#Tokyo2020 Women’s 800 Free Relay: Splits, Subs, and Australia’s Tough Choice

2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

The women’s 800 free relay final seems, on paper, like a four team race for three medals.

One of those teams, Australia, is shaped up to run away with the relay: they were almost three seconds ahead of the field in prelims, even without using their four best relay options. The World Record holders should win this race going-away, just like they did in the 400 free relay earlier in the meet.

But the USA, China, and Canada will be locked in a war for finals. All three countries have substantial changes to make for finals. Check out their options below.

Australia (1st seed)

Australia Prelims Substitutions
Mollie O’Callaghan – 1:55.11
Ariarne Titmus – 1:53.09
Meg Harris – 1:57.01
Emma McKeon – 1:54.74
Brianna Throssell – 1:56.46
Madi Wilson – 1:55.68
Tamsin Cook – 1:56.03
Leah Neale – 1:56.08
Time – 7:44.61

Update: Australia has confirmed a four swimmer swap for finals. They haven’t actually named the foursome, but we presume it will be the substitutions list above. Read more here.

On paper, Australia probably entered this meet thinking that they were going to make 4 changes for finals. For an Australian team that really hasn’t missed much at this meet, though, they might have made their first error here: Mollie O’Callaghan split 1:55.11 on a flat start on the leadoff leg in prelims.

On paper, that should earn her a spot in finals, probably over Leah Neale, but Neale has not yet swum a race. Olympic rules require that every athlete who travels to the meet be used. Unless the Australians plan to jam her onto a prelims relay of the mixed or women’s 400 medley later in the meet, they can’t leave her off this relay.

The coaches could drop Madi Wilson, who finished 8th in the individual 200 free, from the finals relay. On paper, that might be the fastest play – but for the Australians, it will come down to whether they’d rather have 8 gold medalists or 7 gold medalists and a shot at the World Record.

United States (2nd seed)

USA Prelims Substitutions
Bella Sims – 1:58.59
Katie Ledecky – 1:54.40
Paige Madden – 1:55.96
Allison Schmitt – 1:56.79
Katie McLaughlin – 1:56.02
Olivia Smoliga – 1:57.04
Brooke Forde – 1:57.00
Time – 7:47.57

The US can definitely improve in this relay by leaps-and-bounds with the most obvious change: inserting Katie Ledecky for the young Bella Sims, who played her role in prelims. Based on Ledecky’s form in the individual 200 free, where she was 5th in a 1:55-low, that would get team USA down to a 7:44-low.

After that, the decisions get tougher.

Allison Schmitt was just 1:56.87 in the semifinals of the 200 free and missed the semi-finals. But, based on the conservative and traditional selections by American coaches this week, we have to believe that she’ll be put in the finals relay. That makes sense, replacing Forde, who split 1:57.00 in what will be her lone Olympic appearance. That’s six-tenths faster than she swam in the individual final at the US Olympic Trials.

That saves the American coaches from an excruciating decision between Paige Madden and Katie McLaughlin, who were separated by just .06 seconds in prelims. Those two splits are probably both good enough to keep the US coaches from considering Simone Manuel in the final, like they did in the 400 free relay earlier in the meet. Manuel’s best flat-start of all time was a 1:56.09 at the 2019 World Championships, and while her first appearance here in Tokyo was definitely better than she was at Trials, there’s no good reason to believe that she’s a better choice here than Madden or McLaughlin.

China (3rd seed)

China Prelims Substitutions
Tang Muhan – 1:57.29
Yang Junxuan – 1:54.57
Zhang Yifan – 1:57.63
Wang Jianjiahe – 1:57.02
Dong Jie – 1:57.77
Li Bingjie – 1:56.29
Time – 7:48.98

China, on paper, has two upgrades to make that could net them as many as 4 seconds in the final. But, after they opted to not make the changes to chase medals in the 400 free relay earlier in the meet, it’s hard to guess what they’re going to do here.

Yang has the 100 free semifinal on Thursday morning, the same session as this relay final, and if they weren’t going to use her in the 400 free relay, hard to see them using her here. Our guess is that China will punt and miss another medal.

Canada (4th seed)

Canada Prelims Substitutions
Katerine Savard – 1:58.18
Summer McIntosh – 1:56.19
Rebecca Smith – 1:55.99
Penny Oleksiak – 1:55.21
Mary-Sophie Harvey – 1:57.53
Kayla Sanchez – 1:57.23 (2018)
Sydney Pickrem – 1:59.82
Taylor Ruck – 1:54.44 (2018)
Time – 7:51.52

Update: Katerine Savard has confirmed on Instagram that she won’t swim the final and that the relay will be Oleksiak, McIntosh, Sanchez, and Smith.

