spice and Furness and all the others who would appear to favour the luff swimmers

Medal count will be lower with only Gold coming from Peaty
Time to wise up British swimming, select your fastest swimmers
Unless the selection is correct for the 4×200 the potential 24k medal is in jeopardy
Too much hype

IM FAN
1 month ago

My overreactions

Women’s 100 back

Smith looked a lot better than Trials, but her stroke still seems more forced and less natural than it was in 2019.

I still think McKeown walks away with this

Men’s 200 free

Popovici looked great in that 200, making me feel alright about picking him to win the event in my Pickems.

Hwang looked very good, but I’m not sure he has much more to give.

Kieran Smith didn’t look all that great

I’m still Popovici FTW in this event honestly.

100 breast

King looked like she was working hard. Concerning swim.

Schoenmaker… um, wow. WR watch in the 200?

Pilato, IDK I saw no evidence of any 29.30 speed, not… Read more »

Riccardo
Reply to  IM FAN
1 month ago

I think swimming the 400 final the morning of the 200 prelim is tough.

Kieran was the only one that was in that situation that advanced actually.

Rapsys and Malyutin missed the final in the 400 so they were fresher.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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