Previewing the Potential Mixed Relays Line-Ups for the United States in Fukuoka

2023 WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

Despite having separate roster limits and separate coaching staffs, the US Worlds team has three overlaps: 1) a shared 12 relay-only swimmer cap 2) the 4×100 Mixed Free Relay and 3) the 4×100 Mixed Medley Relay.

To quickly address the first point. The US team did not run into the World Aquatics mandated cap of a max of 12 relay-only swimmers as there were enough doubles to allow for all of the relay-only swimmers to make the team, this year. In 2021, Ryan Held was not named to the Olympic team, despite the men’s roster being under 26 swimmers, due to being the 13th-ranked relay-only swimmer, when combining both the women’s and men’s teams.  

Now to the crux of the article the Mixed Relays. First added to the World’s long course program in 2015, the mixed relays have a mixed opinion among swimming fans. Some may see them as just a way to add more medals or find them “gimmicks’ but others see them as exciting. With so many possible combinations of order, especially in the medley, lead changes occur so often making for some great and interesting viewing, for example in 2019, Caeleb Dressel raced Emma McKeon in the fly leg and Lilly King did her best trying to hold off the likes of Adam Peaty and Arno Kamminga in the breast. 

Before we dive in it is important to note that per the World Aquatics Competition Regulations, any swimmer in an individual event can be entered into any relay and relay-only swimmers need only the ‘B’ cut to swim in a relay. It should be noted that, unlike the Olympic Games, these competition regulations make no mention of requiring relay-only athletes to compete. 

So let’s see who Carol Capitani and Bob Bowman, the women’s and men’s team head coaches, could pick to be in these events for the United States. For the purpose of this article, we will be looking at the best potential roster for finals only.

4×100 Mixed Free Relay

  • World Record: Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson, Mollie O’Callaghan, Australia – 3:19.38 (2022)
  • American Record: Caeleb Dressel, Zach Apple, Mallory Commerford, Simone Manuel – 3:19.40 (2019)

The mixed free relay falls on the 7th day of the competition. Other sprint events contested on that day are the finals of the women’s 50 fly and the semis of the women’s 50 free. For the men, the conflicts, in sprinting events, are with the finals of the 50 free, the semis of the 50 back, and the finals of the 100 fly. 

Last year, Torri Huske swam third splitting a 52.60, after having already placed 6th in the finals of the 50 fly and and 7th in the semis of the 50 free. Claire Curzan was the other female relay swimmer, splitting 52.84 but she did not make the team this year. To note, Huske and Curzan were the entrants in the 100 free. 

This year’s expected entrants in the 100 free are Kate Douglass and Abbey Weitzeil, who swam 52.57 and 53.11 at trials, respectively. Also potentially in the mix are Gretchen Walsh (53.14) and Olivia Smoligia (53.28) 

Place at Trials Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best Potential Day 7 Conflicts
1st Kate Douglass 52.57 52.57 None
2nd Abbey Weitzeil 52.92 52.92 50 free semis
3rd Gretchen Walsh 53.14 53.14 50 fly finals, 50 free semis
4th Olivia Smoliga 53.28 53.28 None
5th Torri Huske 53.41 52.92 50 fly finals

For the men, Ryan Held led off in a 47.93 last year and swimming second was Brooks Curry who split 47.72. Held qualified for the team via his 5th place finish in the 100 free (48.08) but his prelims time may give him the nod over those above him.

Place at Trials Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best Potential Day 7 Conflicts
1st Jack Alexy 47.75 47.75 50 free final
2nd Chris Guiliano 47.98 47.98 None
3rd Matt King 47.93 47.99 None
4th Destin Lasco 47.87 48.00 None
5th Ryan Held 47.63 47.39 50 free final

From the data above there are three paths to take each with its own ups and downs. 

  • Team based on finish in finals at trials
  • Team based on season best
  • Team based on lifetime best
Finish at Trials  Season Best Lifetime Best
Alexy 47.75 Held 47.63 Held 47.39
Guiliano 47.98 Alexy 47.75 Alexy 47.75
Douglass 52.57 Douglass 52.57 Douglass 52.57
Weitzel 53.11 Weitzel 52.92 Weitzel/Huske 52.92
Agg. Time 3:21.41 Agg. Time 3:20.87 Agg. Time 3:20.63

Using just flat starts the the team of Held, Alexy, Douglass, and Weitzel/Huske have an aggregate best time of 3:20.63 which is already nearly half a second faster than last year’s relay’s time of 3:21.09, a relay that finished 3rd behind Australia (3:19.38) and Canada (3:20.61).

