Updating Relay Projections: Americans Now Favored In Both Medleys

In the weeks leading up to the Rio Olympics, we previewed every event, including both medley relays (men’s here and women’s here).

But projecting relays is a difficult task: it requires a compilation of “best splits,” but also relies on each individual leg swimming at about the same level they have previously.

Now, three days into the Rio Olympics, we have a better idea of which swimmers are overperforming compared to their previous track record and which swimmers are underperforming.

With that in mind, we dove into the math, updating projected relays based on each swimmer’s best swim so far in Rio – if they have swum their individual event already.

New Data

We’ve already seen prelims, semifinals and finals of the women’s 100 back, 100 breast and 100 fly, plus prelims and finals of the 4x100 free relays, which gives us a great projection of the entire medley relay.

On the men’s side, we’ve seen prelims, semifinals and finals of the 100 back and 100 breast, plus prelims and finals of the 4x100 free relays. That means only the 100 fly is still a bit more up in the air.

Here’s what we’ve done: we took the top medal contenders in both medley relays and projected their lineups out based only on Rio results so far where possible:

  • The backstroke legs are the fastest individual 100 backstroker from that nation between prelims, semis and finals in Rio.
  • The breaststroke legs are the same – though it’s worth noting that those times are from a flat start, and a relay start could shave perhaps up to half a second off that time in the actual relay.
  • The women’s butterfly legs are the same; the men’s fly legs we have to revert back to the fastest swimmer this season for each nation.
  • The freestyle legs show the fastest split on the 4×100 free relay between prelims and finals.

A few notes: In some cases, a relay leg will be filled by a relay-only swimmer or a swimmer who didn’t contest the event individually in Rio. In those cases, we took that swimmer’s fastest time of the season and put the split in italics.

In a few cases, the fastest freestyle leg was either a leadoff or an individual 100 free from a flat start. We’ve marked those splits with an asterisk (*) – they will also get the added benefit of a relay exchange in the relay itself.

Updated Relay Projections

Remember, these overall projected times don’t reflect the aid of relay starts on the breaststroke or butterfly legs (and the asterisked freestyle legs). They serve to compare to each other rather than to really accurately predict finishing times.

Swims in italics come from before Rio if there isn’t a Rio swim to use.

Women’s Projections

Top Three

USA Australia Canada
Kathleen Baker 58.75 Emily Seebohm 58.99 Kylie Masse 58.76
Lilly King 1:04.93 Taylor McKeown 1:06.73 Rachel Nicol 1:06.68
Dana Vollmer 56.56 Emma McKeon 56.81 Penny Oleksiak 56.46
Abbey Weitzeil 52.56 Cate Campbell 51.80 Chantal van Landeghem 52.90
3:52.80 3:54.33 3:54.80


China Denmark Sweden Russia
Fu Yuanhui 58.76 Mie Nielsen 58.80 Michelle Coleman 1:00.61 Anastasia Zuyeva 1:00.04
Shi Jinglin 1:06.31 Rikke Moller Pedersen 1:06.58 Jennie Johansson 1:06.84 Yulia Efimova 1:05.50
Chen Xinyi 56.72 Jeanette Ottesen 57.15 Sarah Sjöström 55.48 Svetlana Chimrova 58.41
Shen Duo 53.84 Pernille Blume 54.54* Louise Hansson 54.54 Veronika Popova 54.35*
3:55.63 3:57.07 3:57.46 3:58.30

*Popova led off Russia’s 4×100 free relay but still outsplit the other three legs.

Men’s Projections

Top Three

USA Australia China
Ryan Murphy 51.97 Mitch Larkin 52.43 Xu Jiayu 52.31
Cody Miller 58.87 Jake Packard 59.26 Li Xiang 59.55
Michael Phelps 51.00 David Morgan 51.64 Li Zhuhao 51.24
Nathan Adrian 46.97 Cameron McEvoy 47.00 Ning Zetao 47.96*
3:28.81 3:30.33 3:31.06


Great Britain Russia Japan France
Chris Walker-Hebborn 53.54 Evgeny Rylov 52.74 Ryosuke Irie 53.21 Camille Lacourt 52.70
Adam Peaty 57.13 Vsevold Zanko 59.91 Yasuhiro Koseki 58.91 Theo Bussiere 1:01.35
James Guy 52.15 Alexander Sadovnikov 51.50 Takuro Fujii 52.03 Mehdy Metella 51.70
Ben Proud 48.52* Vladimir Morozov 47.31 Katsumi Nakamura 47.99* Jeremy Stravius 47.11
3:31.34 3:31.46 3:32.14 3:32.86

*China’s 4×100 free relay was disqualified, so Ning’s time comes from before Rio.

*Great Britain didn’t enter a 4×100 free relay, so Proud’s time comes from before Rio.

*Nakamura led off Japan’s 4×100 free relay but still outsplit the other three legs.

What it means


The American women have been the big movers, and its thanks to some marked improvements from their weaker legs.

