2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES
- When: Pool swimming: Saturday, July 24 – Sunday, August 1, 2021
- Open Water swimming: Wednesday, August 4 – Thursday, August 5, 2021
- Where: Olympic Aquatics Centre / Tokyo, Japan
- Heats: 7 PM / Semifinals & Finals: 10:30 AM (Local time)
- Full aquatics schedule
- SwimSwam Event Previews
- Start Lists & Results
MEN’S 4×100 FREE RELAY
- World Record: USA (Phelps, Weber-Gale, Jones, Lezak) – 3:08.24 (2008)
- Olympic Record: USA (Phelps, Weber-Gale, Jones, Lezak) – 3:08.24 (2008)
- World Junior Record: USA (Magahey, Urlando, Chaney, Foster) – 3:15.80 (2019)
- 2016 Olympic Champion: USA (Dressel, Phelps, Held, Adrian) – 3:09.92
*For our top few nations’ aggregate times below, the first column (Season-Best) is the aggregate of each leg’s best flat-start time between September 2020 and June 2021, not factoring in relay starts. The second column is a little more predictive, but also a little more rose-colored glasses, pulling the best time or split (that we could find) for that athlete since the summer of 2018 – the presumptive leadoff swimmer of each relay is listed first, with their flat-start best.
A Legacy of Showstoppers
Arguably the most prestigious relay at the Olympic games, the classic 4×100 free relay has consistently produced some of the most show-stopping races in Olympic history. And that’s not an exaggeration.
In 2000, Gary Hall Jr. predicted that the Americans (who to that point had never lost an Olympic men’s 4×100 free relay) would “smash [the Australians] like guitars.” The race ended with Ian Thorpe holding off Hall and the Australians celebrating a world record by pointedly playing air guitars at Hall’s expense.
In 2004, South Africa won a historic upset, smashing the field in a world record for the nation’s first-ever Olympic gold in men’s swimming.
In 2008, Jason Lezak saved Michael Phelps‘ quest for 8 golds in 8 events with an otherworldly run-down of France. Lezak split 46.0, still the fastest split of all-time and considered one of the great swims in the sport’s history.
In 2012, France returned the favor with Yannick Agnel coming through with his own iconic run-down of the Americans and Ryan Lochte.
And in 2016, a veteran Phelps swam his way onto this relay via a training camp time trial, eventually splitting 47.1 en route to his then-record 19 career Olympic golds. (He would finish those Olympics, and his career, with 23.)
Suffice to say, this race never fails to bring the fireworks. It happens right away on night 2, when teams haven’t yet had a chance to figure out who’s swimming well and who, well, isn’t. The top stars are completely fresh, the rookies are still working out those first Olympic butterflies in the stomach, and it all adds up to absolute chaos.
2021 should be no different.
|Kliment Kolesnikov||47.31||Vladislav Grinev||47.43|
|Andrei Minakov||47.57||Evgeny Rylov||47.02|
|Vladislav Grinev||47.85||Vladimir Morozov||47.02|
|Vladimir Morozov||48.00||Kliment Kolesnikov||47.10|
Russia has the world’s best depth in this event – that includes 4 men in the top 12 in world rankings for 2021, and a crazy eight men under 48.41 from a flat start in 2021 alone. What that really means is that Russia – more so than any other nation – can swim alternates in the morning heats to keep their stars fresh, or even allow their last few swimmers to swim-off for the finals spots.
The strategic decisions will revolve heavily around backstrokers Kliment Kolesnikov and Evgeny Rylov, owners of the two fastest Russian relay splits since 2018. Both will likely have the 100 back semifinals in the same session, with only the women’s 100 back semifinals in between. Still, they’re incredibly valuable to this relay, and also probably have the ability to shut down their semifinal backstroke swims if they get out front.
Though Kolesnikov has the best flat-start time in the nation, Russia has typically used him as its anchor – that would also buy him a tiny bit more rest (two minutes or so) after his 100 back semi. When Russia crushed the Euros field by a second, they used flyer Andrei Minakov on the leadoff (he was 48.1 there but has been 47.57 from a flat start this season) with Vladislav Grinev (47.4) and Aleksandr Shchegolev (47.6) in the middle. But Rylov (47.0 split at 2019 Worlds) could also be in the mix, along with Vladimir Morozov (48.00 from a flat start this year and 47.6 on a relay at 2019 Worlds).
Russia’s depth will face its toughest test courtesy of three other nations whose shakier depth is covered by all-time great 100 free talents.
|Caeleb Dressel||47.39||Caeleb Dressel||46.96|
|Zach Apple||47.72||Zach Apple||46.86|
|Blake Pieroni||48.13||Blake Pieroni||47.32|
|Brooks Curry||48.19||Brooks Curry||48.19|
Superstar Caeleb Dressel should lead off for Team USA – he’s got the best flat start in the world, and doesn’t usually see the same kind of relay-start time boost that others do. Zach Apple is a vet who split 46.8 at 2019 Worlds, and Blake Pieroni is another Olympic veteran who can probably hit the 47-lows. The rookie of the bunch is Brooks Curry, a fast-dropping LSU standout who shocked the field at Olympic Trials after shocking the field at SECs a year earlier.
