Tokyo 2021 Olympic Relay Qualification Update – Mixed Medley Relay

The last in a series of articles for SwimSwam looking at the relay qualification standings for Tokyo, we turn our eyes to the newest Olympic swimming event, the mixed medley relay. A quick reminder of the relay qualification and selection process for Tokyo:


  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.

Mixed Medley Relay

Country Criteria Time
China Worlds #1 3:38.41
Australia Worlds #2 3:39.08
United States Worlds #3 3:39.10
Great Britain Worlds #4 3:40.68
Russia Worlds #5 3:40.78
Canada Worlds #6 3:43.06
Italy Worlds #7 3:43.28
Germany Worlds #8 3:45.07
Netherlands Worlds #9
DQ/3:44.67 (prelims)
Belarus Worlds #10 3:45.88
Israel Worlds #11 3:48.06
Poland Worlds #12 3:48.21
Hungary Wildcard #1 3:48.44
Japan Wildcard #2 3:44.75
South Korea Wildcard #3 3:47.92
Brazil Wildcard #4 3:48.61
Switzerland Out #1 3:48.98
Denmark Out #2 3:49.10
South Africa Out #3 3:49.90
Turkey Out #4 3:50.49

Note: the times have been updated to reflect China’s WR 

The biggest change from last year is China setting a new World Record in October. As the mixed medley is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo, it is unclear how countries will approach the relay. Japan DQ’d in prelims at Worlds but have since put-up a time that would rank them in the Top-8.

China, Australia, the US, Great Britain, and Russia should all be competing for the medals. The unique nature of the mixed relay general results in large leads and large comebacks depending on how teams have chosen to swim their athletes. Of the top four teams at Worlds, there were three different strategies in terms of where they swam their men and women. A closer look at the final heat at Worlds shows that the general consensus is to have women swim freestyle and men to swim breaststroke:

Leg Women Men
Backstroke 4 4
Breaststroke 1 7
Butterfly 4 4
Freestyle 7 1

The table reflects the number of teams that swam a woman or men on that respective relay leg

Teams will be crunching numbers to determine which lineup and swimmers will give them the best opportunity to final and to medal. Regardless of lineup strategy, the mixed medley should be a fun event to watch in Tokyo.

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Daniel Takata
3 years ago

Actually China were not among the top 12 teams at the World Championships, since the team got DSQ in the prelims. So Hungary should be Worlds #12, and China Wildcard #1.

Mr Piano
3 years ago

Adding this event to the Olympic lineup is dumb. It’s just handing out another redundant medal to swimmers.

Reply to  Mr Piano
3 years ago

Agreed. Someone like Rooney could win 4 gold medals without swimming a single final, while guys like Seto or Paltrinieri can win 2 golds at best. In general i like mixed relays, because they give a better chance to small nations, but in exchange they should have gotten rid of all the other relays. Only 2 relays at the olympics (mixed 400 free and mixed medley relay) would be fine with me.

Mr Piano
Reply to  AnEn
3 years ago

I’m all for adding medal inflation events at the World Championships, but I feel like the Olympic lineup has enough events as it is. The only change I would make is remove the women’s 800 free and add the 1500, instead of adding the 800 for men and 1500 for women. That literally just duplicates a race with the same energy systems

Reply to  Mr Piano
3 years ago

Agreed about the 800/1500 free. We have seen recently that many of the top swimmers (Titmus, Smith, Detti) can compete in the 800 free, but not in the 1500 free. I don’t get the point of having two different events with almost exactly the same medalists. Why should swimmers get two medals for pretty much the same “skill”, while most other sports don’t? It doesn’t matter whether some swimmers wins a dozen golds at swimming world championships in redundant events, but when they do it at the olympics, it makes their achievements seem more “important” than those of athletes in other sports who might be equally dominant in their sport.

3 years ago

Smith 57.5, King 104.5, Dressel 49.5, Apple 46.8 clips WR w 3:18.3

Troll in the Dungeon
Reply to  PhillyMark
3 years ago

Not with King swimming a 104

Reply to  PhillyMark
3 years ago

um check ur math

Reply to  PhillyMark
3 years ago

If smith leads out it’ll be a mistake. They could time trial a relay that way and break the WR but in an olympic final leading out Smith followed by King would be a mistake. They would get swamped by the men and leaving the pool wavy for Dressel. Id go Murphy, King, Dressel and Manual. Dressel has to he on the relay and the US male Br isn’t strong enough so King > Smith because Murphy is the WR holder.

3 years ago

I’m pretty suprised by the absence of a French team, I thought they had enough good sprinters in both genders to do the trick (even though they don’t have enough excellent 100m free specialists to medal once more in the men’s 4×100)

3 years ago

Mark, China time is wrong. You did not include their WR Time.

It should be 3:38:41

With this China would probably be with US and AUS the favorites for podium.

Last edited 3 years ago by Rafael
Reply to  Rafael
3 years ago

Not sure their official time for qualification is wrong as I don’t believe their WR was set at an official Olympic qualifying competition. It does make them a favorite though.

Reply to  Teamwiess
3 years ago

It was on the Chinese National Championship that was to be held on march, but the original date was listed as an official qualifying event

3 years ago

Looking forward to these races. Just curious, what’s your take on the impact the ISL will have on the competitiveness and impact to the Olympic Games? Following the ISL, it seems the athletes got to know each other, compete on relays together/same teams, race against their fellow country mates, etc. I know Olympians have a will to win greater than others, but I can’t help but wonder if we will ever see the animosity in the ready room like we’ve seen in the past. Will athletes that did not compete in the ISL be at an advantage/disadvantage?

Reply to  Anonymous
3 years ago

Not sure why you were downvoted for what I think is a good question. I think the ISL will definitely help build familiarity amongst international athletes. However, I think the internet and more recently social media also helps a ton since they can interact much more easily with others across the globe.
That being said, I doubt this will end the future equivalents of say, Shadowboxing & Phelps face or the King vs. Efimova cold war

Reply to  iLikePsych
3 years ago

This question is asked a lot in basketball. One thing is for sure – it definitely hasn’t hurt the quality of the basketball product on the floor, though I’d say that basketball culture is different than swimming in that there’s ‘face to face competition.’

I think it will probably dampen that sort of Hall-esque competitiveness for a while, though there’s still the Australia vs. China stuff (the Chinese have not yet participated in the ISL). Hopefully, though, if the ISL can figure out a more interesting and competitive format, some of that edge will be reignited via the competition down the road.

Reply to  Anonymous
3 years ago

Meh. If an athlete truly needs real or manufactured animosity to maximize their competitiveness, than they’re not really an athlete I’d want to cheer for anyway. I don’t think hate is needed to drive peak performance, and even if it were I don’t think it’s the message that the Olympics wants to send or more broadly, sports intend to teach. Maybe I’m naive, but I truly believe an athlete can get just as amped up to succeed regardless of whether they are competing against people they like, hate, or are indifferent to. Victory alone (however you personally define it) should be motivation enough!

I think animosity between competitors is often a more useful tool for journalists and storytellers as… Read more »

Reply to  Willswim
3 years ago

Watch ‘The Last Dance’ to see how MJ was fueled by real or imagined slights. He must not be an athlete that you would cheer for.