4×100 Mixed Medley Relay

  • World Record: Kathleen Dawson, Adam Peaty, James Guy, Anna Hopkin, Great Britain – 3:37.58 (2021)
  • American Record: Matt Grevers, Lilly King, Caeleb Dressel, Simone Manuel – 3:38.56 (2017)

The mixed medley relay falls on the fourth day of competition. The 4th evening is relatively busy with the semis of men’s 100 free, the finals of the 50 breast, the semis of the 200 IM and the finals of the 800 free and 200 fly. On the women’s side, also scheduled, are the finals of the 200 free and the semis of the 50 back and 200 fly. 

On the men’s side, there is no overlap between backstroke events and the relay and for the women, there is no overlap between the relay and any breaststroke events. So one might think this could work well as it gets the most rested athletes. 

Stroke Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best Potential Day 4 Conflicts
Bk Hunter Armstrong 52.33 51.98 None
Br Lilly King 1:04.75 1:04.13 None
Fl Dare Rose 50.74 50.74 None
Fr Kate Douglass 52.57 52.57 None
Cum. Time 3:40.39 3:39.42

Using flat starts and lifetime bests this quartet is just off the 3:38.79 that Armstrong, Nic Fink, Torri Huske, and Claire Curzan swam to win last year. 

Author’s Aside: Braden would like it known that there are several issues with using a female swimmer on the breaststroke leg of the event. At the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games, the United States was the only team to use a female breaststroker and a male freestyler and wound up placing 5th in a 3:40.58. Falling behind in the breaststroke puts further stress on the last two legs as they need to play catch-up in addition to having to swim through the wakes of the swimmers ahead of them.

Math also supports this supposition. The time difference between women’s and men’s A cuts in the 100s is smallest in the 100 fly and 100 free, which means if you had 8 swimmers( 4 men and 4 women) whose 100 times equaled the A cut their fastest cumulative time would be from a M/M/F/F order. 

On the other hand, I’d counter that the fastest time swum at a World Championships is still the 3:38.56 swum by Matt Grevers, Lilly King, Caeleb Dressel, and Simone Manual. An American Record that was not surpassed by the 2019 gold-winning team of Australians Mitch Larkin, Matthew Wilson, Emma McKeon, and Cate Campbell who split a 51.10 in the free (3:39.10) nor by the US’s winning team from last year (as listed above).

When you have the versatility that really only the United States possesses across the strokes, I believe it matters much more what form the swimmers are in as compared to the prevailing strategy. That being said only two of the fastest ten times in the event have used a female breaststroker, the US at the 2017 Worlds and the US at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.  

 If we follow that pattern of M/M/F/F the resulting US relay would be:

Stroke Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best Potential Day 4 Conflicts
Bk Hunter Armstrong 52.33 51.98 None
Br Nic Fink 58.36 58.36 50 Breast
Fl Torri Huske 56.18 55.64 None
Fr Kate Douglass 52.57 52.57 None
Cum. Time 3:39.44 3:38.55

Using the M/M/F/F order with flat start lifetime bests yields a time of 3:38.55 nearly a second faster than the ‘rested’ squad and also faster than last year’s winning time of 3:38.79.

Technically Ryan Murphy’s personal best is .04 faster than Armstrong’s 1st place time at the 2023 trials. With the 100-back finals the day before, Capitani and Bowman will most likely go with whoever places better in the individual event.

The only other relay combination using the top finishers at trials to get under 3:39 is the team of Regan Smith, Nic Fink, Torri Huske, and Ryan Held, whose aggregate lifetime bests equal 3:38.96. But using Smith seems highly improbable as she is likely swimming both the semis of the 50 back and 200 fly that evening and while Ryan Held‘s lifetime best is the fastest amongst the men, he did not qualify for the 100 individually so may not be awarded the relay spot.

Shaine Casas has a faster lifetime best than Rose in the 100 fly, but like Smith, Casas runs into conflict with a potential double swim with the semis of the 200 IM.

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Bossanova
11 months ago

The coaches should have to run all relay lineups by the SwimSwam staff before anything gets set in stone

Admin
Reply to  Bossanova
11 months ago

I know it’s tongue-in-cheek…but I do think there would be value to running it by someone who is outside of the echo chamber. Someone to say “you know that for this relay to medal, you either need Torri Huske to go 55.0 or Lydia Jacoby to go 1:03.5, right?”

Coaches can get caught up in the psychology, the “hot hand,” the vibes of the choices. Someone to bring them the hard numbers I think would be super valuable. Obviously that wouldn’t be us (I’m sure USA Swimming management forbids them from reading SwimSwam during big meets, or maybe ever), but someone from outside of the circle to run that math would be useful.

Maybe that’s a job for a guy… Read more »

Bossanova
Reply to  Braden Keith
11 months ago

Not tongue in cheek at all after the Tokyo mixed medley debacle. As I remember, y’all knew.

I get that it had to have been tough to leave your superstar gold medalists off, but it just didn’t add up due to the nature of the event. That’s something I don’t really like about the mixed medley.