The U.S. men won this race at 2019 Worlds with Dressel, Pieroni, and Apple all on the team. How Curry (or lone prelims alternate Bowe Becker) fare in place of the legendary Nathan Adrian will really determine how this relay performs, especially when the relay’s biggest hitter won’t be swimming on the anchor leg for any sort of Lezakian heroics.
|Kyle Chalmers||47.59||Cameron McEvoy||48.29|
|Matthew Temple||48.32||Matthew Temple||48.32|
|Cameron McEvoy||48.49||Alexander Graham||48.11|
|Zac Incerti||48.51||Kyle Chalmers||46.60|
Australia has traditionally done the opposite with their order – Kyle Chalmers is considered one of the best closers in the history of the 100 free, and he tends to anchor this relay. Chalmers has been as fast as 46.6 from a flying start, and is as good a candidate as any to pop something game-changing over the final two laps of this relay.
Every strategy has its downside, though. While the Americans can’t count on their best swimmer in the high-pressure final leg, Australia is really going to need a top-tier leadoff leg to step up, or they’ll spend the entire race swimming though some of the most brutal chop the Olympic pool will see. At 2019 Worlds, Australia fell almost a second behind the leaders on a 48.4 Cameron McEvoy leadoff, sitting 6th of 8 teams. McEvoy is long removed from his 47-low days – in fact, he hasn’t broken 48 since the summer of 2017. His 48.2 above is a flat-start time from 2019 Worlds, and 48-low is probably a good baseline if he leads off.
Flyer Matthew Temple has been a more recent riser in this event, and hasn’t swum this relay at Worlds, Pan Pacs, or Commonwealth Games. His listed time above is his best flat-start time, so it’s fair to assume he’ll go faster than that with a flying relay start in Tokyo. Australia is without Jack Cartwright (47.7 split at 2018 Commonwealth Games) and Clyde Lewis (47.6 split at 2019 Worlds), so they’ll probably turn to 48.5 flat-start Zac Incerti or 200 freestyler Alexander Graham, who split 48.1 at 2019 Worlds. Graham is a relay-only swimmer in the 200, so he won’t have a double with the individual 200 free in this session.
|Duncan Scott||47.87||Matt Richards||48.23|
|Matt Richards||48.23||Tom Dean||48.11|
|Tom Dean||48.30||James Guy||47.92|
|Jacob Whittle||48.55||Duncan Scott||46.14|
Great Britain’s Duncan Scott should also have the 200 free semifinals to kick off the session, but there’s a solid amount of rest between the two events. Scott torched the 2019 Worlds field in the medley relay, splitting 46.1 and very nearly matching Lezak’s fastest-split-of-all-time. It’s probably not realistic to expect Scott to match that unbelievable split, but he’s also fully capable of going 46-something again and scaring the field.
A young and fast-rising British group took silver behind Russia at Euros this summer, with 18-year-old Matthew Richards splitting 48.1. Richards and 16-year-old Jacob Whittle (48.4 split in prelims of that meet) are probably the future of this relay for the Brits, but it’s maybe more likely to be 200 freestylers Tom Dean and James Guy on this relay for the present. Scott and Dean should swim the 200 free semifinals earlier in this session, so it’s possible Whittle spells Dean on this relay if he swims well enough in prelims.
Italy joins Russia as the only relay where all four legs have split 47s. They were third at Euros this spring with both Thomas Ceccon and Manuel Frigo hitting those best splits listed below in the final and Lorenzo Zazzeri splitting his best time in prelims. National record-holder Alessandro Miressi led off that relay, though he’s often anchored in years past. Santo Condorelli was a late addition to the Olympic roster after slipping past Frigo and Zazzeri (both 48.54 this season) with a 48.49 at Sette Colli.
|Alessandro Miressi||47.45||Alessandro Miressi||47.45|
|Thomas Ceccon||48.14||Thomas Ceccon||47.98|
|Santo Condorelli||48.49||Manuel Frigo||47.85|
|Manuel Frigo||48.54||Lorenzo Zazzeri||47.98|
Since winning bronze at 2019 Worlds, Hungary has never quite put it all together at the right time again. They’ve had some close shaves, though, narrowly missing medals with 4th-place showings at Euros in both 2018 and 2020. They’ve got the ability to knock off the last few teams for bronze in Tokyo, but it probably depends on a swimmer or two – maybe 21-year-old 200 fly superstar Kristof Milak or 21-year-old freestyler Nandor Nemeth – taking a big step into the 47-lows.
|Nandor Nemeth||47.84||Nandor Nemeth||47.84|
|Kristof Milak||48.00||Kristof Milak||47.50|
|Szebasztian Szabo||48.59||Szebasztian Szabo||47.83|
|Richard Bohus||49.31||Richard Bohus||48.34|
A few other teams to note: Brazil should have four good legs, including Pedro Spajari, who split 46.9 anchoring this relay to a DQ-aided win at 2018 Pan Pacs. The fastest 100 freestyler at their Olympic Trials, Andre Souza, was bumped off the Olympic team after a doping violation.
France could be in the hunt, with Maxime Grousset rising all the way from 48.5 to 47.8 from a flat start this year. If Mehdy Metella can return to his 47.8-split form from 2019 Worlds, this relay will have solid bookends.
Top 8 Picks
Ultimately, we’ll go with Russia’s depth, even with two of their fastest legs coming off the 100 backstrokes. The schedule favors the U.S., but this race almost always comes down to some last-leg heroics, and we’re not sure a U.S. team that’s likely already used Dressel can hold off whoever Russia sticks on the anchor leg.
We’ll take Australia narrowly over Great Britain for third – the big difference-maker there is that potentially half of the British relay (Scott and Dean) will probably be coming off the 200 free semifinals, which is a tough race to recover from. Australia, meanwhile, has made this relay a major priority, with Chalmers dropping his individual 200 free spot to stay fresh for what could be a game-changing anchor leg.
2019 Worlds Finish