Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Previews: Aussie Dominance in Women’s 4×100 FRR

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2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Women’s 4×100 freestyle relay

  • World Record: Australia (Jack, Campbell, McKeon, Campbell) – 3:30.05 (2018)
  • Olympic Record: Australia (McKeon, Elmslie, Campbell, Campbell) – 3:30.65 (2016)
  • World Junior Record: Canada (Ruck, Oleksiak, Smith, Sanchez) – 3:36.19 (2017)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Australia (McKeon, Elmslie, Campbell, Campbell) – 3:30.65

The women’s 4×100 free relay is the first relay in the Olympic program, taking place right away on day 1. That’s going to create plenty of uncertainty, with teams still guessing at who is swimming well and who is struggling to maintain a taper. Still, Australia’s dominance doesn’t leave a lot of uncertainty as to who should win gold. The minor medals, though, are wide open.

The Favorites

Since taking nearly a full second off a super-suited world record in 2014, Australia has been next to unbeatable in this event, winning the two most recent Olympic golds, the most recent World Championships gold, and setting two more world records in 2016 and 2018.

What’s most impressive is that their 2021 roster might be the best one yet for this relay.

Australia
Swimmer Split Swimmer Split
Emma McKeon 52.19 Emma McKeon 52.19
Cate Campbell 52.43 Madison Wilson 52.76
Madison Wilson 52.76 Meg Harris 52.92
Meg Harris 52.92 Cate Campbell 50.93
TOTAL: 3:30.30 3:28.80

In terms of flat-start best times for the 2020-2021 season, Australia has the top three times in the entire world. Emma McKeon leads the way, with former world record-holder Cate Campbell second and Madi Wilson third. Meg Harristhe presumptive slowest leg on the team, would be the fastest swimmer for any other nation besides Canada and China in season-bests.

Campbell’s 50.9 split above is from a mixed medley relay in 2018, but she was 51.4 at 2019 Worlds and should still be likely to split 51-something. Campbell has a long track record of success as a relay anchor. McKeon probably makes sense as the leadoff leg, but she’s also been 52.0 from a flying start as of 2019. Bronte Campbell could be an option too – she split 52.3 in 2019 and 52.0 back in 2018.

Canada
Swimmer Split Swimmer Split
Penny Oleksiak 52.89 Penny Oleksiak 52.89
Kayla Sanchez 53.57 Kayla Sanchez 53.11
Maggie MacNeil 54.02 Maggie MacNeil 53.18
Rebecca Smith 54.44 Taylor Ruck 52.19
TOTAL: 3:34.92 3:31.37

Of the remaining teams, 2019 Worlds bronze medalists Canada may have the highest ceiling. Penny Oleksiak ranks #4 in the world this year (and #1 among non-Australians). Taylor Ruck didn’t swim great at Canadian Trials, but also didn’t have to, as she was pre-qualified for the Olympic team. If she can return to 52-low form, Canada has two top-tier bookends.

Maggie MacNeil should be on this relay… but she also has semifinals of her all-important 100 fly in the same session. That will leave Canada with a choice between MacNeil, Kayla Sanchez and Rebecca Smithwho is a relay-only entrant in all three women’s relays and will have to swim at least one of them at some point between prelims and finals.

Netherlands
Swimmer Split Swimmer Split
Femke Heemskerk 53.05 Ranomi Kromowidjojo 53.13
Ranomi Kromowidjojo 53.13 Marrit Steenbergen 53.95
Marrit Steenbergen 54.18 Kira Toussaint 54.06
Kim Busch 54.28 Femke Heemskerk 51.73
TOTAL: 3:34.64 3:32.87

The Dutch were fourth in this relay at 2019 Worlds, and came within a tenth of the European title in May. Like Canada, they’ve got two top-notch bookends: Ranomi Kromowidjojo has already been 53-low from a flat start this year, and Femke Heemskerk anchored this relay in 51.9 and a medley relay in 51.7 at Euros.

The splits from Marrit Steenbergen and Kira Toussaint above come from prelims at Euros. They lost to Great Britain by a tenth with both women swimming slightly slower in the final. Kim Busch could be another option based on her 54.2 flat start time.

USA
Swimmer Split Swimmer Split
Abbey Weitzeil 53.52 Abbey Weitzeil 53.18
Erika Brown 53.59 Natalie Hinds 53.55
Olivia Smoliga 53.55 Olivia Smoliga 53.55
Natalie Hinds 53.55 Simone Manuel 51.86
TOTAL: 3:34.21 3:32.14

The big question mark for Team USA is if reigning Olympic champ Simone Manuel will get a swim on this relay after missing the Olympic team. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the team give her a shot in prelims – but there’s also a case to be made for keeping her event load light and letting her focus on the 50 free later in the week.

