Tokyo 2020, NA Day 4: US Men Off Relay Podium For First Time In Olympic History


The United States has been a powerhouse over the course of Olympic swimming history on the relays, particularly so on the men’s side.

In the modern history of the Games, other than the boycotted 1980 Olympics in Moscow, the U.S. men have never failed to reach the podium in a relay.

In the men’s 4×200 freestyle, the Americans had won gold in 17 of the 24 Olympic races they’d contested, including the last four in a row, entering the Tokyo Games.

But in the final on Wednesday morning, all of that changed.

The American men failed to reach the podium for the first time at the Olympics, plummeting to fourth in a time of 7:02.43 after a promising start.

Great Britain won gold, as expected, narrowly missing the world record in a time of 6:58.58, while Russia (ROC) claimed silver in 7:01.81 and the Australians swooped in for bronze in 7:01.84.

Kieran Smith had a phenomenal lead-off leg for the Americans, becoming the third-fastest performer in the country’s history in 1:44.74. Drew Kibler (1:45.51) had a solid leg, keeping them close to the lead, but Zach Apple (1:47.31) struggled on his final 50, and they fell down to fifth.

Townley Haas did his best to salvage things, anchoring in 1:44.87, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to reach the podium.

Four-time Olympic medalist Anthony Ervin offered some perspective on the disappointment, referencing the American 400 free relay relay he was on at the 2000 Games that suffered its first loss, suggesting this will be a motivator in future years.

The United States has gone from being world-beaters to extremely vulnerable in this relay since the 2016 Games, which not coincidentally, was the final meet of Michael Phelps‘ career.

The American men have finished third in each of the last two World Championships, and were also beaten by Great Britain in 2015, when Phelps was also absent. They did win in 2013 without him, but prior the 2015 loss, the Americans had won the event at every Olympics or World Championships since 2003.

For what it’s worth, Phelps was vocal about the U.S. decision not to include Caeleb Dressel on this relay.


  • Penny Oleksiak won bronze in the women’s 200 freestyle to earn her sixth career Olympic medal, tying her for the most won by a Canadian all-time at the Olympic Games. It’s also the highest total from a Canadian at the Summer Olympics.
  • Katie Ledecky and Erica Sullivan gave the United States a historic 1-2 finish in the inaugural women’s 1500 freestyle Olympic final.
  • University of Virginia teammates Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass won silver and bronze medals in the women’s 200 IM, making the U.S. six-for-six in individual medley medals thus far at the Games.


  • American: Bobby Finke, men’s 800 freestyle (7:42.72)


USA 16 4 5 7
Canada 4 1 2 1

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1 month ago

I honestly think it was unfair to put Zach on that after his 100, when there were fresh swimmers. Hope he doesn’t let this get him down.

Reply to  Sarcastic
1 month ago

Especially considering we need ZApple in form for the medley relay. Hope he can pick himself up, I think it was a bad decision by the coaches

Paris 2024
1 month ago

Make America Great Again in 2024!

Reply to  Paris 2024
1 month ago

Wrong crowd…SwimSwam doesn’t drive on the right side of the road. /s

1 month ago

HAHA LOL you put Zapple as the picture.

Reply to  wow
1 month ago

Should have put Durden

1 month ago

feel for ZAPPLE its not he’s fault, the US coaches drop this badly. either Pieroni or Seli could have give us a silver medal. and no, Dressel shouldn’t have been in the relay either.

U know it
Reply to  Jojorab
1 month ago

Couldn’t have said it any better myself!

Reply to  Jojorab
1 month ago

Well Dressle went an easy 1:46 in prelims at trials. I say put him in. He definitely had a 1:44, or at least a 1:45 in him.

1 month ago

I don’t know how you justify putting the 5th place guy on the relay at night without swimming in the morning. The 100 isn’t the 200.

Reply to  Ecoach
1 month ago

Agreed. Apple should have been on it in the morning. Seliskar should have earned his spot in the final. With his split, the relay would have won silver. I understand Apple has had a stellar meet to this point, but the coaches shouldn’t have made a decision like this for a swimmer with 1 individual event.

1 month ago

The coaches lost that relay. Dressel idle.

SuperSwimmer 2000
Reply to  FluidG
1 month ago

Hell, Pieroni’s or Seliskar’s split from the morning would have gotten us silver.

1 month ago

What a classy response by Tony, the Bourdain of Swimming. Three years, new motivation, and new blood to get gold in Paris? Who knows!

Reply to  DCSWIM
1 month ago

Carson needs to start training in his 200free now, same with Luca. we need them badly.

Reply to  DCSWIM
1 month ago

Richards and Dean are still extremely young for GB, I think GB will keep or maybe even extend that 3 second gap to silver in Paris and will probably get a WR next year in euros or worlds.

1 month ago

I don’t get it. Zach Apple is not a 200 guy. Wasn’t even a fair decision for him. We have an entire country full of 200 freestylers and this was the decision?

Reply to  Underwater
1 month ago

he finished 5th in the 200 at trials and had performed very well in the 4×1. your take is one made with the benefit in hindsight, and one few, if any, were making before the race. This isn’t on the coaches, this is on apple

Reply to  eagleswim
1 month ago

No.. it’s on the coaches. Apple finished 5th at trials which would qualify him for the prelims at the games, not the final. If he earned his finals spot in prelims that would make sense, but he didn’t swim in the prelims. Just because someone had a good swim in their 100 doesn’t mean that you should put them in the 800 free relay at the highest level, especially when they aren’t a 200 swimmer. The coaches really dropped the ball on this one. They took a wild gamble for absolutely no reason and got burned. Dressle would have also been a gamble, but I’d gamble on Caleb Dressle

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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