Tokyo Olympic Relay Qualification Update – Men’s 800 Free Relay

The fifth in a series of articles, SwimSwam is taking a closer look at the rankings of each relay as we approach the 2021 Tokyo Olympic games. SwimSwam analyzed the relays a year ago and we are now updating the rankings to reflect any changes that have happened. As refresher, here are the relay qualification procedures:


  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 800 Free Relay

Country Criteria Time
Australia Worlds #1 7:00.85
Russia Worlds #2 7:01.81
United States Worlds #3 7:01.98
Italy Worlds #4 7:02.01
Great Britain Worlds #5 7:02.04
China Worlds #6 7:04.74
Brazil Worlds #7 7:07.64
Germany Worlds #8 7:07.65
Japan Worlds #9 7:09.23
Israel Worlds #10 7:11.99
Poland Worlds #11 7:12.01
Switzerland Worlds #12 7:12.08
Belgium Wildcard #1 7:12.99
New Zealand Wildcard #2 7:13.06
Hungary Wildcard #3 7:13.64
Ireland Wildcard #4 7:13.91
Canada Out #1 7:14.01
South Korea Out #2 7:15.05
Serbia Out #3 7:15.28
Netherlands Out #4 7:17.36

The only change in the rankings from last year is that the Netherlands are now ranked 20th, bumping Singapore into the 21st position. As only 16 teams qualify for Tokyo, this does not change the teams that are currently qualified; it only puts the Netherlands in a better position to potentially qualify. The Dutch would need to drop another 2-3 seconds to secure a wildcard spot for Tokyo.

The Canadians currently rank as 17th and the first team out. They are less than a second from the second wildcard spot and will have a chance to secure a qualification position at the Canadian Olympic Trials in April

Canada has a number of options to help improve and move into a wild card position. Ruslan Gaziev’s best time of 1:49.33 comes from August 2019 and he should be looking to split under 1:48 on a relay. Alexander Grant swam a 1:49.44 and puts himself into the conversation. A name to keep an eye on is Cole Pratt. Primarily a backstroker, Pratt put up a 1:50.84 in the 200 free as a 16 year old in 2019. The Canadians have depth as they have seven swimmers between 1:47.60 and 1:49.59 but are lacking a true ace in this event. An improvement in the Canadians’ ranking would bump Ireland out. 

This will be one of the relays to watch in Tokyo. Australia, who finished out of the medals four years ago in Rio, are the reigning world champions and lead the field by just under a second. Russia, the United States, Italy, and Great Britain are all separated by less than 0.25 seconds. The US will have some fresh faces on this relay as for the first time since 2000 we will not see Ryan Lochte or Michael Phelps. A close look at both flat start and relay split times shows that there are a lot of men swimming between 1:45 and 1:46. The country that can have two or more swimmers split under 1:45 will be in a very good position for gold.

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Sun Yangs Hammer
4 months ago

The US usually pulls together a legit relay for Olympic years but the relay in Gwangju was not confidence inspiring. Hopefully its just a 2015 Worlds 4×100 Freelay situation and some talent steps up at the big meet

4 months ago

I really hope someone on team USA steps up. It feels like Phelps and Lochte have been mainstays on this relay forever. After 2016 the hope was Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas, and/or Jack Conger would step up and lead the team into the next cycle, but two of those three aren’t gonna do it and the third has been up and down. We need a new generation to take over. I predict the 6 to make it to Tokyo are Kieran Smith, Drew Kibler, Townley Haas, Blake Peroni, Dean Farris, and Carson Foster.

Reply to  Willswim
4 months ago

I am encouraged with how Haas swam at ISL. I wouldn’t be surprised if he still had a 1:44 split in him. Kieran may go 1:44 flat start with the way he is progressing. If Seliskar splits his race a little more evenly he could be close to 1:44 territory as well. Pieroni seems like he should be primed for a big time result as well. Who knows what a tapered Dean could do…he also needs to control his front end speed a bit more.

