Tokyo 2021 Olympic Relay Qualification Update – Women’s 400 Free Relay

As the calendar has turned to 2021, the focus in the aquatics world turns to this summer’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympic games. Swimming nations will begin to hold their selection meets in the upcoming months for both individual and relay events. In terms of which countries are eligible to swim relays in Tokyo, the process is as follows:


  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.

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 Corona 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.

Women’s 400 Free Relay

Country Criteria Time
Australia Worlds #1 3:30.21
United States Worlds #2 3:31.02
Canada Worlds #3 3:31.78
Netherlands Worlds #4 3:35.32
China Worlds #5 3:35.83
Sweden Worlds #6 3:36.33
Japan Worlds #7 3:36.79
Germany Worlds #8 3:39.07
Russia Worlds #9 3:38.94
Hong Kong Worlds #10 3:40.40
Czech Republic Worlds #11 3:40.78
Poland Worlds #12 3:41.01
France Wildcard #1 3:35.64
Brazil Wildcard #2 3:40.39
Singapore Wildcard #3 3:40.92
Switzerland Wildcard #4 3:41.30
Italy Out #1 3:41.84
Denmark Out #2 3:42.20
South Korea Out #3 3:42.58
Turkey Out #4 3:43.03

France has made the biggest jump in the rankings from last year. Retaining their spot as the top wildcard entry, France has improved their time significantly over the past year. The French quartet of Marie Wattel, Charlotte Bonnet, Anouchka Martin, and Beryl Gastadello swam a 3:35.64 in December, dropping over four seconds off their previous ranked time and a second off of the French national record (3:34.64). 

While still a wildcard entry, the time now ranks France fifth overall and solidifies their spot in the rankings as it is quite unlikely that four other teams would swim faster. This time gives the French a legit shot to final in Tokyo. The French made one personnel change in this relay (Martin replaced Lena Bousquin), and the other three swam respectively faster than they did in June 2019:

2020 2019
M. Wattel 54.08 M. Wattel 55.31
C. Bonnet 53.37 C. Bonnet 54.20
A. Martin 54.82 L. Bousquin 56.09
B. Gastadello 53.37 B. Gastadello 54.09
3:35.64 3:39.69

Singapore and Switzerland currently hold the final two wildcard spots with Italy and Denmark close behind. Factoring in South Korea and Turkey, there are six countries separated by just over two seconds fighting for two spots. This does not include Great Britain, who are not on this list due to choosing not to swim this relay at Worlds in 2019. The Brits, while not yet qualified, have the potential of putting together a top-4 relay; we will see this spring if they decide to swim this relay at either the British Championships in April or the European Championships in May. The recent announcement of a 6-week lockdown will keep English swimmers out of the water, affecting their ability to train before these key spring meets.

The Russians are likely to make a final as well. While they lack a 52-second superstar, they do have one of the deepest sprint groups in the world. Even in a truncated 2020, they’ve had 8 swimmers flat-start 54s this year, including 15-year old Daria Trofimova, who went 54.89 in October. The Russians might benefit from the Olympic delay more than anybody else.

Other teams to keep an eye on include Israel and Hong Kong. Israel has a solid two legs with Anastasia Gorbenko and Andi Murez who both split under 52 [short course] during the ISL season. Their next-best two are Aviv Barzelay (57.92 LCM best) and Zohar Shikler (56.18 LCM best), which means their better bet is still probably the 400 medley relay.

Hong Kong has Siobhan Haughey who put up a 50.94 [short course] flat start time at the ISL final. At the World Championships, where Hong Kong qualified for the Olympics, Camille Cheng was a worth second, leading off in 55.23, while Tam Hoi Lam split 55.64 and Ho Nam Wai split 56.64. Ho doesn’t turn 19 until April. That relay has potential to sneak into the final, which would be massive for Hong Kong sport in general and is probably enough justification for them to go after the race, even at the expense of another 2 swims for their budding superstar.

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3 years ago

What if a country does finish in the top 4 World Ranking, but is not able to allign 4 swimmers for the relays because of the Relay only swimmer quota?

Reply to  extaz
3 years ago

The rules don’t anticipate this as far as I can tell.

I think the presumption is that it would be incredibly difficult to qualify a wildcard relay without at least 2 swimmers being able to achieve individual invitations in some event.

Based on what we’ve seen in the past, in this situation FINA would probably just shrug and allow an exception to the rules.

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

I think one example of this is Singapore, where they have an army of swimmers in the 55-56 range, but their fastest 100 freestyler (Ting Wen Quah) is at 54.6, right outside the A standard of 54.3, and no other female swimmers have qualified yet

Reply to  Justhereforfun
3 years ago

That’s a good example. I think this problem mostly arises as a result of this thing countries are doing now where “if we’re not going to qualify, then we’re not going to bother trying.” Singapore’s time as it sits right now shouldn’t qualify for the Olympics. Italy, Great Britain, and Denmark should be able to go faster, but it feels unlikely that any of them will go after a spot.

Singapore could reorient their individual event lineup to make it work. For example, if they just don’t enter Ting Wen Quah in the 100 free, then their #2 100 freestyler can swim it, and problem solved.

Cherlyn Yeoh is pretty close to a qualifying time in the 50…Jing Wen Quah’s… Read more »

Last edited 3 years ago by Braden Keith
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

I think Singapore is in an awkward phase of development where they have so many swimmers hitting B marks but none hitting A marks, and from what I’ve observed (I’m from Southeast Asia) I haven’t seen anyone since 2008 getting an invite from a B mark… hopefully they won’t have to withdraw a relay team because of that rule!

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

there will be no invites I fear… there were about 7-8 invitations per race in London, in Rio it was a total of 20 swimmers who got invited, not even one per race, even though FINA claimed it was one per race… now we have more events with the addition of the women’s 1500 and the men’s 800 and the mixed relay, and the number of swimmers allowed has been reduced from 900 to 878… the A-cut has gotten a little bit harder, too, but imho this will not really change anything… most probably we will end up with more than the 878 swimmers with all the relays, the universality places and the A-cuts… we will see what happens then…

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

look at the women’s 800 free relay… there are several relays that do not fullfill the necessary criteria, and they finished in the top 12 at worlds… so technically, they cannot compete in Tokyo.
Or they have to compete with other swimmers that made the OQT in another event, so theoretically, breaststrokers could end up in those freestyle relays… which does not make sense at all, but it is the FINA rule… all in order to make sure that there are no more that 878 swimmers at the olympics, while trying to have as many countries as possible at the competition… This obviously cannot add up, and it ends in a hollowed out competition, where some events do not… Read more »

3 years ago

Will be interesting to see if the Wild Card times will go down under 3.40 (I was guessing a little under 3:41 at the beginning of 2020). Now I also start to wonder if it will take a sub 3.36 to make the final.

Reply to  Dan
3 years ago

About the wildcard times going down below 3:40: I think Brazil, Italy and GB should be able to do it. Not sure if GB will try … ?

About the time it will take to final: I think sub 3:36 is realistic. USA, Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Netherlands, France, Sweden and GB could all do it.