By John Lohn
PHILADELPHIA, Penn., USA, July 1. THE invincibility of the United States men in the 400-meter medley relay is unquestionable. In Olympic action, the Stars and Stripes has never been beaten, with the only gold not won by America going to Australia in 1980. That was the year the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Games, thanks to Jimmy Carter.
With history serving as support, then, the U.S. is the overwhelming favorite to take gold in the final event at this month’s World Championships in Montreal. Considering the improbability of the U.S. being challenged, it’s more intriguing to look at which athletes will swim the event. Basically, we’re looking at five men for four spots.
Barring any unforeseen developments, the first two legs of the medley relay are locked up. With Aaron Peirsol (backstroke) and Brendan Hansen (breaststroke) sitting as reigning world-record holders, the States has an opening punch that is devastating. But, how will the final two legs shape up? That’s where the intrigue surfaces.
On the fly leg, the U.S. will go with either Ian Crocker, the world-record holder, or Michael Phelps, the Olympic champion. The decision will hinge, to a degree, on the result of the 100 fly final. If Crocker wins the event and clinches the relay slot, Phelps could still find action as the anchor. For Phelps to earn the hammer slot, he would – likely – have to defeat Jason Lezak in the 100 freestyle. Lezak, of course, is the American-record holder in the 100 free and a staple on the U.S. medley relay.
However, if Phelps win the fly, he would have – presumably – control of the fly leg on the relay, thus leaving Lezak as the man for the anchor role. Regardless of what transpires, one high-level performer will be watching the final. Yet, the Americans appear to be positioned well and should have little trouble maintaining their dominance.