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


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 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 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 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 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.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

So.. when is the relay lineup released?

1 year ago

What would be the consequence of a country not having one of their relay-only swimmers swim at all ? I know it’s now forbidden, but what would be the practical conséquences ?
Would the country’s federation be forced to change their last relays configuration or would there be consequences after the meet ?

Last edited 1 year ago by CasualSwimmer
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
1 year ago

I assume they would make you forfeit the final relay they’re eligible for, perhaps unless there’s a medical reason for it? But tbh I actually have no idea.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sub13
Reply to  Sub13
1 year ago

There most certainly would be medical exceptions.

Reply to  CasualSwimmer
1 year ago

The relay only swimmers are entered for a specific relay which would be DQ’d if they don’t swim. I’m not sure if they can swim them on a different relay that wasn’t on the entry list for them to avoid the DQ?

1 year ago

What is everyone’s line-up predictions?

Reply to  wow
1 year ago

Uhhhh See above?

1 year ago

All the pieces are there: If we could get another outside smoke start from Brown like at trials we’re golden, have Weitzel do her thing and nail the second leg, and have Hinds get a tad more aggressive on the exchage it’s there.

As for Manuel, say what you will about her 100 at trials, but her 50 was clutch. That’s what you need when anchoring a relay. Knowing her shot at the team came down the very last event where anything could’ve happened…So many athletes would’ve crumbled under that pressure… and she came through…

Put her on the end..

Last edited 1 year ago by jd14
Reply to  jd14
1 year ago

Exactly how I feel but I’ve gotten alot of backlash I believe the women will rattle the Aussies on the first 2 legs

Reply to  Swimfan
1 year ago

Aussies will probably lead off McKeon or at least I hope they do.

Sam B
1 year ago

now coaches sure regret they left Nathan Adrian at home

1 year ago

If the Americans put Hinds on the relay, she should swim leadoff, so she doesn’t need to make a relay start.

1 year ago

I guess – by the looks oi it – for the first time in Olympic history the US 4×100 free girls will be going home from the Games without a medal.

Reply to  Oceanian
1 year ago

By looks of it there will be 8 teams in the final and the US will be one of the 8.

Old Swimmer
1 year ago

All this talk about who is going to be on this relay is nonsense. The right thing to do is to keep Hinds and Deloof for the finals. After all, they earned their spots on this relay! Much as I would love Simone to be on this relay. she hasn’t shown that she can swim fast enough. Katie L may be a possibility but she needs to conserve her energy. She has a massive schedule at the Olympics. If this relay doesn’t medal life will still go on. The US will still have the most swimming medals of any country

Joel Lin
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

At bottom, Braden is right. Once upon a time there was an unwritten rule that the top 2 from Trials are the finals only swimmers & it was a fair fight for the other 2 finals spots. The #3 through #6 are the prelims swimmers, fastest 2 swim finals (with some deference to adjust for the flat start lead off leg). That was the deal and there weren’t any other deals.

Rightly or wrongly that is gone now. I will say this though – every prior time I can think of the ones who leaped into the final based on coaches’ discretion there was proof in the water AT THE OLYMPICS MEET that Jenna Thompson had the mojo, that Phelps… Read more »

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, …

Read More »