For our relay picks, we’ll approach them a bit differently. We’ll take the races spot-by-spot, guess at the lineup, and post both the country’s best time in the last year-plus, as well as the aggregate of their best flat-start times. To look at all of our race-by-race previews, check out this page.
1. USA Actual: 3:52.36 Aggregated: 3:54.14
Missy Franklin – 58.85
Rebecca Soni – 1:04.91
Dana Vollmer – 56.42
Jessica Hardy – 53.96
Breakdown: The Americans are not, on a historical level, as firmly in control of this relay as are their male counterparts; in fact at the last two Olympics, it’s been the Australians who have taken gold. This year, however, the Americans seem set to reclaim that throne. They come into the meet with the world’s number one backstroker, breaststroker, and butterflier, and though Hardy may not be quite as fast at peak as the anchors for either China and Australia, the times are close enough that she could surely hold them off. Rebecca Soni is the key to why this relay is so unbeatable. The Americans have the three best breaststrokers in the world, and on paper are so far ahead of the rest of the world that it will be hard for anybody else to make that up on the other three legs.
2. Australia Actual: 3:57.13 Aggregated: 3:56.07
Emily Seebohm – 59.21
Leisel Jones – 1:06.18
Alicia Coutts – 56.94
Melanie Schlanger – 53.74/Cate Campbell – 53.82
Breakdown: If this Australian relay ever gets healthy, then I think they could have a shot at the Americans; Jones battled through a bug at Trials, and Seebohm’s 2011 season was trashed with some scary illnesses. There are high hopes for the two anchors, however; Mel Schlanger is a very come-and-go swimmer, but always gets hot at the right time for the Olympics, and the young Cate Campbell has the potential to be one of the best in the world. I think the Aussies jump the Chinese because of the confusion with the Chinese breaststroke leg. Leisel Jones needs to be Leisel Jones of 2011 and prior, though.
3. China Actual: 3:55.61 Aggregated: 3:56.35
Jing Zhao – 59.05
Jiping Li – 1:06.52*
Lu Ying – 57.06
Yi Tang – 53.71
Breakdown: The Chinese are in an interesting predicament here. They have chosen not to enter their best 100 breaststroker into the event individually. But if they don’t allow Jiping Li (or even Sun Ye) swim this medley anchor, it’s hard to see where they can make up enough ground to catch the Americans or Australians. Jing Zhao can probably match Franklin; Yi Tang may be able to make up a few tenths on the anchor; but making up much ground on the middle two legs will be nearly impossible, especially against the Americans.
4. Japan Actual: 3:57.84 Aggregated: 3:57.65
Aya Terakawa – 59.08
Satomi Suzuki – 1:06.80
Yuka Kato – 57.77
Haruka Ueda – 54.00
Breakdown: This is a relay that’s in the same position as the Russians below. They’ve had the great front-half, but have been waiting for the back-half to come around. Their last two swimmers, though, have made an even better improvement in 2012. Kato and Ueda, though still not world-beaters, both broke National Records in their respective events individually in the 6 months. They’re still in an uphill battle to overtake the Chinese for bronze, but neither country has a history of out-performing at big meets, so it’s feasible.
5. Russia Actual: 3:57.38 Aggregated: 3:58.64
Anastasia Zueva – 58.97
Julia Efimova – 1:06.56
Irina Bespalova – 58.89
Veronika Popova – 54.22
Breakdown: This relay has been one of the best in the world on the front-half, and they will hand off ot Bespalova neck-and-neck with anybody in the world. But it’s the back-half that’s always been a challenge. Bespalova has looked pretty good the last year, and Popova continues to crush Russian Records as their anchor. This relay will come down 100% to whether or not Bespalova can relay split a 57 (when everyone else will have 56’s and 55’s). If that happens, they could sneak onto the podium. The other challenge for the Russians is that they have nearly zero opportunity to swap out prelims swimmers, save on the breaststroke leg.
6. Denmark Actual: 4:01.60 Aggregated: 3:59.12
Mie Nielsen – 59.69
Rikke Moeller-Pedersen – 1:07.13
Jeanette Ottesen – 58.24
Pernille Blume – 54.06
Breakdown: This is THE dark horse relay of the whole meet. With Ottesen really finding her groove this year in the butterfly, and the young swimmers Mie Nielsen and Pernille Blume still getting better, this is a dangerous group. It may be a year early for Nielsen to be good enough to give the Danes a medal chance, but a 2013 Worlds medal or even a 2014 European Championship are definite possibilities. The big concern, both short-term and long-term, is Rikke Moeller-Pedersen’s rib injury that kept her out of Danish Trials. She looked good at Sette Colli, though.
7. UK Actual: 3:59.65 Aggregate: 3:58.72
Georgia Davies – 59.95
Kate Haywood – 1:08.07/Siobhan-Marie O’Connor – 1:08.04
Ellen Gandy – 57.25
Fran Halsall – 53.48
Breakdown: This is probably the most back-half heavy relay in the final, with Gandy a medalist candidate on the fly leg and Halsall looking like the best sprinter in the world coming into this meet. The Brits will also be in front of a home crowd, and with their breaststroke group starting to come around, they don’t have a weak spot anymore. It will be interesting to see what they do on the backstroke leg. Neither Davies nor Gemma Spofforth has been as good as expected this year, but Lizzie Simmonds (who missed the team in the individual 100 but will swim the 200) has been outstanding other than at Trials. Amy Smith has been good enough to carry this relay to finals without Halsall, too. If they take the risk and swim Simmonds in finals, it could pay off big – a 59-low could put the Brits close to a medal. As is, that probably won’ t happen, so look for them to sit 5th-7th.
8. Germany Actual: 3:58.43 Aggregate: 3:59.40
Jenny Mensing – 59.85
Caroline Runhau – 1:07.28/Sarah Poewe – 1:07.33
Alexandra Wenk – 58.59
Britta Steffen – 53.68
Breakdown: The way this field is shaping up, there could be a big gap after the top 7. With the women’s 50 free on the last day, countries like Germany and the Netherlands will have to battle through prelims without their stars. Whoever can emerge from that mess will make the final, and with Daniela Schreiber to play anchor for the first round, the Germans could be ok. For much of this relay, there’s some concern that they’ve maxed-out at Trials.
Other Finals Contenders
The Netherlands’ relay is very interesting, as many of their best 100 freestylers will hold spots in other strokes on this relay. But at the end of the meet, I think they’ll be out of it. They swam horribly in prelims of Worlds in this relay. Canada will probably but Sinead Russell on the backstroke leg and Julia Wilkinson on the freestyle leg, but there’s some concern about Russell’s minor hip injury. Their aggregate is 3:59.39 though, .01 better than the Germans. With Martina Granstrom swimming well, that frees up Sweden to move Sarah Sjostrom to the backstroke leg -she’s the country’s best, but still not very good. They can probably go a 4:00.
Italy’s women had a very good European Championship meet, but still have a big hole at the end of this medley relay. If they can convince Federica Pellegrini to swim the anchor, and she can split a 53 low (very possible), then they could sneak into the 3:59 range as well and maybe final.