The *Theoretical* Fastest Mixed Freestyle Relays of All-Time

The mixed relays are a relatively new addition to the sport of swimming, meaning that every time we have a best-on-best competition, the world records in these events are in serious jeopardy.

Since the mixed relays debuted at the Long Course World Championships in 2015, the world record has been lowered four consecutive times in the mixed 400 freestyle relay. The mixed medley has seen its record lowered three times, the last of which came at the Tokyo 2020 Games, as it was added to the Olympic program and saw countries zero in their focus on it a bit more.

But the mixed free relay, not currently on the Olympic program, is an ever-evolving event that doesn’t seem to be anywhere near its peak in terms of what the world record could theoretically get down to.

The U.S. won the inaugural world title in 3:23.05, and since then we’ve seen 3:19-something win gold and break the world record three straight times at Worlds, most recently last month in Budapest.

Despite missing 100 free Olympic champion Emma McKeon, Olympic 100 free bronze medalist and the owner of the fastest relay split in history Cate Campbell, the #2 ranked 100 freestyler in the world this year Shayna Jack, and their star male, Kyle Chalmers, not operating at his peak, the Australian team managed to lower the world record in Budapest in a time of 3:19.38.

Australia’s World Record, 2022 World Championships

Swimmer Split
Jack Cartwright 48.12
Kyle Chalmers 46.98 (1:35.10)
Madi Wilson 52.25 (2:27.35)
Mollie O’Callaghan 52.03 (3:19.38)

Given that the Aussies broke the world record while seemingly leaving some time on the table, it begs the question: using swimmers who competed during the same era, which country could put together the fastest mixed free relay?

To keep things straightforward, the teams have been broken down by Olympic quad. That is, the fastest male flat-start swimmer from the Olympic quad (e.g. 2009-12), plus the top male flying split and the two fastest female legs.

Due to the unmatched depth in the U.S. and Australia, it boils down to these two nations.

2005-08

We begin in the Olympic quad between Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. This was an obvious place to start because it had the fastest male split in history, Jason Lezak‘s 46.06 from 2008.

USA Australia
Michael Phelps – 47.51 Eamon Sullivan – 47.05
Jason Lezak – 46.06 Matt Targett – 47.25
Dara Torres – 52.27 Libby Trickett – 52.34
Natalie Coughlin – 53.21 Jodie Henry – 53.21
3:19.05 3:19.85

With Lezak’s split being the difference-maker, along with strong contributions from Michael Phelps‘ relay lead-off and Dara Torres‘ medley anchor from Beijing, the Americans comfortably take out Australia in this quad. Their time of 3:19.05 ends up holding up as one of the fastest ever despite a 53.2 female leg.

2009-12

Despite the next quad factoring in the 2009 World Championships that had a windfall of world record performances, the relay teams were actually a bit slower as a whole.

USA Australia
Dave Walters – 47.33 James Roberts – 47.63
Nathan Adrian – 46.79 James Magnussen – 47.00
Missy Franklin – 52.79 Libby Trickett – 52.34
Dana Vollmer – 53.18 Melanie Schlanger – 52.54
3:20.09 3:19.51

The Australian men had James Magnussen (47.10) and James Roberts (47.63) wow at the 2012 Olympic Trials, but the nation did not get any relay splits sub-47 for the quad. Roberts was never faster than that on a relay, while Magnussen was 47-flat on an anchor leg in 2011.

The U.S. lacked high-end ability in the women’s 100 free during this timespan, as evidenced by only having one sub-53 leg.

2013-16

This is where things really start to separate between the two countries, as the Aussies had the Campbell sisters producing numerous sub-52 relay splits throughout the second half of the 2010s.

In this quad, Cate Campbell split as fast as 51.59 at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, while Bronte Campbell was 51.77 (and 51.78) at the 2015 World Championships.

They also had Cameron McEvoy clock 47.04 individually in 2016 which still ranks him fourth all-time in the 100 free (and #2 textile), and a few months later, Kyle Chalmers won the Olympic title in the event and split 46.72 in Rio.

That brings us down by nearly two full seconds to 3:17.12.

USA Australia
Jimmy Feigen – 47.82 Cameron McEvoy – 47.04
Nathan Adrian – 46.74 Kyle Chalmers – 46.72
Simone Manuel – 52.43 Cate Campbell – 51.59
Abbey Weitzeil – 52.56 Bronte Campbell – 51.77
3:19.55 3:17.12

2017-21

Note that times done since the Tokyo Olympics are not factored in.

Not surprisingly, the fastest theoretical relay comes from the most recent quad, with the Australians able to compile a sizzling time of 3:16.63 – 2.75 seconds clear of the existing world record.

This factors in Cate Campbell clocking the fastest split of all-time for the women in 50.93, and Emma McKeon swimming the #5 split ever in 51.35 (Campbell holds the top four).

