Tokyo 2021 Olympic Relay Qualification Update — Men’s 400 Free Relay

As SwimSwam’s analysis of the women’s relays is complete, we now turn to the men. This is the fourth in a series of articles looking at the rankings and changes of the relays for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. We would like to brief you once again on the process of relay qualification: 


  1. The top 12 teams from prelims of each Olympic relay at the World Championships are selected to the Olympics. The finish order from prelims is what matters, so if a team is disqualified in the final (like the Dutch mixed 400 medley relay was), the team’s spot at the Olympics is secure.
  2. The next 4 best relays from the qualification period, March 1st, 2019 through May 31, 2021, will receive a spot – if the relay is swum at a FINA approved Olympic qualifying event. This includes most Olympic Trials meets, the Southeast Asian Games, the World Championships, World Juniors, Euro Juniors, the World University Games, the FINA World Cups (where a few countries have actually swum times that will get them selected), and a selection of other important international meets.
  3. If any of the top 12 teams from the World Championships, or any of the next 4 best teams during the selection period, decline their spot, then the next-fastest team during the selection period goes. So, if a top-12 team at the World Championships declines their spot, it’s not necessarily the 13th team from the World Championships that is selected.

Prior episodes:

A few notes:

  • Countries can swim any athlete that is entered in any individual event in a relay, even if they have not achieved the OST/”B” standard for the corresponding stroke and distance of the relay in which they are entered.
  • Each NOC gets additional relay-only athletes, but those athletes must have hit the OST/”B” standard for the corresponding stroke and distance of the relay in which they are entered. So, if a swimmer is racing the breaststroke leg of the medley relay, that swimmer must have at least a “B” cut in the 100 breaststroke, if they are a relay only swimmer. If that breaststroker on the medley relay has no cut in the 100 breaststroke but is swimming, say, the 1500 free, they’re still eligible for the relay.
  • Countries must confirm their participation in a relay no later than June 11th, 2021 and must confirm their relay-only athletes by no later than June 27th, 2021.
  • No ‘aggregate relay times,’ the relay must actually be raced to be considered.

Relay-only swimmers, if a country has:

  • 1 qualified relay – 2 additional athletes
  • 2 qualified relays – 4 additional athletes
  • 3 qualified relays – 6 additional athletes
  • 4 qualified relays – 8 additional athletes
  • 5 qualified relays – 10 additional athletes
  • 6 or 7 qualified relays – 12 additional athletes

These relay-only athletes that are chosen for a specific event must swim that event in prelims or finals, or the nation will be disqualified in that relay.

SwimSwam visited relay rankings a year ago in anticipation of the originally scheduled games. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced the rescheduling and cancellation of swim meets, we would like to revisit the rankings for changes that have occurred in the past year. We will be looking at each relay over the next few weeks and plan to update the rankings as needed throughout the qualification period.

Editor’s note: FINA doesn’t officially publish an up-to-date ranking for relay qualifying, so we’ve done our best to compile the current rankings manually.

Men’s 400 Free Relay

Country Criteria Time
United States Worlds #1 3:09.06
Russia Worlds #2 3:09.97
Australia Worlds #3 3:11.22
Italy Worlds #4 3:11.39
Great Britain Worlds #5 3:11.81
Brazil Worlds #6 3:11.99
Hungary Worlds #7 3:12.85
France Worlds #8 3:13.34
Japan Worlds #9 3:14.16
Greece Worlds #10 3:14.44
Germany Worlds #11 3:14.58
Poland Worlds #12 3:14.78
Canada Wildcard #1 3:15.06
Belgium Wildcard #2 3:15.34
Netherlands Wildcard #3 3:15.54
Serbia Wildcard #4 3:15.72
China Out #1 3:16.23
Singapore Out #2 3:16.82
Switzerland Out #3 3:16.85
Ireland Out #4 3:17.38

There has been one slight change to last year’s rankings. The Netherlands has moved up one spot to the third wildcard position. This results in Serbia moving down into the last qualification position. The Netherlands competed in Rotterdam in December and were able to drop just over two-tenths  from their previous time as Nils Korstanje, Thom de Boer, Kyle Stolk, and Stan Pijnenburg swam to a 3:15.54.

