SwimSwam Pulse is a recurring feature tracking and analyzing the results of our periodic A3 Performance Polls. You can cast your vote in our newest poll on the SwimSwam homepage, about halfway down the page on the right side.
Our most recent poll asked SwimSwam readers which swimmer was able to deliver under pressure on relays the most over the last two decades:
Question: Who is the most clutch relay performer of the last 20 years?
- Jason Lezak – 60.4%
- Kyle Chalmers – 13.1%
- Cate Campbell – 9.0%
- Nathan Adrian – 6.0%
- Katie Ledecky – 3.7%
- Duncan Scott – 2.8%
- Other – 2.6%
- Pieter van den Hoogenband – 1.4%
- Femke Heemskerk – 0.9%
Given that he has the most memorable, stunning, jaw-dropping performance in recent memory, if not history, it’s no surprise that more than 60 percent of voters picked Jason Lezak as the most clutch relay performer of the last 20 years.
It’s a story that’s been told over and over again, but to recap, the American gold medal hopes in the men’s 400 free relay at the 2008 Olympics, and Michael Phelps‘ chance at a historic eight gold medals, hinged on Lezak erasing a significant deficit on the current world record holder in the 100 free.
Swimming the anchor leg, Lezak dove in 59 one-hundredths back of France’s Alain Bernard, who not only held the world record in the 100 free, but had also trash-talked the U.S. team a bit in the lead-up to the event.
Bernard extended the advantage after 50 meters, flipping with an absurd 21.27 split to sit more than eight-tenths (0.82) up on Lezak with just one length to go. Lezak, 32 at the time, then did the unthinkable, running down Bernard in epic fashion to give the U.S. men their first Olympic gold medal in the 400 free relay since 1996, smash the world record by four seconds in 3:08.24, and keep Phelps’ hopes alive.
Lezak’s split came in at 46.06, which was not only the fastest split ever by nearly six-tenths (France’s Fred Bousquet went 46.63 in the same race), but it was also almost a second and a half faster than Bernard’s existing flat-start world record (47.50) and Lezak’s PB of 47.58.
The performance has gone down in swimming lore, for the sheer epicness of the comeback, the fact France talked smack in the lead-up (which may have been over-exaggerated), and how it salvaged Phelps’ shot at eight gold medals, which ultimately came to fruition.
— Freezing Cold Takes (@OldTakesExposed) August 11, 2022
But this wasn’t the only time Lezak has come through for the American men on relays. At the 2004 Olympics, after failing to earn a second swim in the 100 free and playing a role in the disastrous bronze medal performance the U.S. had in the 400 free relay, Lezak anchored the American team to gold and a new world record in the 400 medley relay in Athens (47.58 split when the WR was 47.84).
He also anchored the U.S. to victory in Beijing in the 400 medley relay, splitting 46.76 to hold off the newly-minted world record holder Eamon Sullivan to solidify Phelps’ eight gold medal haul, and in 2007, he was one of just two swimmers to split sub-48 in the 400 free relay at the World Championships in Melbourne, anchoring the U.S. to victory in the 400 free relay in 47.32.
If we’re looking exclusively at the last two decades, Lezak is the clear selection from the first 10 years (2003-13), but over the last 10, the Australians emerged as the top picks, as Kyle Chalmers picked up 13 percent of votes and Cate Campbell earned nine.
Not including mixed relays, Chalmers has an incredible 11 relay splits under 47 seconds, led by his 46.44 leg on the 400 free relay from the Tokyo Olympics, where he dragged the Aussie men to bronze after diving in sixth with 100 to go.
He also anchored the team to gold in the 400 free relay at the 2023 Worlds in Fukuoka, splitting a blistering 46.56 (fastest in the field), and he has two more 46.60 legs from the 2019 Worlds (medley relay) and the 2022 Worlds (free relay).
We also can’t forget about short course, where Chalmers has three sub-45 splits under his belt, including a 44.63, the fastest in history, as he erased a 1.32-second deficit to give the Aussies a tie for gold and the world record with the U.S. team.
Campbell owns the four fastest relay splits of all-time in the women’s 100 free, including being the only swimmer to split sub-51 at 50.93 (in a mixed relay), with at least 11 sub-52 splits in total on her resume.
While the Aussie women have been dominant in the 400 free relay in recent years, Campbell has come through in tight races before, notably edging out the U.S. women in the medley relay at the conclusion of the Tokyo Olympics for gold by 13 one-hundredths (52.11 for the fastest in the field).
Beyond those two, Nathan Adrian was next up with six percent of votes, as he assumed the role previously held by Lezak as the go-to anchor leg for the American men.
Adrian memorably made his major international debut at the 2009 World Championships by anchoring the U.S. men to gold in the 400 free relay over rival France (and runner-up Russia), splitting 46.79, and he had three more sub-47 legs in his career, all coming in Olympic finals.
Adrian brought the U.S. home to win gold in the 400 medley relay in London (46.85), and he also split 46.97 in Rio to shut the door and win gold in the 400 free relay after getting pressure from France. He finished those 2016 Games off with his fastest split ever, 46.74, as the Americans won the 400 medley relay in what turned out to be the last Olympic race for both Adrian and Phelps.
Katie Ledecky also picked up some votes, given the fact she’s always been able to deliver for the U.S. women in the 800 free relay regardless of how she fared in the individual 200 free (or if she even swam it), owning four of the nine-fastest splits ever, all sub-1:54.
Duncan Scott, who nearly took out Lezak’s 46.06 for the fastest split in history at the 2019 World Championships when he ran down Adrian for gold in the 400 medley relay in 46.14, was just back of Ledecky in the poll.
Scott also had an incredible relay performance in Tokyo, anchoring the British men to the 800 free relay gold medal in 1:43.45, the fastest split in eight years and #5 all-time.
van den Hoogenband notably ran down Lezak to give the Dutch men silver in the 400 free relay in Athens with a 46.79 split, more than a second under the existing world record (47.84) and 1.38 seconds faster than what he won individual gold in later in the meet.
Heemskerk has a trio of sub-52 100 free relay splits to go along with five 50-point splits in short course meters.
If you were among those that voted “Other,” sound off in the comments on who your pick is (unless it was one of the early voters who were using the vote to go for Chalmers, who was a late addition to the poll due to an oversight).
Also, if you have any polls you’d like to see in the future, let us know in the comments.
Below, vote in our new A3 Performance Poll, which asks: Who is your pick for swimming’s hypothetical first-ever video game cover athlete?
The A3 Performance Poll is courtesy of A3 Performance, a SwimSwam partner.