Swim of the Week: U.S. Medley Breaks First Men’s Relay WR Since Super-suit Ban

Disclaimer: Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Swim of the Week is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.

When FINA outlawed buoyant, full-body racing swim suits in 2010, fans and observers feared that the record books might stagnate, a set of suit-aided asterisks adorning the all-time lists for years.

By and large, that doomsday timeline didn’t come to pass. Within a year of the ban taking effect, several short course meters world records had fallen – a pair of IMs records to Ryan Lochteboth 4×200 free relay records to Russia’s men and China’s women.

In July of 2011, Lochte broke the first long course world record since the suit ban 18 months earlier, going 1:54.00 in the 200 IM. (That record still stands to this day). China’s Sun Yang followed just days later with a 14:34.14 world record in the 1500 free.

But even as the world’s elite swimmers have slowly started to purge the world record books of super-suited swims, one key barrier still remained.

Heading into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in July of 2021, none of the three men’s relay world records in long course meters had been broken in the 11 years since the suit ban. In most cases, the world hadn’t even approached those world records since the end of 2010:

World Record (as of July 23, 2021)
Fastest Swim on Record Since Suit Ban (as of July 23, 2021)
4×100 medley relay 3:27.28
3:27.91 – USA (2017)
4×100 free relay 3:08.24
3:09.06 – USA (2019)
4×200 free relay 6:58.55
6:59.70 – USA (2012)

That makes it all the more significant that, even coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, all three men’s relay winners at the Tokyo Olympics were the fastest swims since the suit ban. The headliner was the United States men’s 4×100 medley relay, which broke the suit ceiling by smashing the world record.

Gold Medal Men’s Relays: 2020 Tokyo Olympics:

  • 4×100 medley relay: USA 3:26.78 WR
  • 4×100 free relay: USA 3:08.97
  • 4×200 free relay: Great Britain: 6:58.58

The British 4×200 free relay put a crack in the dam early in the meet, coming within .03 of a world record relay that included super-suited Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in their athletic primes. Where both of those superstars split 1:44.4 (Phelps on a leadoff; Lochte on the anchor leg), the Brits held serve with a 1:44.4 from James Guy and a 1:43.4 from Duncan Scottthough the relay fell just short of the world record.

On the final night of competition, though, the U.S. cracked the super-suit relay barrier wide open.

2009 Relay 2021 Relay
Back Aaron Peirsol 52.19 52.31 Ryan Murphy
Breast Eric Shanteau 58.57 58.49 Michael Andrew
Fly Michael Phelps 49.72 49.03 Caeleb Dressel
Free David Walters 46.80 46.95 Zach Apple
3:27.28 3:26.78

The U.S. team did it, amazingly, by outsplitting a supersuited, 24-year-old Michael Phelps by seven-tenths of a second. That was courtesy of new star Caeleb Dresselwho split 49.0 for the fastest split in the history of the sport on butterfly. Michael Andrew was the other swimmer to outsplit his 2009 counterpart, going 58.49 to sneak under Eric Shanteau‘s split.

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Notanyswimmer
2 months ago

If I’m not mistaken, the fastest American breaststroke split ever was Kevin Cordes’ 58.33, set in 2015 in the prelims of the mixed medley relay at WCs. Hopefully Andrew can better that next time.

MAndrew fan
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
2 months ago

First, I think each relay member did the best they could on that day, and that is what being on a team is all about. But for MAHaters, this is less than brilliant. You just opened yourself up to critizing another relay member who was off his best time, and easily comparable since it was a flat start. I am not bashing Murphy, merely pointing out that your critisizm of MA is again off base. I really expected the MAHaters to chime in that in their version of reality he swam it wrong, or that his split in the MAHaters Time Continuum was somehow not as fast as Shanteau’s. CONGRATS to Team USA and ALL the relay swimmers!

Notanyswimmer
Reply to  MAndrew fan
2 months ago

I was merely pointing out a benchmark that Michael Andrew totally has the potential to cross in the future, and I’ve also seen some mistaken comments here and there saying that his split in Tokyo was the fastest American one ever, so I just wanted to clear that up. MA’s split still sits 3rd or so among Americans all-time, so not bad at all. This WR is breakable in 2022.

MAndrew fan
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
2 months ago

Then say it that way, instead of another snide MAHater comment. And to be FULLY clear, not selectively clear, there was upside from another relay member off his best time. Again, nothing against Murphy, but ya’ll are downvoting me because i’m RIGHT and you can’t argue with Murphys Toyko times vs. best times. It takes a team, not one individual and only the total time matters. Dressel carried the most in this race, but i’d say ZApple did an exceptional job as well.

anonymous
Reply to  MAndrew fan
2 months ago

MA had to slightly short stroke about 5 meters to the finish so that he correctly hit the wall on a full stroke to help out the takeoff swimmer. He really did a great job on doing that. That probably cost him some tenths of seconds on his split. He did a superb job on the relay. His start was also great.

tea rex
Reply to  MAndrew fan
2 months ago

I kinda felt bad for MA by the end of the swimming. He finished 4th, 4th, and 5th individually. Was left off the mixed medley, likely costing the US a medal. And got a TON of negative press – I didn’t like all his decisions, but the pile on was pretty nasty in some comment sections.
Even though I question if he was the fastest option for USA, all is well that ends well.

ACC fan
Reply to  Notanyswimmer
2 months ago

Michael Andrew had the fastest breaststroke split in US Olympic history. There’s a big difference in standing up at an Olympics versus a world.

Sub13
Reply to  ACC fan
2 months ago

People will pick and choose stats to suit what they want to believe.

