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Olympic relay analysis: World record breakers give American women an advantage in the medley relay

Three years ago at the Tokyo Olympics, the US women were aiming for a relay victory in their last chance, the 400m medley relay, but Cate Campbell swamped American anchor Weitzeil Monastery to get to the wall and take gold by 13 hundredths. In 2024, however, the race is set up so that no one should be within striking distance of the United States when the freestylers hit the water.

The USA will field the world record holders in the 100-meter backstroke, 100-meter breaststroke and 100-meter butterfly on the first three legs. The American men had the same advantage for a while two decades ago with Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen And Ian Crockerand of course no one could reach this group. Regan Smith, Lilly Koenig And Gretchen Walsh could give her team a similarly unassailable lead in the final women’s race of the Paris Games.


Regan Smith — Photo courtesy of: Peter H. Bick

At the US Olympic qualifying swims, Smith achieved a time of 57.13 in the 100-meter backstroke, beating the Australian’s previous world record Kaylee McKeownIt has been seven years since King, now 27, set the world record in the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:04.13, but she remains one of the world’s elite in this discipline: With her time of 1:05.43 at the US trials, she is currently ranked fourth in the world.

In the butterfly style, the Americans will probably use Walsh, who achieved a time of 55.18 in Indianapolis and thus Sarah Sjöström eight-year-old world record of 55.48. But should Walsh fail at her first Olympic Games, there is a more than adequate second option in Torri Huskethe 2022 World Champion, who beat her previous American record at trials with a time of 55.52, moving her to third place all-time in the discipline. Finally Kate Douglas is likely to be the final runner on this team after winning the 100m freestyle at the Trials with a time of 52.56. Douglass also swam fast on a relay in 2023 with a time of 51.79.

Considering only the times achieved so far in 2024, the total time of the US relay team is 3:50.30, which is below the existing world record of 3:50.40 set by Smith, King, Kelsi Dahlia And Simone Manuel in 2019. If you include the relay changes, there is a chance that the Americans will get under 3:50 for the first time.

The USA’s biggest challenger is traditionally Australia, a team with extremely strong opponents like McKeown and Mollie O’CallaghanMcKeown was fast this year, clocking 57.41, just missing her existing world record of 57.33 at the Australian Trials. McKeown could reclaim Smith’s record by the time the relay races take place on the final day of the Olympics. O’Callaghan, meanwhile, is a two-time world champion in the 100-meter freestyle and favorite for the Olympic gold medal in that event.

Emma McKeon

Emma McKeon – Photo courtesy of: Wade Brennan (Wade’s Photos)

Emma McKeon30, is still a reliable relay swimmer and a strong butterfly swimmer for Australia, but breaststroke is the big concern for this team. In Tokyo, the main reason Australia was able to win gold was Chelsea Hodges a full second faster than her individual best time in breaststroke. In Paris, Australia’s breaststroke options are Jenna Strauch And Ella Ramsaywho both swam 1:06.9 at the Trials. Unless one of them makes a big leap forward at the Olympics, this gap will be difficult to make up.

On the contrary, China could overtake the Australians and secure a silver medal spot thanks to the breaststroke discipline. Tang Qianting is currently the favorite for Olympic gold in the 100-meter breaststroke, having clocked a time of 1:04.39 earlier this year, and China has defeated the reigning world champion Zhang Yufei ready for butterfly swimming. Yang Junxuan set a national record of 52.68 in the 100-meter freestyle earlier this year. But China may have a big gap to make up in the backstroke. Wan Letian is the best option in the country this year with 59.02, almost two seconds slower than Smith and McKeown.

Canada is the last medal candidate with Kylie Masse She returned to the 57-club at her country’s trials earlier this year in the 100-meter backstroke and defended the Olympic gold medal Maggie MacNeil will probably finish with butterfly. A sub-53 split on the final stretch, where the veteran Penny Oleksiak and teenage star Summer McIntosh are the top options and could allow Canada to steal a medal from one of the favorites.

Here are the best composite seasons based only on 2024 times:

United States: 57.13 + 1:05.43 + 55.18 + 52.56 = 3:50.30
China: 59.02 + 1:04.39 + 56.36 + 52.68 = 3:52.45
Australia: 57.41 + 1:06.90 + 56.58 + 52.33 = 3:53.22
Canada: 57.94 + 1:06.66 + 56.54 + 53.66 = 3:54.80

On the ninth day of the Olympics, each of these relay teams is expected to feature swimmers who won individual medals in their respective 100-meter events. But if the Americans can swim anywhere near their times from the heats, they will be nearly impossible to beat, and a world record is well within reach.

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