And here is the last of our Olympic previews. Starting Saturday, all of the questions will be answered, but for now one last shot at speculation.
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1. USA Actual: 7:02.67 Aggregate: 7:02.80
Michael Phelps (1:44.79)
Peter Vanderkaay (1:46.45)
Ricky Berens (1:47.12)
Ryan Lochte (1:44.44)
By this point of the meet last year, Phelps was pretty tired and was about a second off of his flat-start time. Lochte had worn down a bit too, though he still swam pretty well on the anchor. At the Olympics, though, the final comes on day 4, two days earlier than it does in the World Championships schedule. This relay still comes at the end of a session where Phelps has the 200 fly final, though. With Ricky Berens swimming very well, this squad should be able to at least repeat their 7:02 performance, though maybe not beat it by much. The Americans have tough choices to make about who to make their 4th leg in finals: Peter Vanderkaay has been a fixture, but didn’t even final at Trials. Not much of an indication yet, but we’d expect a full four-swimmer swap, with Vanderkaay on the finals squad (assuming he looks fit in his 400).
2. France Actual: 7:04.81 Aggregate: 7:04.81
Yannick Agnel (1:44.42)
Amaury Leveaux (1:46.72)
Gregory Mallet (1:46.77)
Clement Lefert (1:46.90)
Breakdown: This relay has gotten extremely deep in the last two years, becoming more similar to their 400 free relay counterparts. The difference now is that the French have a big leadoff in Yannick Agnel who can hang with anyone in the world, even the Americans’ Michael Phelps. They’re still missing that second piece (nobody can contend with America’s 1-2 punch, just like in the women’s 800 free relay), but the French shouldn’t have too much trouble grabbing silver.
3. China Actual: 7:05.67 Aggregate: 7:09.24
Haiqi Jiang (1:48.69)
Yun Hao (1:47.48)
Li Yunqi (1:47.02)
Sun Yang (1:46.05)
Breakdown: This Chinese relay went from possible gold-medal contenders to a point where they now going to have to fight just to stay on the podium. Zhang Lin and his 1:46.1 – off the team. Wang Shun and his 1:47.0 leadoff – not listed among 5 relay members. It’s a very young relay, all four finalists could be 20-or-younger, so they always have that potential “pop” factor. Sun Yang needs to find his legs early and often in this race.
4. Germany Actual: 7:08.32 Aggregate: 7:07.64
Paul Biedermann (1:44.88)
Clemens Rapp (1:47.57)
Dimitri Colupaev (1:47.58)
Tim Wallburger (1:47.61)
Breakdown: With a Paul Biedermann leading off Germany’s relay, they can at the least be guaranteed some good air time and a little bit of hype from the television announcers. But even with Biedermann (for now) being better than what China can throw, they’ll have trouble finding three other legs who can hold on and carry this team to a medal. Clemens Rapp and Dimitri Colupaev give them some new options, with a pair of 1:47.5’s at German Trials, and with Benjamin Starke seeming to focus more on the shorter 400 free relay, Tim Wallburger probably gets the 4th spot.
5. Australia Actual: 7:08.48 Aggregate: 7:09.20
Thomas Fraser-Holmes (1:46.88)
Kenrick Monk (1:47.16)
David McKeon (1:47.55)
Ned McKendry (1:47.61)/Cameron McEvoy (1:47.79)
Breakdown: The fastest swimmer in 2011 on this relay at Worlds was Kenrick Monk. When a relay’s fastest swimmer is being sent home early from the Olympics, it’s never a good sign. Others can be better though. Thoms Fraser-Holmes has had a personal revolution in his swimming since then. Ryan Napoleon is swimming much better this year than he was last. Cameron McEvoy is a big young talent, and David McKeon has swum very well. The Australians have some options here, though it doesn’t seem like they have enough of an anchor (or leadoff in the modern age of swimming) to contend with the four squads ahead of them.
6. Great Britain Actual: 7:10.84 Aggregate: 7:09.97
Robbie Renwick (1:47.25)
Ieuan Lloyd (1:47.55)
Ross Davenport (1:47.31)
David Carry (1:47.86)
Breakdown: The Brits’ top two, Renwick and Lloyd, are swimming much better than they or anyone else on the British relay did last year. With Carry and Davenport filling in around them, this relay is probably better than the 7:10 they went last year, but not good enough to catch the Aussies.
7. South Africa Actual: 7:15.65 Aggregate: 7:11.18
Chad le Clos (1:47.20)
Darian Townsend (1:47.46)
Jean Basson (1:47.94)
Sebastien Rousseau (1:48.58)
Breakdown: This relay’s success will depend on the willingnness of its athletes to swim prelims. If they make it to the finals, with the above foursome they could do some damage. But it would be somewhat of a risk, because if these guys do swim prelims and the relay comes up short, it will negatively affect many other individual races. Sebastien Rousseau is the key to this relay, if he can split in the 1:47 range as well, the South Africans could jump the Brits.
8. Japan Actual: 7:10.46 Aggregate: 7:09.98
Takeshi Matsuda (1:45.96)
Yuki Kobori (1:47.71)
Sho Sotodate (1:48.15)
Chiaki Ishibash (1:48.16)
Breakdown: Takeshi Matsuda didn’t put much into this relay last year, and it’s hard to blame him with so many other races to focus on. He’s the key to Japan moving up the rankings, though. It will be a tall order for him coming off of the 200 fly final, though, and unlike Phelps without much to swim for other than “pride” of a 7th place finish. Japan seems to have left Shogo Hihara off of the team this year; he was their fastest swimmer both in prelims and finals of this relay last year. That could sink their ship.