By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 9. JUST get in. That was the only goal of the 15 nations that lined up for the preliminaries of the women's 400 freestyle relay. Many changes will be made to the lineups before the morning finals, so Saturday night was simply about survival. And none of the leading contenders for gold were left stranded.
Host China, on the strength of Pang Jiaying's anchor leg of 52.83, qualified in the No. 1 position with a time of 3:36.78. The Chinese also utilized the services of Zhu Yingwen, Tang Yi and Xu Yanwei. How much faster they can go is debatable, but a sizable drop in time will be necessary for a run at a podium slot.
Germany finished in the second spot after the evening prelims with Meike Freitag, Antje Buschschulte, Daniela Gotz and Britta Steffen teaming for a mark of 3:37.52. The Germans were followed by the American quartet of Kara Lynn Joyce, Julia Smit, Emily Silver and Lacey Nymeyer. That squad was timed in 3:37.53. In the final, look for Natalie Coughlin and Dara Torres to deliver some key legs and bring the time down significantly.
The Netherlands, which holds the world record, was fourth in 3:27.61, but its two big guns were inactive. Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Hinkelien Schreuder, Femke Heemskerk and Manon van Rooijen made up the prelim team, but Marleen Veldhuis and Inge Dekker will be added for the final.
The French checked in fifth in 3:37.76 and Australia was sixth in 3:37.81, but the Aussie unit was missing Libby Trickett and will likely receive a strong showing than the 54.65 turned in by Cate Campbell on the leadoff leg. Canada (3:38.82) was seventh and eighth went to Great Britain (3:39.18).