The men have Chalmers with the fifth-fastest male split in history, and then McEvoy’s 47.91 lead-off from 2017 does the job to open things up.

The U.S. challenges reasonably well. Caeleb Dressel finally enters the mix with the only sub-47 textile flat-start swim ever, and Zach Apple‘s 46.69 anchor leg from Tokyo is one of just 15 splits under 46.7 in history.

Simone Manuel is the only American woman to split under 52 seconds, doing so twice at the 2019 World Championships, while Mallory Comerford had the best meet of her career at the 2017 Worlds which included a 52.47 split and 52.59 flat-start swim.

USA Australia
Caeleb Dressel – 46.96 Cameron McEvoy – 47.91
Zach Apple – 46.69 Kyle Chalmers – 46.44
Simone Manuel – 51.86 Cate Campbell – 50.93
Mallory Comerford – 52.47 Emma McKeon – 51.35
3:17.98 3:16.63

OTHER NATIONS

The Netherlands is a prime candidate to do some damage in this race with their incredible female duo of Femke Heemskerk and Ranomi Kromowidjojo. Both have split sub-52 before, but they don’t quite have the two male legs in the same quad to bring them in for a truly competitive time.

Pieter van den Hoogenband wrapped his career up with a 47.68 swim at the Beijing Games in 2008, and then Sebastiaan Verschuren was a sub-48 flat-start swimmer four years later, but they never really overlapped.

The Canadian team can also put together a strong relay in the most recent quad, thanks in part to Taylor Ruck splitting sub-52 in 2018 (twice).

Canada, 2017-21

Canada manages to come away with an add-up just under 3:19, still over two seconds shy of the Aussies.

With the #2 men’s split in history, Great Britain manages to put together a sub-3:19 relay during the same quad. The relay has been updated with Anna Hopkin‘s 52-flat from the Tokyo mixed medley relay.

Great Britain, 2017-21

One relay that might be a surprise that manages to combine for a sub-3:20 is the Britta Steffen/Paul Biedermann-era Germans. While Steffen’s fastest relay split (51.99) was less than a tenth faster than her individual world record from the 2009 Worlds in Rome, they still put together a devastating team with Biedermann anchoring the 400 medley relay that year in 46.89, Daniela Schreiber splitting 52.37, and two years later, Marco Di Carli setting what is now the former national record for the men in 48.24.

Germany, 2009-12

THEORETICAL MIXED 400 FREE RELAYS BY QUAD

  • Current WR: 3:19.38, Australia (Cartwright, Chalmers, Wilson, O’Callaghan), 3:19.38
  1. Australia, 2017-21 (McEvoy, Chalmers, C.Campbell, McKeon), 3:16.63
  2. Australia, 2013-16 (McEvoy, Chalmers, C.Campbell, B.Campbell), 3:17.12
  3. United States, 2017-21 (Dressel, Apple, Manuel, Comerford), 3:17.98
  4. Great Britain, 2017-21 (Whittle, Scott, Anderson, Hopkin), 3:18.83
  5. Canada, 2013-16 (Hayden, Kisil, Ruck, Oleksiak), 3:18.96
  6. United States, 2005-08 (Phelps, Lezak, Torres, Coughlin), 3:19.05
  7. Germany, 2009-12 (Steffen, Biedermann, Di Carli, Schreiber), 3:19.15
  8. United States, 2013-16 (Feigen, Adrian, Manuel, Weitzeil), 3:19.55
  9. Australia, 2009-12 (Roberts, Magnussen, Trickett, Schlanger), 3:19.61
  10. Australia, 2005-08 (Sullivan, Targett, Trickett, Henry), 3:19.85

The conclusion? Even though the current world record of 3:19.38 clearly still has the potential to come down in future years, it’s interesting to see that only seven different relay teams separated by quad have add-up times that dip under the existing mark.

So the fact that the Australian women were missing the two fastest relay swimmers in history and their #2 option this year and still broke the world record speaks to the depth they have in that stroke.

Australia also has the luxury of having a stable of lightning-fast female freestylers to complement one of the best on the men’s side, Kyle Chalmers, and then there’s only one spot to fill for the next-best male. No other country has consistently been able to have two of the same gender be among the best in the 100 freestyle for an extended period of time outside of the Dutch, who don’t have the male swimmers to back it up.

So will this record continue to get knocked down in the coming years? No doubt. But it will take a quartet firing on all cylinders to do so.

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Nick
4 months ago

Aussies have 4,5,6,7 of all time in the mens.
McEvoy, Sullivan, Chalmers and Magnussen.