Even if Manuel mostly returns to some form, another 51-high might be too big an ask for Team USA, which will need its depth to step up in a big way. Abbey Weitzeil is the only returning leg of their 2019 Worlds silver medal-winning relay, where she split 52.6. Erika Brown, Olivia Smoliga, and Natalie Hinds are basically in a dead heat for relay spots if Manuel is in the mix. Both Hinds and Smoliga have their flat start times listed above, as there’s not a good recent relay result for them.

With relay-only Catie DeLoof required to swim at least once, the U.S. coaches will really have to strategize out their options for getting DeLoof a prelims swim and potentially giving Manuel a go, while also making figuring out which of Brown, Smoliga, and Hinds should make the finals relay – all without accidentally missing the top 8.

Great Britain
Swimmer Split Swimmer Split
Freya Anderson 53.40 Lucy Hope 53.89
Anna Hopkin 53.43 Anna Hopkin 52.65
Lucy Hope 53.89 Abbie Wood 53.90
Abbie Wood 54.40 Freya Anderson 52.79
TOTAL: 3:35.12 3:33.23

We’ve got Great Britain back here based solely on aggregate math. But as we noted above, they beat the Netherlands for European Championships gold in May. Following the theme, they’ll build around a top duo of Freya Anderson and Anna Hopkinwho might also be swimming off for the anchor duty on the medley relay. Both have plenty of 52-mid data points: Hopkin split 52.6, 52.6 and 52.8 at Euros this year and 52.6 at Worlds in 2019. Anderson split 52.7 and 52.8 at Euros this year and 52.9 at 2019 Worlds.

We used their order from the European Championships, with Lucy Hope leading off. Wood split 53.9 at that meet, a fair bit faster than her flat-start season-best.

China
Swimmer Split Swimmer Split
Zhang Yufei 52.90 Zhang Yufei 52.90
Yang Junxuan 53.21 Zhu Menghui 53.36
Cheng Yujie 53.76 Yang Junxuan 53.21
Wu Qingfeng 53.84 Cheng Yujie 53.76
TOTAL: 3:33.71 3:33.23

China was fifth at 2019 Worlds. But they should add 16-year-old Cheng Yujie to that lineup after she went 53.76 from a flat start earlier this year. Zhang Yufei is the key piece on the relay, but will probably double with the 100 fly semifinals in the same session.

Zhu Menghui has split 53.3 on several occasions, but China has the depth to swim an off-lineup in prelims and figure out which of Zhu, Cheng, Wu Qingfeng and Yang Junxuan should join Zhang on the finals relay.

Other Contenders

France took bronze at Euros in 3:35.92. Marie Wattel is #9 in this season’s world ranks with a 53.32.

Right behind France, Denmark broke a national record in 3:36.81, with Signe Bro leading off in 53.73. If Pernille Blume can return to anywhere near her career-best 52.6, they’ve got a shot to join that medal-contending field.

Sweden‘s hopes ride on world record-holder Sarah Sjostrom and how she’s recovering from elbow surgery. The blessing in disguise to Sjostrom’s broken elbow might be that the longtime butterfly superstar can finally focus on relays instead of extending her energy across a busy fly/free individual event lineup.

Similarly, Japan has a solid shot to make the final if Rikako Ikee is back to form after beating leukemia. They made the Worlds final in 2019 without Ikee, and the last time she was on this relay, they beat China by two-tenths to win the Asian Games gold with Ikee leading off in 53.60.

TOP 8 PICKS

Place Country
2019 Worlds Finish
1 Australia 1st
2 Canada 3rd
3 Netherlands 4th
4 USA 2nd
5 Great Britain N/A
6 China 5th
7 Japan 7th
8 France N/A

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Jackman
1 day ago

You may have listed 6 favorites but there is only one FAVOURITE. Carn!!!

Last edited 1 day ago by Jackman
Swimfan
1 day ago

This relay on paper the Aussie are dominant, no matter how many times I break it down they are that good!!! 4 swimmers under 53 at trials so very impressive. The American women are going to have to swim out of there minds like they did in Montreal like they did against the East Germans.

