SwimSwam continues our analysis of the relay rankings for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. This is the third in a series of articles for SwimSwam and today we conclude the women’s relay events with a look at the 400 medley relay. We will remind everyone of the relay qualification process for Tokyo:
OLYMPIC SWIMMING RELAY SELECTION PROCESS
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Women’s Relays: 400 Free, 800 Free, 400 Medley
- Men’s Relays: 400 Free, 800 Free, 400 Medley
- Mixed Medley Relay
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.
Women’s 400 Medley Relay
|United States||Worlds #1||3:50.40|
|Great Britain||Worlds #8||3:59.38|
|Czech Republic||Wildcard #1||4:03.02|
|South Korea||Wildcard #2||4:03.38|
|Hong Kong||Wildcard #3||4:03.52|
The Czech Republic and Spain have made the biggest moves from a year ago. The Czechs, unranked in 2020 with a time of 4:11.54, dropped over eight seconds this past November. The quartet of Simona Kubova, Kristyna Horska, Lucie Svecena, and Barbora Seemanova jumped up to the first wild card position by swimming a 4:03.02 (splits: 1:00.33/1:08.73/1:00.07/53.89) at the Uzbekistan Open Swimming Cup. This puts the Czechs less than a second from the Czech national record of 4:02.23 and in a good position to qualify for Tokyo.
Spain, previously ranked 20th and four spots out of the last wildcard position, they have now jumped up to the fourth wildcard spot with a time of 4:03.87 from December, dropping over a second from their previous time (4:05.32) and putting them just over a second short of the Spanish national record (4:02.84).
|A. Zamorano Sanz||1:00.98||A. Zamorano Sanz||1:02.01|
|J. Vall Montero||1:07.54||J. Vall Montero||1:07.27|
|A. Guillamon Novo||1:01.02||L. Munoz Del Campo||1:00.21|
|L. Munoz Del Campo||54.33||M. Gonzalez Crivillers||55.83|
Spain retained three swimmers from their 2019 team, keeping the backstroke and breaststroke legs the same while moving Lidon Munoz Del Campo to the freestyle leg and swimming Alba Guillamon Novo on the butterfly leg. Africa Zamorano Sanz has dropped significant time over the past year in her backstroke events and she is now within a second of the Spanish record in both the 100 and 200 backstroke.
Notably, that relay was done without the country’s best-known swimmer, Olympic gold medalist Mireia Belmonte. In spite of being the country’s best overall swimmer, Belmonte rarely swims relays for Spain (and in fact, the country hasn’t raced any women’s relays at the last two long course World Championship meets). At full strength, she would be the butterflier on Spain’s best 400 medley relay, though health issues have hit her performances hard since the Olympics.
Spain should not rest on their laurels as a closer look at the bottom of the rankings show that eight teams are separated by less than two seconds. We could see a lot of changes in these places over the next couple of months. The European Championships scheduled for May at the end of Olympic qualifying should give those countries an advantage heading into the meet as teams will know their targets and be able to control their own destiny.
Israel is an unknown factor and has an outside chance of qualifying in this relay. As we discussed in the 400 Free Relay, Israel has two quality swimmers in Anastasia Gorbenko and Andi Murez. Looking at flat-start times from 2019 and 2020, Israel has an aggregate time in this relay of 4:05.65, which is well-under the current Israel national record. As aggregate times do not count for Olympic qualifying, Israel would need to swim under 4:05 to have a legit shot of qualifying for Tokyo.
Israel’s big advantage is the versatility of Gorbenko, which allows them to experiment with different combinations of swimmers. On paper, Israel’s best relay is Gorbenko (back) – Lea Plonsky (breast) – May Lowy (fly) – Murez (free). Of that relay, only Murez was born earlier than 2001, so there’s upside potential there in age.
The United States is the odds-on favorite for gold in this event and one of the surest bets in Tokyo. Led by Regan Smith‘s World Record lead-off of 57.57, the Americans quartet of Smith, Lilly King, Kelsi Dahlia, and Simone Manuel set a WR of 3:50.40 at the World Championships in 2019. Their time is more than three seconds ahead of second place.
The breakthrough of Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, the 2020 SwimSwam World Swimmer of the Year, to go under 58 seconds in the 100 backstroke, gives the Australians a chance here, though. While Lilly King is an ace-card for the USA that Australia can’t match, the Australian relay anchor Cate Campbell, at her best, is the fastest 100 freestyler in the world, and what’s more has proven to be a much better relay commodity in her career than the American anchor Manuel.