Last edited 4 months ago by Nick
#AthleteLivesMatter
4 months ago

Mixed relays will be the downfall of the sport! Mixed relays will lead to “medal count inflation”. This is where you make more events and now you have to make more medals. “Medal count inflation” is similar to financial inflation. If you make more medals, it will decrease the value of all the previous medals. For example, when Phelps won 8 medals in 2008, it was a big deal because it was the most gold medals ever in one Olympics. If we create more events, it could be must easier for someone to win 9, 10, 11+ medals in one Olympics. We must protect medal integrity by getting rid of mixed relays and not introducing any new events.

#AthleteLivesMatter

Verram
4 months ago

Very insightful article and packed with stats

Go Kamminga Go
4 months ago

Shocking

Tony
4 months ago

The mixed freestyle is FAR less interesting of an event than the mixed medley is.

Jamesabc
Reply to  Tony
4 months ago

I disagree. Mixed Medley basically relies on your team having a great male breastroker. It’s pretty much impossible to catch up if you don’t. At least Mixed Freestyle is just about actual ability and speed.

Nick
Reply to  Tony
4 months ago

I love both but I think the mixed Freestyle relay is a much better representation of the strength of a nation than the mixed Medley relay. As a IM swimmer it pains me to say this but Freestyle is the premier stroke and the team that wins this race realistically proves themselves to be the top swimming nation in the world.

Last edited 4 months ago by Nick
Willswim
4 months ago

I think you’re forgetting the obvious optimal hypothetical Dutch lineup.
Pieter van den Hoogenband
Santo Condorelli
Femme Heemskerk
Ranomi Kromowidjojo

Go Kamminga Go
Reply to  Willswim
4 months ago

That’s across 4 quads

Wheel Snipe Seli
Reply to  Willswim
4 months ago

Does Santo compete for the Netherlands now? Last I checked he had jumped from Canada to Italy

Troyy
Reply to  Wheel Snipe Seli
4 months ago

Think it’s a joke. Santo’s a wildcard you can slot into any nationality.

Swimfan
4 months ago

How about a theoretical 4×200 medlay relay for each Olympics and world championship since 2008!

Miss M
4 months ago

Now to make it an Olympic Event!

Love it when the stats back up my instinct: I was pretty sure the Australians would be the fastest theoretical team. Clutch Chalmers and the depth of the Australian women is hard to beat. But as the women 4×200 shows, what the times add up to is only worth the paper it is written on: performance on the night in the pool is all that counts!

Troyy
Reply to  Miss M
4 months ago

While I do love relays I don’t think the 100 freestylers need another medal opportunity.

commonwombat
Reply to  Troyy
4 months ago

Do tend to agree. If there are to be further events added; a questionable proposition given the pressure to cap competitor numbers; one would have to look to the stroke 50s before adding this one.

We also need to acknowledge that for every country, bar perhaps the USA, the realities of accumulated fatigue for peak swimmers and not always having requisite depth; you cannot always chase every possible event or relays thus the tough decisions regarding priorities.

Bud
Reply to  commonwombat
4 months ago

I think the 50 breast has to be added before any relays and before the other 50s. 50 flyers usually so well in the 50 free and 50 backstrokers extend to the 100 back but 50 breast is a different beast.

Troyy
Reply to  Bud
4 months ago

They’d add all the 50 strokes or none of them.

commonwombat
Reply to  Troyy
4 months ago

Agreed. Whilst I do see some validity to Bud’s point that we generally see less crossover of strokes with breaststrokers that we see elsewhere (free/back & free/fly); only allowing the one form-stroke and not the others is just inviting unnecessary dispute.

commonwombat
Reply to  commonwombat
4 months ago

If I may correct myself. I don’t necessarily agree with Bud’s comment regarding 50 breaststrokers and that it’s the case that more 50BRS cannot extend to 100 than with the other form-strokes. We DO tend to see less diversification, at least at top level, with breaststrokers, who tend to be pure specialists or IMers rather than the common free/back – free/fly combos

#AthleteLivesMatter
Reply to  commonwombat
4 months ago

I agree with what you are saying. It would be wrong to add the 50 breast and not add the 50 fly or 50 backstroke. There is more cross over between fly and backstroke, but if you are adding the 50’s you need to add the other strokes as well.

The best way to preserve the integrity of the Olympics is to not add the 50’s of strokes. This would lead to Medal Count Inflation. It would change the value of a medal and then destroy our ability to compare athlete’s performances from one Olympic Games to the next

#AthleteLivesMatter

#AthleteLivesMatter
Reply to  Miss M
4 months ago

That would lead to “Medal count inflation”. It is just like financial inflation. If you make more Olympic medals, it will decrease the value of all the previous medals. Phelps winning 8 golds in one Games was a big deal. But if you make these mixed relays, then add in 50’s of each stroke, you will have people winning 13+ gold medals in one Games.

The best way to protect sport’s integrity is to not add new events.

#AthleteLivesMatter

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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