Reply to  PhillyMark
4 months ago

I’m embarrassed to admit that I forgot about Seliskar when I was making my prediction. D’oh! 🤦‍♂️

Reply to  Willswim
4 months ago

Urlando has a bigger change than Kibler, Farris and Foster

Reply to  Rafael
4 months ago

Urlando definitely has a great chance. Apple and Held do too.

Reply to  Rafael
4 months ago

And Dressel should probably leave this one alone.

Reply to  Willswim
4 months ago

Same way Phelps left the 4×200 alone in 2016 when he replaced Jack Conger who had been 1.45?
Dressel is in the final team imo
Dressel, K Smith, Haas, Seliskar

Reply to  Skoorbnagol
4 months ago

I don’t doubt that Dressel could make the team, I just worry that adding the 200 free would make his workload too heavy. I want him fresh for the 100 free final against Chalmers, there’s not a lot of room for error there. I always go back to what 39.9 could have been if he wasn’t fatigued from a stacked program at NCAAs his senior year.

Reply to  Skoorbnagol
4 months ago

What was wrong with putting Phelps on the relay?

Mr Piano
Reply to  Maverick
4 months ago

1. Conger swam faster than Lochte at trials and at prelims in the Olympics. He should have been on there. If Phelps HAD to be on there, Lochte should have been removed, except Lochte was also super experienced, and swam it at trials, and in prelims.

2. Phelps was wasted after that and the 200 fly, and was hurting bad for the 200 IM. He still swam an amazing time of course, but he was pretty disappointed he didn’t break the world record. Maybe he would have if he let Conger swim, he probably would have split as fast as Phelps did anyway

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Mr Piano
4 months ago

Conger should have had Lochte’s place in the final based on trials and prelims. Phelps was comfortably faster than Lochte in the final. In fact I would say Lochte was only mediocre on that third leg.

Reply to  Maverick
4 months ago

He hadn’t broken 1.48 in 4 years.
He didn’t swim it at trials or the prelims.
Jack Cknger had been 1.45 at trials and in prelims. It was his only race. They would of won still going Dwyer, Haas, Lochte, Conger.
Seemed it was a marketing ploy, for NBC for Phelps to win ‘another Gold’ totally unearned. Just because he’s Phelps doesn’t mean he’s granted free reign to every relay. Bowman’s ego. He was 31 and had enough swims, Jack Conger was fresh, it was like USA swimming saying we have little faith in the guy going 1.45, need Phelps to swim 12 times. Good for NBC promotion of swimming. It was low move imo
Conger… Read more »

Reply to  Skoorbnagol
4 months ago

Okay, first of all, there was no way for them to know they could’ve won with Conger in the final. If anything, Conger earned the spot over Lochte, not over Phelps (who swam faster than Conger, btw). Phelps is one of the most clutch swimmers of all time – why wouldn’t you put him on the end of a relay if you have the chance.

Also, what’s your beef with Ledecky being on the 4×1 in Rio? She earned her spot by swimming in the prelims and outsplitting every single swimmer besides C1 and Sarah (the two fastest 100 freestylers of all time). Then she backed it up by basically matching that split at night. She earned every bit of… Read more »

NOT the frontman of Metallica
Reply to  N P
4 months ago

Adding to that, Phelps cap ripped shortly before starting so he had to quickly ask for Dwyers, I can imagine a young gun shitting his pants in a similar situation but daddy P kept his cool and brought home gold instead. Another testament to Phelps clutch

NOT the frontman of Metallica
Reply to  Skoorbnagol
4 months ago

Dude why are you so hung up on Phelps swimming that relay or not when he was faster than Lochte? I honestly think both of them did great on that relay holding off other teams and I clearly see the coaches wanting to go with their experience in doing just that.
Also if anyone suffered fatigue before the 200 IM it was Lochte and not Phelps given how that final turned out.

Reply to  Skoorbnagol
4 months ago

It’s all hindsight now. The coaches had to pick between the most decorated swimmer of all time, having a great year. Or the new guy(he did swim fast though).

Probably a lot went on behind the scenes that we don’t know about too.

Old Rocket Swimmer
4 months ago

Who said Ryan was out?