Women’s 400 Free Relay: Splits, Swaps, and Sleepers From Prelims

2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

There were no grand surprises, nor grand disappointments, in prelims of the women’s 400 free relay on Saturday morning. With the exception of France falling and Denmark taking their spot, the rest of the top 8 seeds all made the 8-team final for Saturday evening, setting up some big finals battles for minor medals.

Australia, even without Cate Campbell, cruised to a 3:31.73 in prelims, which is the 10th-fastest 400 free relay in history.

It’s hard to see past the Australians for gold, but there is still a great battle to be waged for the silver and bronze medals. That includes the British women, who swam a new National Record in prelims in a race where, if the Olympics had happened on time in 2020, they may not have even entered this race.

They swam their best 4 in prelims and qualified 4th in 3:34.03. While that doesn’t mean they won’t be faster in the final, it makes the pathway to the podium less clear.

Australia:

Australia Prelims In Reserve (flat start best)
Mollie O’Callaghan – 53.08 Emma McKeon – 52.19
Meg Harris – 52.73 Cate Campbell – 52.12
Madison Wilson – 53.10
Bronte Campbell – 52.82
Time – 3:31.73

On paper, coming in, Madi Wilson and Meg Harris were the favored choices to join McKeon and Campbell in the final. But after prelims, O’Callaghan and Bronte Campbell have to be in consideration too. While it likely won’t matter for gold, the choices very well could impact the World Record (and who gets their name etched in those books). Right now, based on the safe starts in prelims, it seems like the choice is Harris, plus a coach’s decision between O’Callaghan and Campbell. Hard to see them not choosing Campbell based on honor/politics/experience, with all else being essentially equal.

Netherlands:

Netherlands Prelims In Reserve
Kim Busch – 54.79 Kira Toussaint – 54.58
Ranomi Kromowidjojo – 52.50
Marritt Steenbergen – 54.32
Femke Heemskerk – 51.90
Time – 3:33.51 (2nd)

Big splits from the two dutch legends Kromowidjojo and Heemskerk in this one, but both Stenbergen and Busch should be able to knock at least half-a-second off their prelims splits. If they can maximize their potential in this race, the Dutch are probably in for silver.

There is an opening for Kira Toussaint, who has a busy schedule this week, to enter the relay for finals, probably in place of Busch.

Canada:

Canada Prelims In Reserve (flat start best)
Kayla Sanchez – 53.45 Maggie MacNeil – 54.02
Taylor Ruck – 54.16
Rebecca Smith – 53.73
Penny Oleksiak – 52.38
Time – 3:33.72 (3rd)

Ruck doesn’t seem to have fully shaken-off a tough performance at the Canadian Olympic Trials, and her 54.16 on leg 2 for Canada (even with a tight .11 reaction time) was the disappointing leg for the Canadians in prelims. Unless she was on a strict instruction to go less-than-all-out in the heats, it seems that the Canadians will need to make a move to MacNeil in the final, although for MacNeil the race would come after the 100 fly semifinals. She’s swum fast multiple times in a session before, though.

Great Britain:

Great Britain Prelims In Reserve
Lucy Hope – 54.37 N/A
Anna Hopkin – 52.65
Abbie Wood – 53.55
Freya Anderson – 53.46
Time – 3:34.03 (4th)

With a starring split from Abbie Wood, who continues to improve every time she hits the water, the British women are off to a great start. Anna Hopkin‘s NCAA/short course prophecies are bearing out where it counts. Lucy Hope is the key to their medal hopes in the final. She was a 53.8 on a flat-start at the European Championships, and GB needs something more like that in the final.

United States

United States Prelims In Reserve (flat start best, qualifying period)
Olivia Smoliga – 54.06 Abbey Weitzeil – 53.18
Catie DeLoof – 53.42 Erika Brown – 53.42
Allison Schmitt – 54.04 Simone Manuel – 52.04
Natalie Hinds – 53.28 Katie Ledecky – 53.82
Time – 3:34.80 Torri Huske – 53.46

This is the most intriguing decision of the field.

We know that Brown and Weitzeil will be on the finals relay. As the top two finishers in the 100 free at the Olympic Trials, it would be career-ruining for Greg Meehan to not include them in the final (barring injury or illness).

After that, what does he do next? Natalie Hinds splitting 53.28 and Catie DeLoof splitting 53.42 made his decisions very, very difficult. Schmitt and Smoliga are probably out for the finals relay, especially with Hinds’ split coming on a fairly-safe takeover margin of .43 seconds (DeLoof was more aggressive at .14).

So the question for Meehan and his staff then becomes does he carry forward those two, who he knows are hitting today, or does he take a gamble on either Simone Manuel or Katie Ledecky? Both Manuel and Ledecky train under Meehan year-round, so that ramps up the political pressure to make the right decision here.

