2019 FINA World Championships Predictions: United States, Australia Rekindle Rivalry in Women’s 4×200 Free Relay

2018 Pan Pacs - 4x200m Freestyle Relay Gold
Australia has posed a real challenge at beating the US in the women's 4x200 free relay again. Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia/Delly Carr

Editorial content for the 2019 World Championships coverage is sponsored by FORM Swim Goggles. See full event coverage. Follow FORM on Instagram at @FORMSwim #swimwithform FORM Swim-Logo

The United States and Australia have been the two best countries for most of history in the sport of swimming. And it looks like those countries are headed for a showdown in the 4×200 freestyle relay. The Australians stunned the Americans last summer at Pan Pacs in the women’s 4×200 free relay, breaking the Australian record in the process. The team of Ariarne TitmusEmma McKeonMikkayla Sheridan and Madeline Groves held off the Americans for the gold in 7:44.12 to the Americans’ 7:44.37.

It was step two of three for the Aussies in their pursuit of sweeping the women’s relays at Pan Pacs. One year later, the Aussies have reloaded with an even stronger relay. Their four fastest swimmers this year have been Titmus (1:54.30), McKeon (1:54.55), Shayna Jack (1:56.37) and Brianna Throssell (1:56.62), which will be tough to beat if they can replicate their swims from the Trials in June. Australia has never won this event at the World Championships, most notably getting disqualified in 2001 after the three swimmers jumped in the pool to celebrate the gold medal. The Aussies won the 4×200 free relay in Beijing 2008.

The Americans have always been formidable in this event, winning six of the last seven world titles. The US was upstaged in Tokyo last summer after Allison Schmitt faded badly on her leg and swam a 1:58, leaving the US in a deep hole that even Katie Ledecky couldn’t close. It’s unlikely that Schmitt will repeat that performance in 2019 on a relay. The Americans still have Ledecky, went 1:55.78 in January in heavy training. The other three fastest Americans this year have been Katie McLaughlin (1:56.48), Simone Manuel (1:57.24) and Leah Smith (1:57.40). Gabby DeLoof (1:57.62), Schmitt (1:57.70) and Mallory Comerford (1:57.93) are also viable options if Manuel elects not to swim.

There are plenty of strong names to choose from, but the problem is the United States doesn’t have a second swimmer that will certainly go 1:54. There is no guarantee that McKeon and Titmus will both produce a 1:54 on the relay again, but they have provided a solid 1-2 punch that hardly anyone can compete with.

Ledecky is capable of a 1:53 on the anchor leg. If she is within a second of someone going into the final exchange, then she will be tough to hold off. The challenge for the Americans is finding a 1:55. McLaughlin has been known to step up on relays, and the fact that she has been a 1:56 this year is a good sign. Smith has been a consistent member of Team USA on relays the last few years so she is capable of a 1:56 low. The fourth spot seems to be up for grabs.  The 4×200 free relay falls on day five so usually the American coaches will go with who they think is having a good meet, like Comerford in 2017 and Maya DiRado in 2016. The Americans will make this race competitive. The only problem is the Australians seem to be able to match the Americans pound for pound here, now that Titmus has consistently performed close to Ledecky’s level.

The race could come down to Ledecky and Titmus on the anchor leg, and it could take a world record to win. It has taken a 7:42 or 7:43 to win the last few world titles.

Canada is leading the race for the bronze medal as they had a strong showing at Pan Pacs last year even without Penny Oleksiak. Taylor Ruck has been known to step up on relays, splitting a 1:54 in Tokyo last summer. Canada currently has Oleksiak (1:56.92), Ruck (1:56.97), Kayla Sanchez (1:57.78) and Emily Overholt (1:57.97) ranked in the top 50 in the world. They didn’t have Oleksiak in 2018 and didn’t have Ruck in 2017, but they had both of them at the Olympics when they won the bronze medal. If Canada can put together a full relay, then it will be dangerous.

China is another wildcard in this relay. It still holds the world record from the 2009 Worlds, where they swam a 7:42.08 with the super-suits. The Chinese are always a bit of an unknown in this relay, but gave the US a good race at the 2017 Worlds. Their four fastest swimmers this year have been Yang Junxuan (1:56.90), Li Bingjie (1:57.31), Qiu Yuhan (1:57.52) and Dong Jie (1:57.62). They are faster than Canada this year through combined times, but Ruck and Oleksiak are expected to be much quicker in Gwangju on this relay.

It appears it will be those four countries battling for the medals. Japan won’t have Rikako Ikee on its relay since she was diagnosed with leukemia this year. The Japanese have a solid team with the likes of Rio Shirai and Yui Ohashi, but will be hurting big time without a 1:54 split from Ikee.

Current Records:

World Record: 7:42.08, China, 2009 – Yang, Zhu, Liu, Pang
Championships Record: 7:42.08, China, 2009 – Yang, Zhu, Liu, Pang
American Record: 7:42.56, 2009 – Vollmer, Nymeyer, Kukors, Schmitt

2017 World Champion: United States, 7:43.39 – Smith, Comerford, Margalis, Ledecky
2018 Fastest Times:

  1. 7:44.12, Australia (Pan Pacs)
  2. 7:44.37, United States (Pan Pacs)
  3. 7:47.28, Canada (Pan Pacs)
  4. 7:48.61, China (Asian Games)
  5. 7:48.96, Japan (Pan Pacs)
  6. 7:51.65, Great Britain (Europeans)
  7. 7:52.87, Russia (Europeans)
  8. 7:53.76, Germany (Europeans)

Swimming World’s team of Andy RossDan D’AddonaDavid RiederDiana Pimer and Taylor Covington will be selecting their medalists for the World Championships in each event. Read below who everybody picked.

Andy’s Picks:

  1. United States
  2. Australia
  3. Canada

Dan’s Picks:

  1. Australia
  2. United States
  3. Canada

David’s Picks:

  1. Australia
  2. United States
  3. Canada

Diana’s Picks:

  1. Australia
  2. United States
  3. China

Taylor’s Picks:

  1. United States
  2. Australia
  3. Canada

2019 FINA World Championships Predictions:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

Day 5:

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Superfan

    Margalis?!?

    • avatar
      Tyson

      The top 4 Aussie girls flat start times almost equal the WR I recon they’ll leave the USA in the dust and obliterate the WR

  2. avatar
    M

    Given how well the Aussie girls swam at trials, it’s hard to predict against them. Madi Wilson swam under 1:57 to finish in 5th place in that one race. The Aussies are only 0:55 off the WR on the trials finals swims, and that was with Titmus having a relatively slow swim. Add in rolling starts and the WR is going down.