I know I am going to get a lot of backlash on this but I believe the American women can beat the Aussie (they have a little chance) and it is possible. Erika brown is the 2nd fastest short course 100 free ever behind Manuel and with her being the world record holder short course in the medley relay as long as she can’t… Read more »

Last edited 1 day ago by Swimfan
Jackman
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

Cate Campbell is unfortunately not a consistent 52 split. She isn’t even able to consistently do 51s as evidenced by her 50.9 split.

Tyson
Reply to  Jackman
1 day ago

Individually at a big meet cate will always go a 52.xx and on a relay she will always go a 51.xx I don’t know what rock you’ve been living under Campbells on her own level in relays

Philip Johnson
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

The Americans need to gamble and put youth on the relay. Claire & Huske.

Swimfan
Reply to  Philip Johnson
1 day ago

Curzan had one good swim at trials the 100 fly. Huske had 3 (100 fly, 200 im, 50 free) I feel huske is more consistent and dependable plus she has the fast 100 free time this year by an America

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

Claire Curzan and Torri Huske each have posted a sub 54.00 performance in the women’s 100 meter freestyle ONCE in their life.

The most plausible scenario is women’s head coach Greg Meehan puts Ledecky and Manuel in the final of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay (reference final of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay at the 2016 Summer Olympics) along with Weitzeil and Brown. Women’s head coach Greg Meehan will have to trust his luck.

Admin
Reply to  Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
1 day ago

I think you’re probably right, barring any evidence earlier in the meet to the contrary.

At this point, the US has effectively no chance at gold. Ledecky and Manuel swimming well at the meet is the US’ best chance at silver.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 day ago

No one is touching the Australians in the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay or the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay.

It’s the first “night’ of the swimming competition from a North American viewer’s perspective. The selection process will be most likely based upon performance at the Olympic Team training camp (time trials).

It will be a dogfight for the silver medal.

Swimfan
Reply to  Philip Johnson
1 day ago

Also like I said if they happened to post a sub 56 in the prelims of the 100 fly I can see coaches put them on the final of the relay

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Philip Johnson
1 day ago

Claire Curzan and Torri Huske will be too busy swimming the semifinals of the women’s 100 meter butterfly which precedes the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay during the same session.

Mel
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

Swimfan – I want some of whatever it is you’re smoking. I prefer alternate reality also.

Mel
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

You do realize that Hinds Smoliga and Deloof MUST swim on the relays at some point.

Swimfan
Reply to  Mel
1 day ago

Hinds smoliga and deloof can swim the prelims and have Manuel anchor in prelims to see were shes at timewise

Coach
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

Bowman is on staff, and he will make sure Allison is on the relay in prelims. He’s not going to give up that potential medal.

HJones
Reply to  Coach
1 day ago

Schmitt has also earned her spot to be on the relay, so I don’t think she wants to give up that potential medal either.

lbswim
Reply to  HJones
1 day ago

That’s like saying someone who got second at trials, but swam slower in their individual event than the prelim swimmers on the relay earned their spot to be on the relay. Which is not the case. Schmitt earned her spot to POTENTIALLY be on the relay.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Mel
1 day ago

It’s reasonable to swap in four new swimmers for the final. I have a sneaky suspicion that women’s head coach Greg Meehan (Stanford Cardinal athletics) will swap in Ledecky and Manuel for the final based upon experience at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Admin
Reply to  Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
1 day ago

It is reasonable. But…I think he’s gotta have Simone swim prelims to prove it, given that it will be her first race of the meet.

If he doesn’t, and someone ‘calls his bluff’ and pops off a 53-low in prelims, and Simone comes into finals and doesn’t, it would be really hard for USA Swimming to make him the head coach for international meets in the future.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 day ago

Allison Schmitt is not technically required to swim the heats of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay.

For the heats of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay, place Simone Manuel in the lineup along with Smoliga, Hinds, DeLoof if the coaching staff is uneasy about the status of Simone Manuel.

Sub13
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

What did I just read? Did you snort something before you wrote this?

STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

Surely this is the longest ever post on this site? And it’s a whole lot of wishful thinking dressed up as serious analysis.

commonwombat
Reply to  STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
1 day ago

He has to be given all due credit for his mathematical wizardry in conjuring his hypothetical scenario. What he never states is the fact that he has both sets of fingers and toes crossed that AUS, or anyone else, swims faster and reality is that at least 2 of those AUS legs are likely to be exponentially faster than the 52mids he’s touting from at least 3 of 4 Americans.