Ledecky swam 53.82 on a flat-start before Olympic Trials, so if the coaches think she’s fit coming into the meet, she seems like a good choice to sub in for DeLoof. Manuel is a huge question-mark though. She didn’t even make the final at the Olympic Trials, citing Over Trianing Syndrome as a primary factor behind her 54.17.

But, for the Americans, she’s the fastest of the group all-time, and she was a 53.8 going into Trials. How much progress can she make on her health issues with an extra three weeks rest? Has she demonstrated any recovery in a time trial swim in camp?

And most importantly, is there a serious path to the podium for the Americans without her splitting at least around a 53.0?

This will be the challenge for the US coaches, but it’s what they were brought here for. They will have to choose the gamble versus confidence in the swimmers who have shown their hands. The relay choices this year for Team USA are as tough as they’ve ever been, and US coaches haven’t always hit perfectly on their ‘educated guesses.’ Right now, though, they have more information than anybody else about what to expect.

And that’s all without regard for the real wildcard, the teenager Torri Huske, who didn’t make the team specifically in this event, but who is the fastest American this year with a 53.46 from April. She has the 100 fly semifinals in the morning session on Sunday first. By the way – she’s a future Greg Meehan swimmer, so more conflicts-of-interest in the decision making.

Someone who could make this relay better will be left off. No envy for Meehan in making this decision.

China

China Prelims In Reserve (flat start best)
Cheng Yujie – 54.03 Yang Junxuan – 53.21
Zhu Menghui – 53.48 Zhang Yufei – 52.90
Ai Yanhan – 54.33
Wu Qingfeng – 53.23
Time – 3:35.07

Don’t count China out yet. They have two big leg to swap, bringing in their two individual 100 free swimmers. That includes dropping Ai Yanhan  and probably Cheng Yujie in place of Yang Junxuan and Zhang Yufei in finals. That could net them well over a second per leg, which they’ll need, as it probably takes a 3:53-mid, at least, to medal. They’ve got that though, if Yang and Zhang are near their bests. This could be the surprise medalist in this relay, especially if th American gamble doesn’t pay off.

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toastedcoconut
1 month ago

Torri Huske?

Dave
Reply to  toastedcoconut
1 month ago

One thing the article doesn’t mention regarding Team USA is that Meehan saw the swimmers in practice for the last month training and doing time trials. One of the swimmers – Torri I hope – may have been lighting it up in practice.

Ghost
Reply to  toastedcoconut
1 month ago

Does her 100 fly figure in on using her?!

T S
Reply to  toastedcoconut
1 month ago

I hope so, I’ve been swimming at meets she’s been at for years and she’s a phenomenal racer

Coach
Reply to  toastedcoconut
1 month ago

She was slower than Simone at Trials.

Philip Johnson
1 month ago

Love SM, but she does not deserve a spot in the final as she didn’t even make the final at OT.

Yup
Reply to  Philip Johnson
1 month ago

that has nothing to do with it….

Swimfan
Reply to  Yup
1 month ago

Ledecky didn’t make the top6 in 2016 so are you saying ledecky didn’t deserve to swim the relay were she had the 2nd fastest split for the Americans when they won silver , Manuel missed the final at OT by .02 seconds (a fingernail) it’s not like she was way back like comerford. And Manuel’s best Time a month prior to trials was faster than the 6th place finisher.

Swammerstein
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

Didnt ledecky pull a phelps then and swim prelims to put up a time to let her be on the relay? One of the advantages our trials being so close to the meet has is we can pick the hot hand. Unless simone showed something convincing in camp, im opting for hinds and the rising star, huske.

Mel
Reply to  Swammerstein
1 month ago

Huske didn’t make finals of 100 at OT either. 10th behind ….. Simone. Can’t have it both ways.

jim
Reply to  Yup
1 month ago

It certainly has a lot to do with it. If Manuel took 3 weeks off, her taper has been affected. You can’t “add training” at the end of the season, so if simone couldn’t swim fast enough at trials, she very likely doesn’t have the foundation to swim any faster (outside of a relay start) at the olympics. And yes, her not making the final of the 100 free doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be considered for this relay, but it’s quite unfair to those who did “earn” their spots.

If Torrie had a better finish in her 100 fly (she died pretty hard), I’d put her name in the hat. So I’d probably put her name aside.

Katie could make… Read more »

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

If you are talking about Torrie “dying pretty hard” in 100 fly you most likely refer to her preliminary swim in Tokyo and I would respectfully disagree she “died pretty hard” in her swim. All she had to do was to move to the next round which she did comfortably. If anything I think she let the foot of gas pedal knowing she had comfortable lead. She could finish her swim better but she will be faster in semis.