Backstroke looked like a big weakness, with Australia boasting 2015 world champ Emily Seebohm and the U.S. field yet to break 59. But Kathleen Baker has been lights out so far in Rio, winning the silver medal in 58.75 and leaving a reeling Seebohm in her wake. Seebohm, for her part, only barely broke 59 with a 58.99 in semis and was just 59.1 to finish near the bottom of the medal final.

In the same way, Cate Campbell looked like an unstoppable force on the anchor leg. Campbell has been exactly as fast as expected (51.8 and 51.9 in her two relay swims) but some improvement from Abbey Weitzeil now gives the U.S. a viable weapon on their own anchor leg.

It’s not about whether Weitzeil can outsplit Campbell, but whether she can hold off the charging Aussie if she has a lead. After splitting 52.56 on the free relay, Weitzeil probably only needs about a second’s lead to have a shot at hanging on for gold.

And in the breaststroke, Lilly King has become a difference-maker of Campbell’s caliber. Her 1:04.93 that won the gold medal in the individual 100 breast is almost two full seconds faster than the fastest Australian in Rio (Taylor McKeown in 1:06.73).

Though Emma McKeon had a nice 56.8 100 fly to hold pace with the Americans, the Australian relay that looked like strong favorites will now need a whale of a swim to beat Team USA, which sits 1.5 seconds ahead in the “composite” projected time above.

Meanwhile in the hunt for silver, Canada seems to be taking a big lead. Kylie Masse and Penny Oleksiak set national records in the 100 back and fly, respectively, and Chantal van Landeghem came up with a 52.9 split on the free relay. The Canadians sit just a half-second back of Australia in the composite projection and it’s not out of the question that they could pass up the Aussies for silver – though knowing Canada, they’ll make the pass in the politest manner possible.

China looks like the only other real medal contender right now, with backstroker Fu Yuanhui swimming to a national record in the 100 back. Even with a big world-record 100 fly from Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden is a long ways out, and even an eligible Yulia Efimova isn’t buoying Russia much in the projections. Both of those teams lack strong back and free legs so far.


The U.S men still look like favorites, especially after a lifetime-best 58.8 from Cody Miller on breaststroke and a 46.9 anchor split from Nathan Adrian on the free relay.

Australia’s Cameron McEvoy probably has a better split in him than 47.0 after going that time from a flat start back in April. That’d be a difference-maker for Australia, and we’ll know more about how likely it is after the individual men’s 100 free, which takes place today and tomorrow.

It doesn’t help matters that the Americans hold a half-second lead on backstroke, a leg Australia was counting on winning. Ryan Murphy was a blazing 51.97 to win 100 back gold, and Mitch Larkin was just 52.43 for Australia.

Jake Packard looked good for Australia in the 100 breast, but so did Miller for the Americans. And based on Michael Phelps‘s great 4×100 free relay leg, it appears he’s on pace to better his 51.00 in the 100 fly from Olympic Trials. It’ll be up to Australia’s David Morgan to keep pace.

It looks like a dogfight for bronze. China’s Xu Jiayu was the 100 back silver medalist and looks great. But we don’t know where anchor leg Ning Zetao is at because China was disqualified in the 4×100 free relay and his split wasn’t available.

Great Britain has a game-changing breaststroke leg in Adam Peaty, but a questionable backstroke leg and unknowns in fly (James Guy has only swum freestyle so far, performing well, if not outstanding) and free (the Brits didn’t swim a free relay so we don’t know where Ben Proud is at).

Russia is swimming well on the bookends with Evgeny Rylov and Vlad Morozov. Japan has some time to drop, since its projection includes a flat-start time for Katsumi Nakamura. And France is still hampered by a non-descript breaststroke leg even as Camille Lacourt and Jeremy Stravius swim great at the edges.


Stay tuned to SwimSwam.com, as we’ll be revisiting these projections as results pour in from the men’s 100 free (Tuesday/Wednesday), women’s 100 free (Wednesday/Thursday) and men’s 100 fly (Thursday/Friday).

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4 years ago

The Swedish women will probably swim Lindborg on back and Coleman on free

4 years ago

Also – Denmark?

DEN – M. Nielsen, R. Pedersen, J. Ottesen, P. Blume
58.80, 1:06.58, 57.15, 54.54 – 3:57.07

Reply to  Iain
4 years ago

My eye has been on Denmark women as well… definitely could play spoiler in prelims with an A lineup, and certainly a bronze contender.

ice age swimmer
4 years ago

I am hoping that Cordes does such a freakishly fast leg in prelims that the coaches put him on in the finals. I worry about Miller and the dolphin kicks.

Reply to  ice age swimmer
4 years ago

I agree, but Cordes has jumped a few times on relays, between NCAAs and 2013 World Championships. The margin of victory looks to be enough for safe starts and no dolphin kicks.

Reply to  Dan
4 years ago

Yeah but when it becomes a habit and muscle memory it can be hard to break even when one is intentionally trying to.

Reply to  ice age swimmer
4 years ago

He made it through three rounds of breast at trials and three rounds of breast at the Olympics without being called on it, I’m sure he’d be fine for one more relay

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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