The Canadians have the replacements in tow to fight with the Americans for silver. They made an interesting choice to stick Sydney Pickrem, who skipped the 200 breast individually in the same session, on the prelims anchor of this relay. That felt like a place-holder, so she’ll be off finals.

Kayla Sanchez has opted to scratch the semifinals of the 100 free, where she was the 10th seed, presumably to focus on this relay. So we have to assume that she’s in to the finals relay.

Penny Oleksiak is the country’s star, so she’ll be in for sure as well. The 14-year old Summer McIntosh has been swimming very well at this meet, so we have to assume that she’s also in to the finals relay.

The big question mark then is whether Canada sticks with Rebecca Smith or swaps in Taylor Ruck for finals. Smith made the choice hard for the coaches with a 1:59.99 prelims split even with a conservative .41 reaction time. Meanwhile, Ruck, who has a tantalizing personal best of 1:54.44, has struggled in this meet.

Ruck’s best time since April 2019 on a flat-start is just 1:59.44, and she hasn’t had good results so far at these Olympics. So, as much as it hurts, it seems like she’s probably going to be off the finals relay. If that is the decision, then it is a little peculiar that Canadian coaches chose not to use her, instead of Pickrem, on the prelims relay to give her a shot at a medal. Ruck does still have the 200 back left, but that’s not the same medal shot as this relay is.

Russian Olympic Committee (5th seed)

Russian Olympic Committee Prelims Substitutions
Anastasia Guzhenkova – 1:57.26 N/A
Valeriia Salamatina – 1:58.87
Veronika Andrusenko – 1:57.77
Anna Egorova – 1:58.14
Time – 7:52.04

Germany (6th seed)

Germany Prelims Substitutions
Isabel Gose – 1:57.29 N/A
Leonie Kullmann – 1:59.00
Marie Pietruschka – 1:58.73
Annika Bruhn – 1:57.04
Time – 7:52.06

Neither Russia nor Germany have any swimmers to swap in for finals, which probably means they’re out of the medals. Germany can swim better than that time for sure (Kullmann, for example, has a flat-start best of 1:57.64 from earlier this year), but neither country will clear the gap to the 7:43-or-better it will probably take to medal.

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CY~
1 month ago

Going to sleep. Hoping to wake up to Mollie on the start lists

BairnOwl
Reply to  CY~
1 month ago

It’s daytime over here in the US so I’m gonna have to sit with this decision for the whole day until the finals. Somehow I have the feeling that they’re going to leave Mollie off. 🙁

CY~
Reply to  BairnOwl
1 month ago

I agree, but one can only hope 🥺

WahooSwimFan
Reply to  CY~
1 month ago

Who is Mollie? US lineup doesn’t seem difficult – Clearly Ledecky, then Madden, Schmitt, McLaughlin. Sims & Forde obviously off based on prelims; Manuel has not shown any evidence this year of being capable of a good 200, and surprised anyone would even mention Smoliga for a 200. If there’s one thing this meet has shown so far is that 2019 times really are far in the past and swimmers who haven’t matched or exceeded those in 2021 are not likely to do so. Manuel, Schmitt, King, Lazor and Ledecky, while clearly historically great, are also clearly past their prime (father time ultimately wins all). This is the year of the Aussie women, but the future belongs to the American… Read more »

BairnOwl
Reply to  WahooSwimFan
1 month ago

Mollie O’Callaghan. She just split 1:55.11 from a flat start on the prelims of Australia’s relay but is likely to get left off the final relay, to the disappointment of many of us here.

Willswim
Reply to  WahooSwimFan
1 month ago

It just wouldn’t feel like a US relay if we weren’t all whining about how much faster it would be with Manuel, Dressel, or Fink.

CanSwimFan
1 month ago

The times for some of the Canadian swimmers are wrong. Here are
Rebecca Smith: 1:55.99 (relay)
Summer McIntosh: 1:56.11 (flat start)
Penny Oleksiak: 1:54.70 (flat start)

Smith-Jacoby-Huske-Weitzeil
Reply to  CanSwimFan
1 month ago

The USA is in trouble, once again. Talk about deja vu.

Swimfan
1 month ago

Smoliga only split 54 on the 4×100, I’d be more comfortable with weyant ( schmitt did go 1:56.8 but that’s not gonna cut it against the Aussie. Erika brown went 1:57.4 in November 2019 but he 4×100 leadoff was a disaster but she got better in the individual.. they need a 155 low leadoff from someone if they want any chance what do ever. I don’t get think Schmitt can pull it off

Tomek
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

What is Weyant top 200 free time? It does not look like Americans will be able to beat Canada barring Ledecky finding one more super-split in her

Last edited 1 month ago by Tomek
Swimfan
Reply to  Tomek
1 month ago

1:58.5 from back 2019

Swimfan
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

Correction 1:58.36 at 2019 summer nationals

Tomek
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

Thanks, i would go with Weyant over Schmitty, no guarantee but more upside based on her improvement over last two years

Swimfan
Reply to  Tomek
1 month ago

Unless Schmitt pulls a Kerian smith on the leadoff (monster 1:44) that’s was huge yesterday I don’t see her doing anything special best case 1:56.1 lead off for Schmitt is my prediction if they lead her off

Smith-Jacoby-Huske-Weitzeil
Reply to  Tomek
1 month ago

I worry about yet another Allison Schmitt women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay meltdown.