Neffry
1 year ago

The hot take no one asked for: Matt King has real sneaky relay potential that shouldn’t be overlooked for a mixed 4×1 spot. Dude has consistently crushed on relays at Alabama and Virginia. Swam two flat start sub 48s. He will be fresh for that relay and could very well be good for a 47 mid or low.

Sub13
1 year ago

The third last paragraph mentions “Bobman”. Is this a new nickname for Bob Bowman?

Sub13
1 year ago

I see

Mixed Free
1. Aus
2. USA
3. China

Mixed Medley
1. USA
2. China (very close top 2 if China is on form)
3. Aus

Am I undervaluing Canada? Or is there anyone else in the mix?

Troyy
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

GBR is in reach of the podium in the mixed free if their women are on.

Alison England
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

Agreed.

Nick the biased Aussie
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

Without Penny and Kayla in the 100 Free Canada are missing their 52 low-mid swimmers. Maybe Taylor can go 52 high but then they are looking at mid 53s. Josh and Javier should get them a good start though.

Nick the biased Aussie
1 year ago

The bigger question is who will swim the mixed 4×100 free for Australia?
The 2022 WR team was:
Cartwright 48.12
Chalmers 46.98
Wilson 52.25
O’Callaghan 52.03
3:19.38

2023 options:
Men
Southam 47.77
Chalmers 47.44
Cartwright 48.21
Women
O’Callaghan 52.48
McKeon 52.52
Jack 52.64
Harris 53.09
Wilson 53.43

Only schedule clash with the mixed 4×100 free is the women’s 50m free heat and semi. Unless Jack is really on fire after the womens 4×100 free i’d save her for the 50.

Heats Team:
Cartwright
Southam
Harris
Wilson

Finals Team(time prediction):
Fastest man from heats (47.8)
Chalmers (46.9)
O’Callaghan… Read more »

Anonymous
1 year ago

It is actually the USA managing director who selects the relay team members after consulting with the coaches and all other information.

Anonymous
Reply to  Anonymous
1 year ago

“The Managing Director, National Team, will be responsible for selecting the swimmers for each relay conducted at the Championships, with the advice and consent of head coaches.”

Nick the biased Aussie
1 year ago

We need to see Lydia in the mixed medley again for redemption.

Andrew
Reply to  Nick the biased Aussie
1 year ago

nah, she got her chance and blew it

Sub13
Reply to  Andrew
1 year ago

Her split was actually fine… it’s just that a female breast is a recipe for disaster now that everyone knows the strategy

Lisa
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

Well at least King is at her best right now

Lisa
Reply to  Nick the biased Aussie
1 year ago

Are you being serious or sarcastic

Sawdust
1 year ago

Not sure if the line-up really matters. The only nation that is close to the US on paper is China and they also shouldn’t be able to seriously challenge the US, since they aren’t good enough in women’s 100 back/breast/free. I think even the second american relay would probably win.

Admin
Reply to  Sawdust
1 year ago

I disagree. I think Australia, on paper, is plenty close if they’re firing full power.

57.5
58.9
50.8
51.3

Certainly puts Australia in “US better choose the right lineup” territory.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

Do you think they have a 58.9 split rn?

(Asked by someone barely paying attention to them.)

Admin
Reply to  Steve Nolan
1 year ago

That’s what they got from ZSC in the mixed medley at Worlds last year.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

Idk his 100s seemed blah from what I saw recently. But I suppose there’s no real reason to think he shant!

Troyy
Reply to  Sawdust
1 year ago

Why wouldn’t China be able to challenge the US?

52.20 Xu
57.50 Qin
55.50 Zhang
52.50 Wu
3:37.70

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

My money is on China to win 4×100 Mixed Medley.

Swimswam really sleep on China.

Lisa

Well my pick is still the US.

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  Lisa
1 year ago

Well my pick is still China

Lisa

Not surprised.

Ceccon - Kamminga - Milak - Popovici
Reply to  Lisa
11 months ago

Not surprised

Troyy
Reply to  Lisa
1 year ago

Of course it is.

Lisa
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

The reason is because experience and I think somebody mentioned that China did well on the trial in the past but underperformed when it comes to big meet.

Last edited 1 year ago by Lisa
Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

52.50 Wu?

2021
Junxuan, Yang – 52.76

2022
Yujie, Cheng – 53.66

Troyy
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 year ago

Wu Qingfeng split 52.5 at nationals in May

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

Yet, the entries in the W 100 FR for China are Yang Junxuan and Cheng Yujie.

Troyy
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 year ago

She’s on the roster but I think she’s relay only.

https://swimswam.com/china-announces-41-strong-lineup-for-2023-world-championships/

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Troyy
1 year ago

The heats/semis of the W 200 FL is scheduled on the same day.

https://www.fina-fukuoka2022.org/en/schedule/

2022 World Aquatics Championships
MX 4 x 100 M-R
Jiayu, Xu
Zibei, Yan
Yufei, Zhang – 57.74
Yujei, Cheng – 53 66