Emma McKeon broke 5 individual Olympic records, a relay Olympic record and a relay world record (her fifth relay world record). She set the two fastest Olympic freestyle splits in history (not just for Australia, for anyone) and the fastest 100 free of all time in the individual event (the WR was a relay lead off).

And all anyone has to say is “BUR SHE DOESN’T HAVE AN INDIVIDUAL WORLD RECORD DUHHHHH”.

I’m not a fan of Michael Andrew as a person. But I’m not going to pretend he didn’t split a great breaststroke leg, because he clearly did.

Philip Johnson
2 months ago

Crazy, some people were saying they wouldn’t even medal.

Charge
Reply to  Philip Johnson
2 months ago

The over-reaction to Scott’s 46.1 was stunning, as was the assumption that the USA wouldn’t find a mid-58 breaststroke leg.

The rest was law of averages. Short of an injury to someone the US was the solid “logical” favorite to win the relay and break the WR.

Put it this way, it was much much more likely that MA goes 58.5 and Murphy 52-low than Peaty going 54.whatever like Mel said and/or Scott going 46.1 again.

Swim nerd
Reply to  Charge
2 months ago

46.1 is the result of being very good at drafting, once the US ended up in lane one the Brits had no chance at winning if everyone did their part

M d e
Reply to  Swim nerd
2 months ago

Don’t know about ‘no chance’.

It certainly made it harder, but the brits probably left a little time on the table (especially with their back leg). It was close enough it could have swung the other way, the race was decided by 0.7 over 400m with relay starts etc.

billy
Reply to  Charge
2 months ago

With no 6 foot 7 235lb Nathan Adrian to pull you in, no way was DS splitting another 46.1.

Walter
Reply to  billy
2 months ago

Yeah, same for Lezak in 2008.

Now everyone will be wanting the outside lanes.

thezwimmer
Reply to  Charge
2 months ago

Many anti-MA commenters were still predicting fourth place when the relay lineups were announced

Oof
Reply to  thezwimmer
2 months ago

i mean those were just trolls

John26
2 months ago

Interesting that each Women’s relay WR has been broken by at least twice before a single men’s relay went.

Eagleswim
Reply to  John26
2 months ago

Probably because the US and Australia didn’t have particularly strong women’s teams in Rome. The US men happened to be stacked that year so their relay records had a lot of strength behind them.

Walter
Reply to  Eagleswim
2 months ago

US women medley relay didn’t make finals that year.

Eagleswim
Reply to  Walter
2 months ago

Best us women were Soni and… Arianna kukors. But if those are your best you’re not gonna have stellar relays. Compare the US men who have Phelps one year removed from Beijing, arguably lochte’s second best meet, Aaron peirsol, no need to say more, and another trio of Texas guys with probably their best meet ever in shanteau, Walters, and Berens. Combine that w the super suits and that’s a recipe for some long standing records

Sub13
Reply to  John26
2 months ago

The women’s records have fallen much faster than the men’s in general. There are only 2 super suited women’s LCM records left (200 free, 200 fly) while the men have 9. Not exactly scientific, but I’m guessing becuase men tend to be heavier, a suit that makes you float is going to benefit the men more than the women.

M d e
Reply to  Sub13
2 months ago

I think The women’s 2 fly will be the last WR to get broken though.

Eventually we will be sitting her and it will be the only one left.

tea rex
Reply to  John26
2 months ago

Modern tech suits are still really fast, and women can wear them over the same surface area as they could in 2009. Men lost not just the polyurethane, but also the suits got downsized to jammers.

oxyswim
Reply to  tea rex
2 months ago

It’s closer to the same surface area, but not the same.

Marklewis
2 months ago

Dressel swam butterfly faster than Phelps.

That’s how they set new WR.

Charge
2 months ago

This was the easiest prediction I had. That record was going down and the US was going to do it. MIssed the others though!

https://swimswam.com/breaking-the-super-suited-records-a-2021-redux/

Daeleb Creseel
2 months ago

Tom Dean cost GBR a WR so sad

Bruh
Reply to  Daeleb Creseel
2 months ago

Did not cost them anything dressel was just absolutely insane on his leg

Olyswimfreak
Reply to  Bruh
2 months ago

He’s talking about in the 4×200 relay where Dean was around a second slower than his individual swim and the brits missed the world record by a few hundredths. But he still is not to blame, fantastic swimmer and they wouldn’t have been close without him.

Khachaturian
Reply to  Bruh
2 months ago

wrong relay

Walter
Reply to  Daeleb Creseel
2 months ago

Oh please, stop.

Oof
Reply to  Walter
2 months ago

stop being right? why?

JHS
Reply to  Daeleb Creseel
2 months ago

At the 2009 Worlds in Rome, Phelps was also about a second and a half slower than his individual swim that same meet. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

DCSwim
2 months ago

Probably helped that they had an empty lane beside them

rascal
2 months ago

On the subject of textile vs supersuit world records, every time I see Paul Biedermann’s 400m freestyle WR of 3:40.07 it annoys me knowing that it’s only one single millisecond faster than Thorpe’s time from 2002, knowing that Biedermann never cracked 3:44 in textile, knowing that Thorpe took it easy during his swim because he was a mile ahead and had other races to come later that session. If things had gone a tiny bit differently it could have been one of those records that transcends sport, a bit like Beamon’s long jump.

Drewbrewsbeer
Reply to  rascal
2 months ago

Definitely.
I also wonder what MP could have done in the 400m FR in ’08-’09 form.

Khachaturian
Reply to  rascal
2 months ago

you could say the same for the 400 im in 08 by Phelps

M d e
Reply to  Khachaturian
2 months ago

It was done in a super suit.

sven
Reply to  rascal
2 months ago

A millisecond is a one-thousandth of a second. Pedantic, but I can’t help it sometimes.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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