Hswimmer
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

They’ll put her on, because of who she is.

Swimfan
Reply to  Hswimmer
1 month ago

Put Schmitt on it? I hope not, at pan pacs she went 1:56.71 in the 200 before going 2 seconds slower in the relay the next day on the lead off. Weyant has shown that she can swim the free good and she can close as well hopefully coaches put her on the relay instead of Schmitt

Smith-Jacoby-Huske-Weitzeil
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

The women’s coaching staff made the correct call with the four swimmers selected for the preliminaries of the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay.

The women’s coaching staff will draw in Ledecky and Schmitt for the final.

Swimfan
Reply to  Smith-Jacoby-Huske-Weitzeil
1 month ago

With two days rest does Schmitt have one more high 1:55 left in her career (last time she did it 2018)

DMSWIM
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

The problem with Weyant is that she was primed to perform on the first day. We are now four days past what was likely the peak of her taper. I assume she’s still been in the water, but that’s not a guarantee.

Swimfan
Reply to  DMSWIM
1 month ago

What about using Douglas or Walsh??? Anyone know what their best time is?

DMSWIM
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

Walsh hasn’t broken 2 minutes, but has been 1:43 yards. Douglass has only been 2:03, so she is not an option. Huske would make more sense with a PB of 1:58.0 and a decent 100 fly, but that’s still not faster than Smoliga’s best time.

Swimfan
Reply to  DMSWIM
1 month ago

It’s hard to tell with huske, being left off the 4×100 (right call coaches) it’s hard to see where her free is at this meet I think she at best go 1:56.9 but thats not enough still have a better time with Schmitt leading off

Smith-Jacoby-Huske-Weitzeil
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

You don’t have a freakin’ clue what you are talking about. Emma Weyant posted a 2:00.30 in the heats of women’s 200 meter freestyle at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

_G9_
1 month ago

Hey Braden. Long time since we have spoken. Canada going with Summer, Rebecca, Kayla, Penny tonight. But you didn’t hear it from me. Penny v usa in the last 50 is always fun.

kwb37
1 month ago

wonder what kind of split ledecky can put up

Boomer
Reply to  kwb37
1 month ago

Think she might have a 1:54 low in her (relay start). She has always showed up in relays and with some rest she should be able to do better than her indiv 200s.

Swimfan
Reply to  Boomer
1 month ago

I think of she rested I can see ledecky going 1:53.8 on the anchor (she may have to chase down McKeon if the Aussie lead Off with titmus (Madden and McLaughlin can put up low 155 on the middle legs)

Last edited 1 month ago by Swimfan
Fish
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

No one is chasing down Australia. They will be 5-10m clear of the field. Ledecky will need to be 1:53 to chase down Canada.

Smith-Jacoby-Huske-Weitzeil
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

Stop! Just plain stop!

Smith-Jacoby-Huske-Weitzeil
Reply to  kwb37
1 month ago

Swimming the women’s 200 meter/1500 meter freestyle double/double (heats/final) may have been a bridge too far.

Old school swim
1 month ago

On Kat Savards Instagram she just wrote that she won’t be swimming in the final and the team will be Summer, Penny, Kayla and Rebecca

Boomer
1 month ago

Titmus McKeon Wilson O’Callaghan could drop a 7:38… an otherworldly WR

cynthia curran
Reply to  Boomer
1 month ago

Australia has lots of fans. After the surfing which they won in the men’s, a dude did a back flipped with green colors in Huntington Beach Ca. So, I bet they have a lot of fans pushing for them to win swimming in 800 meter freestyle.. By the way in surfing, a Hawaiian wn on the women’s side and talk about Duke K wins in swimming that helped him introduce surfing to the world.

Virtus
Reply to  cynthia curran
1 month ago

What did I just read

Samesame
Reply to  Boomer
1 month ago

They have to swim Neale

Boomer
1 month ago

US and Canada could be close for silver at 7:43 low. It’ll come down to whether Schmitt can perform. If she goes anything slower than a 1:56 mid (flying start), it’s going to be tough for US even if Ledecky splits a 1:54.

Smith-Jacoby-Huske-Weitzeil
Reply to  Boomer
1 month ago

Allison Schmitt will most likely leadoff the women’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay.

Bo Swims
Reply to  Boomer
1 month ago

Canada will be under 7:41. Australia 7:38 mid.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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