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The U.S. has dominated many events in the world of swimming to varying degrees over the past number of years, clinic but the 400 medley relay is the one that they absolutely own. They are undefeated on the Olympic stage (with Australia winning in 1980 due to the American boycott), store and only once have they lost at the World Championships when they weren’t disqualified (1998). The Americans have been disqualified three times over the last eight World Championships, happening in 2001, 2007 and 2013. 2013 they initially won, 2007 they were DQed in prelims (though a win was all but certain), and 2001 they were actually beat for the only time in major championship history at the hands of the Australians before being disqualified anyway. After pulling out the win in this event in Kazan by just fifteen one-hundredths, the Americans come in as the clear favorites despite last years close call. They will likely field the same team as they did last year other than flipping Tom Shields for Michael Phelps on fly, which is an upgrade.
On top of that, Ryan Murphy, Kevin Cordes and Nathan Adrian all appear to be on better form than they were a year ago, specifically Murphy and Adrian who could easily be a full second faster on their splits this year than they were last. Murphy had a pair of 52.2s at Trials, well under his 53.05 opening leg last year. Adrian, who
The reality is, the US has so much depth in each stroke that their prelim relay could easily contend for gold. David Plummer (52.12) and Cody Miller (59.09) both posted personal best times in the semi-finals at Trials, times that would’ve won in the final, yet were a bit slower in the final and finished 2nd. If they out-swim Murphy and Cordes in the individual event, they’ll likely get the nod in the final. If they’re firing on all cylinders, no matter who’s in the lineup, the U.S. shouldn’t have a problem winning again.
Their main threat will be the Australians, who, as mentioned before, almost topped them for gold last year. They are led by backstroker Mitch Larkin and Cameron McEvoy on freestyle, both of whom could easily come away with gold in their respective 100m races. Freestyle is the one area where the Aussies have a clear advantage over the US, with McEvoy being the fastest man in the world by nearly seven tenths of a second. It’s fair to say Larkin and Murphy are currently on equal terms for backstroke, while the advantage goes to the US (considerably) in breast and fly, giving them the edge. Unless Jake Packard on breast and David Morgan or Grant Irvine on fly swim around a second under their best times, McEvoy won’t have enough room to run down Adrian. Last year in Kazan it wasn’t just a close race for first, it was a close race in general. Teams three through six (France, Great Britain, Russia and Japan) all finished within six tenths of each other and sixth place Japan was just 1.02 seconds off of the silver medal winning Australians.
Great Britain is the team with the biggest advantage in one single stroke, as Adam Peaty towers over the breaststroke field. Other than him, all of their legs are relatively average. If Chris Walker-Hebborn can get back under 53 in the lead-off leg and Peaty throws down another 57, being in the fight for the lead may give their fly and free swimmers (likely James Guy and Ben Proud or Duncan Scott) an edge coming home.
The South Africans are one team with a lot of firepower that could surprise in Rio.
Then there’s the host Brazilians, who could be hit or miss in this event. Execution on all four fronts could see them in the final, or they could just as easily miss out. It seemingly all comes down to their fly leg, where they’ll need one of two guys who are entered with 52-lows to go in the 51-low range to give them a chance.
The other teams in the lineup are Greece, Italy, Canada and Lithuania. Lithuania lacks the fly leg needed to contend, while the other three are all missing that sub-1:00 breaststroker that is required to be competitive in this race.
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