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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Brian K McGahey
1 year ago

See you all in three years at Paris. Until then not many in the general sports media will follow swimming. Thanks for good info.

Coach Coach
1 year ago

Unless MA changes coaches and his training regimen, this will be his only world record and he will not make another Olympic team. He definitely has faster swims in him, but without proper training he will continue to flounder at the end of his races. He needs a solid weight and dryland routine to give him power. He needs more than one hour workouts and surfing as cross training to get him through the final 25 meters in his 200IM. He also needs to work on his strokes. His freestyle is just ugly and his breaststroke kick is too wide for 50 and 100. It should be a tad narrower to allow for a quicker turnover. But since he is… Read more »

1 year ago

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.

Worth noting that the WR Sun broke was done in a textile. Hackett’s 14:34.56 (the previous record) was from WC 2001 and was the only men’s LCM WR to survive the supersuit era.

tea rex
1 year ago

Just think, if the prelims squad swam half a second slower, we wouldn’t be reading about the WR. We’d be reading about how the coaches blew another lineup, and USA finished in 9th place by chasing participation medals.

Reply to  tea rex
1 year ago

I get your point, though that kind of finish would hardly be fairly blamed on the coaches when the U.S. has been swimming second-place finishers in the prelims for only about, oh, six decades now. That failure would have totally been on the shoulders of the prelim swimmers.

Reply to  JVW
1 year ago

Well you can fault the coaches for swimming Pieroni in the prelims even though Becker outsplit him in both the prelims and finals of the 400 free relay.

1 year ago

The other two relay records have the chance to be broken only if every leg swims well. For GB in the 4×2 I would say that they have some breathing room from a possible monster split from Scott.

1 year 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.

Reply to  rascal
1 year ago

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

Reply to  rascal
1 year ago

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

M d e
Reply to  Khachaturian
1 year ago

It was done in a super suit.

Reply to  rascal
1 year ago

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

1 year ago

Probably helped that they had an empty lane beside them

Daeleb Creseel
1 year ago

Tom Dean cost GBR a WR so sad

Reply to  Daeleb Creseel
1 year ago

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

Reply to  Bruh
1 year 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.

Reply to  Bruh
1 year ago

wrong relay

Reply to  Daeleb Creseel
1 year ago

Oh please, stop.

Reply to  Walter
1 year ago

stop being right? why?

Reply to  Daeleb Creseel
1 year 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.

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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