With Olympic action officially underway Wednesday (women’s soccer kicked off, though the opening ceremonies aren’t until Friday), we bring you the second half of our 400 free relay preview: the men’s edition.
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1. Australia Actual: 3:11.00 Aggregate: 3:11.57
James Magnussen (47.10)
James Roberts (47.63)
Matthew Targett (48.32)
Eamon Sullivan (48.52)
Breakdown: Here’s what we know about this Australian relay: James Magnussen has been faster than anybody else in the world in textile, ever, in the 100 free. James Roberts has been faster than anybody not named James Magnussen, in textile, ever. The Australians were the only team at the World Championships last year that had four 47’s on their split-list. They probably won’t be the only ones to do so this year, but at the same time even that swim seems to pale compared to what we’ve seen from the Australians already this year.
In addition to the big two, Matt Targett looks great this year, and will have just one race to worry about: this one. There’s a bit of concern internationally that Roberts’ 47.6 was simply him riding Magnussen’s wake, but swimming from the front can’t hurt either. Here could be a hitch: The Australians won this relay last year over the French on some near-perfect exchanges. Their relay preparations haven’t been able to be as thorough this year thanks to different issues with illness. That could affect them.
2. USA Actual: 3:11.96 Aggregate: 3:13.14
Michael Phelps (48.08)
Matt Grevers (48.55)
Cullen Jones (48.46)
Nathan Adrian (48.05)
Breakdown: The Americans’ big hope in this relay since Omaha has been that Phelps is going to show up in finals and on the leadoff leg do something in the neighborhood of Magnussen. Fans have been saying it, and even his teammates have said it. He can certainly get into the 47’s, especially with the scratch of the 200 free, but it would be a tall order to get down to Magnussen’s 47.0 or 46-high on a flat-start. If the Americans want to catch the Aussies, they’re going to have to get more help from their middle legs, especially Grevers, and Nathan Adrian on an anchor. The French are certainly catchable, but with Agnel focusing on the sprints, I would speculate that he’s going to do something very, very impressive leading off this relay. Cullen Jones surprised a lot of people at Trials – but will need to do so again to keep this relay in the hunt.
Will Lochte swim this race instead of Jones? Opinions are flying, but at this point we have no idea. I think he can probably flat start better than a 48.5, but the coaches have given few/no hints. Jones or Grevers may have to swim prelims to hold Lochte off.
3. France Actual: 3:11.14 Aggregate; 3:13.00
Yannick Agnel (48.02)
Fabien Gilot (48.13)
Amaury Leveaux (48.48)
William Meynard (48.00)
Breakdown: This relay stepped-up big time at Worlds last year, thanks to solid, though not spectacular, relay starts and William Meynard coming through with a great 3rd leg of 47.3. Meynard is an outstanding relay swimmer, especially as compared to his 49.1 flat-start this year. The French have a very tough decision to make as to whether or not he should be included in the finals group, despite not being close to the four-best French swimmers this year. They’re not going to win without the gamble, and I assume they’ll give him a chance to earn his spot in prelims. Leveaux, one would presume, will get a spot in finals given that he dropped the 200 free to focus on this relay.
4. Russia Actual: 3:12.99 Aggregate: 3:13.00
Evgeny Lagunov (48.23)
Andrey Grechin (48.29)
Nikita Lobintsev (48.21)
Danila Izotov (48.27)
Breakdown: This Russian relay has the luxury of being extremely balanced. There’s no other country in the world that can put up four swimmers with flat starts of 48.2 or better. This has both good and bad sides, though. Even when things aren’t going well (as they weren’t at Worlds last year), the relay doesn’t fall too far – they still placed 5th. Then again, there’s nobody to pick the relay up and put it on his back, carrying it to medal-winning glory. If Russia is swimming well, it could place as high as silver. Evgeny Lagunov has not been great since a 48.2 in 2010, and the Russians will have to decide if they might want to replace him with Vlad Morozov. Lagunov made a not-so-subtle statement that he wants to swim finals by scratching the individual 200 free, his only individual entry.
5. Brazil Actual: 3:14.65 Aggregate: 3:14.06
Cesar Cielo (47.84)
Bruno Fratus (48.72)
Marcelo Chierighini (48.79)
Nicolas Oliveira (48.71)
Breakdown: This relay may have contended for a medal last year had they made it through prelims. But they sat Cielo in the morning heats, which left them 9th and out of finals. They’re a bit better prepared to rest Cielo in prelims and still be safely through, though it would be a gamble none-the-less. Joao de Lucca is a far superior 5th to Marcos Macedo and the 50.3 he swam on a rolling start in prelims last year. The aggregate time for the Brazilians is not spectacular, but Oliveira is always a fantastic relay swimmer (usually dropping between .7 and 1.5 from his flat-start in a relay). Chierighini is training with Brett Hawke, who also trained Cielo during his huge developmental late teens and early 20’s; and Fratus is a young man waiting for his 100 to catch up to his 50.
6. South Africa Actual: 3:13.38 Aggregate: 3:14.83
Roland Schoeman (49.07)
Giedon Louw (48.74)
Darian Townsend (48.87)
Graeme Moore (48.15)
Breakdown: These South Africans swam out of their minds in this relay at Worlds last year, and actually sat 2nd through three legs. But on the anchor, they were notably absent of the veteran Roland Schoeman, who was inexplicably left off by the South African coaches. Leith Shankland wasn’t able to swim as well in finals as he did in prelims, and even Schoeman probably wouldn’t have been able to hold off Adrian and Gilot to grab a medal, but the South African’s very well could have finished 4th. Schoeman’s 50’s have been elite again this year, and if we presume that his 100’s are better, this year could put them back on the podium. A 48.1 or 48.2 on the leadoff from Roland will make this relay hard to fight off for bronze.
7. Italy Actual: 3:12.39 Aggregate: 3:15.28
Luca Dotto (48.24)
Marco Orsi (49.30)
Michele Santucci (49.38)
Filippo Magnini (48.36)
Breakdown: Unlike their medley, which was awesome at the European Championships, this free relay was just “good”, but nothing crazy in a 3:14.7. But this relay is very young – in order above, the first three are 22, 21, and 23, respectively, with the veteran and 2007 World co-champion Filippo Magnini, who is 30. That’s about the age where sprinters really come into their own (see Jimmy Feigen for an example). That’s why, despite not having great individual times, this Italian squad gets so much hype.
8. Germany Actual: 3:14.23 Aggregate: 3:34.75
Steffen Deibler (48.97)
Markus Deibler (48.88)
Paul Biedermann (48.66)
Marco di Carli (48.24)
Breakdown: This is a very good German relay. Part of their challenge will be choosing the true “best relay”. They made one big change between prelims and finals last year, and it added seven-tenths of a second to their time. The top German relay would include Paul Biedermann, but of course he has the 200 free semi’s earlier in the session. Though many around the world have scratched the 200 to focus on this relay, in reality there’s a decent gap of time between the two (probably close to an hour). Whichever four they end up choosing will have to be significantly better than they were at Germany’s Olympic Trials in May if this relay wants to even come close to a medal.