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