USA world championships medley relay 2011
Courtesy of: USA Today Sports
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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 24. JUST as the FINA world championships will conclude with the women's and men's 400 medley relay, Swimming World is wrapping up our 20 days of event previews with a look at how this event will shake out in Barcelona. With various countries experiencing some shakeups in their lineups, no country is assured of a win.

Swimming World correspondents Jeff Commings, David Rieder and Julia Wilkinson-Minks have offered their medal predictions for each event throughout this series, as well as a brief analysis of their top-three selections.


Women's 400 medley relay

Rieder
Gold:
United States
Silver: Australia
Bronze: China
Darkhorse: Denmark

After swimming this relay on day seven at previous World Championships, the women's event has moved to alongside the men's on the final day of the meet. The Americans, based on my predictions, will not have won a women's relay at this point in the meet, but I think they get this one. No other country has the talent in all four strokes; Missy Franklin can swim free or back, Dana Vollmer will swim fly, and Jessica Hardy or Breeja Larson can put up a strong breaststroke split. The U.S. might end up putting Elizabeth Pelton on back and Franklin on free, depending on how Shannon Vreeland and Megan Romano perform at the meet. Australia has Emily Seebohm on back, Alicia Coutts on fly, and Cate Campbell on free, but their breaststroker has not swum within a second of either American in the 100 breast this year. China, meanwhile, has a strong core led by Lu Ying (fly) that usually contends in this relay, while Japan will be tough with Aya Terakawa and Satomi Suzuki. Russia will have Yuliya Efimova on breast but not much on the back half, while Denmark lurks as Rikke Moeller Pederson and Jeanette Ottesen Gray both could have big breakouts in Barcelona.

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
United States
Silver: Australia
Bronze: China
Dark horses: Japan

Last summer, this relay was absolutely no-contest: with Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer, Rebecca Soni and Allison Schmitt, the Americans were unstoppable. This summer might be a little more of a battle with Australia, because where the Americans seem to have taken a tiny step back, the Australians have moved forward a bit. Dana Vollmer is not quite where she was at a year ago, whereas Alicia Coutts seems to be on a mission. Coutts isn't the only top-ranked Australian on this relay: Cate Campbell is ranked first in the 100 freestyle. But with their depth, and advantage on the front half of the relay, I think the Americans will win this one. If Missy swims backstroke, no one is touching the U.S. through the first 100 meters. Even still, Missy could anchor and Elizabeth Pelton could lead off, depending on how she is swimming, which could be a good choice too considering Missy is their fastest 100 freestyler right now and great at the end of a relay. The Americans also have the luxury of resting most--if not all--of their finals swimmers during prelims. Coming from Canada, a country where we could never rest anyone for finals, I know what an advantage that is. For bronze, Aya Terakawa does not seem to have the supporting Japanese cast behind her that she did at the Olympics to get back on the podium, and even with Anastasia Zueva swimming the backstroke leg for Russia, China has a very real chance of moving up to the medals.

Commings
Gold:
United States
Silver: Japan
Bronze: Australia
Dark horse: Russia

Australia's Achilles heel in the wake of Leisel Jones' retirement is the lack of a solid breaststroker to help in the medley relay. Sally Foster or Samantha Marshall will handle breaststroke duties for the Aussies, and right now the Americans and Japanese have a one-second advantage on that leg, while Russia will have two. How Foster or Marshall perform on the relay will be crucial in determining the color of medal Australia wins -- or if they get on the medal stand at all. The Aussies will be tough in the backstroke (Seebohm), butterfly (Coutts) and freestyle (Cate Campbell), and the major post-race discussion in the Australian camp is developing the country's breaststrokers in time for a run at gold in Rio, something that is very possible. Japan will take advantage of Australia's weakness, and if the Japanese freestyler can hold off Campbell, silver will go home with the Japanese. Russia was fourth in the Olympics, and will be very strong in Barcelona.


Men 400 medley relay

Rieder
Gold:
United States
Silver: Australia
Bronze: Russia
Darkhorse: France

Like on the women's side, no one can match the Americans' strength in all four strokes. Matt Grevers or David Plummer, Kevin Cordes, Ryan Lochte or Eugene Godsoe, and Nathan Adrian will have enough to beat out the field here. Fly may seem like a weakness without Michael Phelps, but both contenders have thrown down clutch relay splits consistently over the past few years. The Aussies, meanwhile, have the emerging Christian Sprenger, a huge advantage over the field on breast, but Ashley Delaney trails the Americans by a large margin on back. Russia, which didn't even final in London, could be one of the top teams, with Vyacheslav Sinkevich having emerged as a breaststroke threat and Evgeny Korotyshkin a strength on fly. However, Vlad Morozov will probably have to swim back, leaving him unavailable for the freestyle leg. Japan will be in the race with Ryosuke Irie and Kosuke Kitajima but very little beyond that, while Steffen Deibler will help the Germans contend, while the French strength on back (Camille Lacourt and Jeremy Stravius) and free (Yannick Agnel) gives them a chance

Wilkinson-Minks
Gold:
United States
Silver:Bronze: Australia
Dark horse: Japan

The American men may not have Michael Phelps, but they still have half of last summer's medley returning: Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian. Both of these men won gold medals last summer in their individual events, and although they may not have shown quite the same speed so far this season, having bookends with those resumes is a huge advantage. Kevin Cordes on breaststroke and either Eugene Godsoe or Ryan Lochte on butterfly is nothing to scoff at either. Russian relays have been flexing their muscles since World University Games, and barring they didn't waste a taper on that meet, they could threaten for the win as well. Australia has swimmers ranked in the top 10 in all four stroke 100s, including James Magnussen as their anchor. He could do some damage as long as his teammates keep him within striking distance. Japan also has a strong front half to their relay, with two backstrokers ranked in the top five in the world currently, and Yashurio Koseki ranked only a hundredth behind Cordes in the 100 breaststroke this season.

Commings
Gold:
United States
Silver: Russia
Bronze: Australia
Dark horse: Japan

No Michael Phelps on the butterfly leg means the United States will be hard-pressed to win gold this year. Whether it is Eugene Godsoe or Ryan Lochte on the fly leg is not the issue; neither one can produce a split in the 50-point range this year ... or can they? Both come from the collegiate system where relay swims are valued above all else. They should be able to tap into that and help the United States make it three in a row at the world championships. Australia's weaknesses comes in the backstroke and butterfly, with Ashley Delaney not able to produce a swim fast enough to keep the Aussies in contention, and no one automatically qualifying for Australia in the 100 fly. That will open a big door for Russia, which has no discernible weakness. Even if you put Vlad Morozov on the backstroke leg, there is a long line of freestylers able to take his spot in the medley relay. If their breaststroker is able to produce a split in the mid-59s, the door is open for an upset, but that can only happen if Evgeny Korotyshkin can hit the wall about five tenths ahead of the Americans at the end of the butterfly leg.


Missed our previous previews? Click the links below.
400 freestyle ---- 400 freestyle relay ---- 100 butterfly ---- 100 backstroke ---- 200 freestyle ---- 100 breaststroke ---- 800 freestyle ---- 200 butterfly ---- 50 breaststroke ---- 200 individual medley ---- 50 backstroke ---- 100 freestyle ---- 800 freestyle relay ---- 50 butterfly ---- 200 breaststroke ---- 200 backstroke ---- 1500 freestyle ---- 50 freestyle ---- 400 individual medley

Agree or disagree with our world championship medal predictions? Sound off below in our comments section.