The reality is that, in order to win this, USA is relying on AUS losing it via break or someone’s total meltdown.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

All your predictions for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials were ridiculous. Now you wish to double down on your absurdity. USA will be lucky to match the time in the final of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay from the 2016 Summer Olympics:

Manuel – 53.36
Weitzeil – 52.56
Vollmer – 53.18
Ledecky – 52.79

Who knows if Simone Manuel will be in any condition to swim the leadoff leg of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay as was the case at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Willswim
Reply to  Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
1 day ago

As long as we’re predicting that Meehan gets silly with the Stanford women, let’s go all out.
Huske, Curzan, R. Smith, and Forde swim prelims. Top two join Manuel and Ledecky in the final. They swim a great race and beat Australia but ultimately have to settle for silver when a charging out of nowhere Taylor Ruck touches them out for the win.

MKW
1 day ago

Only way AUS loses is false start

Craig
Reply to  MKW
1 day ago

Or jumping in the pool in celebration before the slow teams like USA finish.

Iain
1 day ago

China looks way, way underrated here. And the Netherlands overrated.

Dee
Reply to  Iain
1 day ago

Agree – I have China ahead of GBR, and GBR beat Netherlands at Euros with Hopkin splitting slower than she swam individually.

Troyy
1 day ago

The USA won’t be off the podium and think Huske will swim the final and probably drop a bunch of time like she did in fly at trials but was ruined by all those 200s she swam before the 100 free.

I really do hope the Aussies lead off with McKeon so it maximises their strengths with the current world’s fastest flat start and and world’s fastest anchor.

Last edited 1 day ago by Troyy
Swimfan
Reply to  Troyy
1 day ago

Huske did go 2:10 in the 200 im which itself is very impressive considering the program she put together at trials

Idc
Reply to  Swimfan
1 day ago

If she wasn’t beat by to other teenagers I’d say she would be a favorite to make the team come paris but she will still certainly be a contender.

irviner
Reply to  Troyy
1 day ago

I wonder if Curzan will be considered too? Although her and Huske will have had the 100 fly semis just an hour before the relay final.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  irviner
1 day ago

Doubtful either will swim the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay for the same reason as well as lack of senior international competition experience, as opposed to Ledecky and Manuel.

HJones
Reply to  irviner
1 day ago

Curzan has been under 54 once in her life, and hasn’t done much since her 100 fly at trials to indicate she can be a 53 at the games. You can’t justify giving her a finals spot without a prelim swim, and I don’t see where there is room with Deloof and Schmitt certainly swimming prelims, and two from the group of Hinds, Smoliga (unless one is saved for finals), Manuel and maybe Ledecky also having to swim heats. There are just too many people in front of Curzan in priority who either earned their spots at OTs or have more data points for their relay preformance.

Smith-King-Huske-Manuel
Reply to  Troyy
1 day ago

Nope!

The women’s head coach is Greg Meehan (Stanford Cardinal athletics).

Manuel
Weitzeil
Brown
Ledecky

Swap Brown for Vollmer and that’s the lineup from the final of the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Ervin
1 day ago

Did the Americans have a time trial at training camp?

HJones
Reply to  Ervin
1 day ago

Not that we’ve heard about, I don’t think. If there was, then it is odd that nothing has come out about it, since in years past video/results would come out afterwards.

Drama King
1 day ago

Gold – Australia (WR)
Silver – Canada
Bronze – USA

4. China
5. Netherlands
6. Great Britain
7. France
8. Sweden

Dark Horse – Australia B team 😜

Tomek
Reply to  Drama King
1 day ago

I would switch Canada and USA spots, no issue with Australia

Drama King
Reply to  Tomek
1 day ago

I think Penny will have a great Olympics. I think she will go sub 52.5 (lead off). Sanchez and Mcneil have the potential to go 52 mid/high easily. Real question would be Ruck. If she is in form, she can easily do 52 low split.

Australia
Emma Mckeon 52.5
Bronte Campbell/Meg Harris 52.3
Madi Wilson 52.3
Cate Campbell 51.9

Canada
Penny Oleksiak 52.5
Kayla Sanchez 52.6
Maggie Mcneil 52.6
Taylor Ruck 53.0

USA
Simone Manuel 53.0
Olivia Smoliga 52.9
Erika Brown 52.8
Abbey Weitzil 52.6

And I think China can really make a run for medal.

Last edited 1 day ago by Drama King
Idc
1 day ago

I’d say let manual swim no reason to play it safe.

HJones
Reply to  Idc
1 day ago

You need to give her a prelim spot to justify that. If she is 53-mid or low, then that should be enough to get her on the finals relay.

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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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