2020 2019
N. Korstanje 49.30 J. Puts 49.15
T. de Boer 48.89 N. Korstanje 49.06
K. Stolk 49.03 K. Stolk 48.34
S. Pijnenburg 48.32 S. Pijnenburg 49.22
3:15.54 3:15.77

There is a lot of competition for spots on this relay as the Dutch currently have seven men who swim between 48.75 and 49.88 in the 100 free. As the four wildcard countries are separated by only 0.66, any time and place improvement is significant, and the Dutch sprint group, on paper, appears to have a lot of positive momentum.

The United States and Russia are the top of the class in this event and will be competing for the gold medal. Both of these countries are seeded under 3:10 and could potentially make a run at the world record in this event. 

The Americans have become deep enough in this race that part of their challenge will come down to picking the right 4 for the finals heat. Expect there to be some controversy emerging there, but with Caeleb Dressel, they at least have the ace-card of the world’s best in the 100 free.

Russia has three guys (Vlad MorozovAndrei Minakov, and Vladislav Grinev) who can flat-start sub-48, but they’ll struggle to match Dressel at the top end, and have a history of their sprinters not peaking at the right meet. This relay should go to the Americans, unless they pick the wrong foursome in finals and someone has an off night.

The race for bronze will be a tight one as Australia, Italy, Great Britain, and Brazil are all separated by less than a second.

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3 years ago

I Think Hungary might have a shot also.. if we take all data since Rio we would have this (All Times)
USA 3:09:09
Russia: 3:09:97
USA 3:10.06
Brazil 3:10.34
USA 3:11.03
Australia 3:11.22
USA 3:11.31
Italy 3:11.39
GBR 3:11.81
Brazil/HUN 3:11.99
Brazil 3:12.02
RUS 3:12.23
Brazil 3:12.34
GBR 3:12.42

Troll Longhorn
3 years ago

My brother, ol longhorn, has that Dressed pick up on the wall at his house.

tea rex
3 years ago

Like if you think USA’s B team could get a medal.
Dislike if you think USA’s B team would not medal.

Everyone’s best flat starts in 2019 would add up to 3:09.65 A team, and 3:11.99 B team. But the 2 slowest guys (Farris and Adrian) also put up 47.0 splits that year.

Reply to  tea rex
3 years ago

Even presuming B team is 5-8 not 7-12, I say no. USA Swimming certainly has the depth for it to be plausible, but it’s pretty rare for all 8 guys to be ‘on’ at the same meet.

tea rex
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

I actually agree – on paper it’s plausible, but even at the Olympics there’s usually 1-2 guys whose taper falls off from trials.

3 years ago

I heard ledecky is gonna be in lane 0 doing a 400 free time trial

Reply to  Who?
3 years ago

Hot take: A supersuited ledecky could take down the women’s 400 medley relay wr (3:50)

Last edited 3 years ago by gkjhdslks
3 years ago

I don’t think GB swims this relay, not guaranteed a medal and Scott has to swim. All about medals for funding and spreadsheets percentages.
For fun:
Dressel Apple Rooney Held
Or Russia for the win
Grinev, Minakov, Kolesnikov, Rylov
(No Morozov – think his 100days are done always underperforms on relays)

Reply to  Skoorbnagol
3 years ago

There is no team Russia

Reply to  Who?
3 years ago

OAR then.

Reply to  Skoorbnagol
3 years ago

Morozov is always solid in relays. It’s the individuals where he underperforms.

3 years ago

Is Belgium going to give up their spot since Timmers have retired (a few countries have given up their spots in the past for different reasons)?

3 years ago

Rooney, Held, Jackson, Adrian in the morning and Dressel, Appel, Held, Adrian at night.

Reply to  Willswim
3 years ago

As much as it pains me, I don’t think Adrian makes the finals relay. I’d go Dressel, Held, Rooney, Apple right now, but who knows what Jackson, Farris, Pieroni, or Chadwick do in the next 6 months

Reply to  JCO
3 years ago

It is such a deep group at the elite level after Dressel. You could make an argument for like 10 men to fill out the final relay line-up. It’ll be really interesting, -given the past 10 months, currently, and going forward- if there is a sharp decline for post-grads, college swimmers, and/or tenured pros (the 25/26 and up) at trials or when they race to build the team.

Either way, I’m hopeful but hesitant for the Olympics this summer, it will be fun to have Dressel race on a global scale on primetime national TV, and I’m hopeful as a washed up swammer that sports gambling will be legal at that time.

Reply to  Willswim
3 years ago

I could see Dean on the prelim relay instead of Jackson but it will be close!

3 years ago

Are there any updates on Uzbekistan Nationals where they faked the results? Is FINA still okay with it?