Coach
Reply to  Philip Johnson
1 month ago

If we had any swimmers under 53 (with relay start) in prelims, I could maybe understand your argument, but those athletes left the door wide open for Ledecky/ Manuel discussions after their prelim swims.

Comet
Reply to  Coach
1 month ago

They all had a chance to show that in the heats and didn’t

tea rex
Reply to  Philip Johnson
1 month ago

Love Allison Schmitt, but 54-low at trials doesn’t necessarily deserve a spot either. A finals relay needs 4 women at least 53-low for a shot at a medal.
With the trials results being so bad, I expected the coaches to shoot for a medal rather than play it safe. Ultimately, sticking to protocol is the safest career move, but also probably ends with the team off the podium.

Coach
Reply to  tea rex
1 month ago

Her not breaking 54 with a relay start today makes me nervous about swimming her in finals on the 800 free relay. Maybe she has more endurance than speed, and it won’t be a factor, but it would not surprise me if she has to earn her spot at night by swimming in prelims on the 800 free relay.

covid killer
Reply to  Philip Johnson
1 month ago

looks like she did deserve a spot

Tea rex
1 month ago

At this point, the only hope for USA is some people time trialed a 100 last week faster than what we saw at Trials.

2Fat4Speed
1 month ago

Interesting that the Americans could swap out all four and go faster.

Troyy
Reply to  2Fat4Speed
1 month ago

The list of reserves is a bit misleading in that it’s from the whole qualifying period back to 2019 while the list of reserves for every other countries are times from this year.

Jamie5678
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

One of the things that’s apparent from this morning though is that 2021 is all that matters.

jim
Reply to  Jamie5678
1 month ago

I would not come to such a conclusion based only on a single prelims session.

Ghost
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

I would say SM is on finals relay Her upside far outweighs what we saw this am If a couple were very low 53s, then it would be hard to use her!

Torchbearer
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

Having SM is like Australia having Bronte- rock solid beasts in relays…..with so much experience. Hope we see both in the finals!

tea rex
Reply to  2Fat4Speed
1 month ago

Based on season best times, Manuel-Ledecky-Curzan-Huske is basically tied (actually a few hundredths faster than) Weitzeil-Brown-Smoliga-Hinds.

Wahooswimfan
1 month ago

All 4 Americans who swam this morning would rather go home with a medal than an evening swim – so sub in Ledecky and Manual – seems to be the only realistic shot at a medal

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Wahooswimfan
1 month ago

Smogs and Smitty were slow in the morning so put in Abbey and Erika and let’s see what happens.

Becky D
Reply to  Irish Ringer
1 month ago

They were slow in the _morning_? What time zone are you in?

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Becky D
1 month ago

US MDT, and point taken 🙂

Wahooswimfan
Reply to  Becky D
1 month ago

For those of us watching in the US, all finals are evening and trials are morning (4 us)

Comet
Reply to  Wahooswimfan
1 month ago

exactly would they want to swim in the final and come gone empty handed or let KL and SM the chance for a medal

R&R
1 month ago

Give us a chance to medal… Give it to Manuel and Ledecky.

pSL1988
1 month ago

Abbey Weitzeil
Erika Brown
Natalie Hinds
Simone Manuel

Ghost
Reply to  pSL1988
1 month ago

Bingo!

Swimfan
Reply to  Ghost
1 month ago

They’re not going to lead off with weitzeil experience putting up monster splits on the second leg That’s what they’ll put her they’re going to lead off with the brown. The past two Olympics the coaches let off with their trials runner up and put their trials champion on the second leg

Coach
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

It is not a good idea to lead off with Brown. If she is off, the team will have to dig themselves out of a much deeper hole for the next 300 meters. We saw this with Ian Crocker awhile back.

I know Abbey has had great 2nd legs, but right now, she is the most consistent and predictable, and we need her leading off the relay to make sure we aren’t left in the dust.

Last edited 1 month ago by Coach
DJTrockstoYMCA
Reply to  pSL1988
1 month ago

Just hope Brown swims freestyle!!

Austinpoolboy
Reply to  DJTrockstoYMCA
1 month ago

The coaches will have her write down stroke and order with a sharpie on her forearm

stan Nathan Adrian for clear skin
Reply to  pSL1988
1 month ago

i was thinking same thing

Joel Lin
1 month ago

We’re just about all the way there to start suggesting that Dara Torres reach out, check flights, suit up.

He said what?
Reply to  Joel Lin
1 month ago

Great reply. LOL

James Beam
Reply to  Joel Lin
1 month ago

best comment of the day! I spit my drink out laughing!

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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