Can Sam Williamson Lead Australian Men to Medley Relay Podium?

sam williamson
Sam Williamson (left) with fellow Australian 100 breaststroke qualifier Joshua Yong -- Photo Courtesy: Wade Brennan (Wade's Photos)

Can Sam Williamson Lead Australian Men to Medley Relay Podium?

Before last July, Australia had not captured a medal in the men’s 400 medley relay at either an Olympics or World Championships in seven years. It looked like that drought would continue when the Aussies were in fifth place at the halfway point of the final at the Fukuoka World Championships. But then, Matt Temple split 50.10 on butterfly to move into fourth place, and the electric Kyle Chalmers came home in 46.89, one-and-a-half seconds faster than French anchor Hadrien Salvan, as Chalmers pulled the Aussies into bronze-medal position by two tenths.

Can the men in the gold caps pull off another such finish on the Olympic level? That will be a challenge for sure: China almost broke the world record at last year’s Asian Games while the Americans, who prevailed at last year’s World Championships, have never lost this race at the Olympics. Those two teams are certainly considered the gold-medal favorites.

Meanwhile, Great Britain won silver behind the U.S. at the last two Olympics, and world-record-holding breaststroker Adam Peaty is returning to top form. France will be buoyed by the home crowd in Paris, with world champion Maxime Grousset likely to swim the butterfly leg and Leon Marchand on breaststroke.

The key to Australia knocking off one of these teams for a podium finish is staying close enough to allow Temple and Chalmers to finish strong, just like they did in Fukuoka. But now, the team has a new weapon to deploy on the second leg of the race: Sam Williamson, a 26-year-old in the midst of the finest year of his career.

Williamson first jumped onto the Australian senior-level team in 2022, winning four medals at the Commonwealth Games, but he fully broke out at this February’s World Championships by edging Nicolo Martinenghi and Nic Fink for 50 breaststroke gold, his time of 26.32 making him the fourth-fastest performer in history. Now, Williamson has raised his game to excel at the 100-meter event as well.

Williamson qualified for his first Olympic team Monday by winning the 100 breast at Australian Trials in 58.80, not far off Brenton Rickard’s 15-year-old national record of 58.58 (from the polyurethane-suit era) and under Peaty’s 2018 All-Comer record (58.84). That speed provides a huge upgrade on what Zac Stubblety-Cook, the 2021 Olympic champion in the 200 breast and former world-record holder in the event, can provide in the 100. Stubblety-Cook ended up third in the event at Trials, just behind Joshua Yong (59.48).

Isaac Cooper is likely to handle the backstroke leg on the Australian men’s medley relay in Paris — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr (Swimming Australia)

Williamson, Temple and Chalmers make three-fourths of an elite medley relay. Backstroke, though? Still a question. Isaac Cooper, who won the world title in the 50 back this year, was the winner of the event at Australian Trials Tuesday, but his time of 53.46 is nowhere close to the elite backstrokers leading off for other countries. In comparison, the USA’s Ryan Murphy and China’s Xu Jiayu both went 52.0s last year while Great Britain’s Ollie Morgan swam a national-record mark of 52.70 earlier this year.

Here is the current landscape of the men’s medley relay, with times from 2023 and 2024 considered. All of China’s top swimmers have already qualified for the Olympics, but the American lineup could shift based on the results of next week’s U.S. Olympic Trials. The French lineup is less clear and will be added to this analysis following their selection meet.

  • China: Xu Jiayu 52.05 + Qin Haiyang 57.69 + Changhao Wang 51.20 + Pan Zhanle 46.80 = 3:27.74
  • USA: Ryan Murphy 52.04 + Nic Fink 58.36 + Dare Rose 50.46 + Jack Alexy 47.31 = 3:28.17
  • Great Britain: Ollie Morgan 52.70 + Adam Peaty 57.94 + Adam Peters 51.16 + Matt Richards 47.45 = 3:29.25
  • Australia: Isaac Cooper 53.46 + Sam Williamson 58.80 + Matt Temple 50.25 + Kyle Chalmers 47.15 = 3:29.66

Australia is now in the mix, with Williamson providing the big boost this week already. Let’s see what sort of times Temple and Chalmers clock at the Trials — and of course whatever the Americans and French have in store in the coming weeks — before we can make final pre-Trials assessments.

Can Australian Women Top U.S. in Medley Relay?

jenna strauch

Australian breaststroker Jenna Strauch — Photo Courtesy: Wade Brennan

Three years ago in Tokyo, the key for Australia in overcoming the United States in the women’s 400 medley relay was the breaststroke leg. With elite swimmers Kaylee McKeownEmma McKeon and Cate Campbell swimming backstroke, butterfly and freestyle, respectively, the Aussies needed breaststroke swimmer Chelsea Hodges to stay close enough to the Americans’ Lydia Jacoby, the individual gold medalist in the 100 breast earlier in the week.

Hodges did her job that night, clocking 1:05.57 compared to Jacoby’s 1:05.03. The time was more than one second quicker than she went in the individual event semifinals, and she needed every bit of the drop since Australia won by a mere 13-hundredths.

As another USA-Australia showdown awaits in Paris, we can expect a similar setup. Now, the job will belong to Jenna Strauch, the 2022 World Championships silver medalist in the 200 breast and the likely breaststroke swimmer for Australia in Paris after her 1:06.90 clocking in a Trials victory.

We’ll see how that compares to the times recorded next week in Indianapolis, but expect to see at least one American going 1:05-low or better (with Jacoby and Lilly King as the obvious favorites). But with the Americans also likely to have an advantage on butterfly this time around, Australia’s challenge in defending this gold medal will be even tougher.

Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay Status

Just like in the medley relay, Australia’s men look like contenders-but-not-favorites in the 800 free relay. The times from Trials were not particularly special; the swimmers who finished in the top-four spots are indeed Australia’s four best from the past year-and-a-half, but none reached their best form in the final.

Max Giuliani was the only swimmer under 1:46 in the race with his mark of 1:45.83, and he was followed by Thomas Neill (1:46.02), Elijah Winnington (1:46.08) and Kai Taylor (1:46.26). In comparison, Giuliani has been as fast as 1:44.79 while Neill, Winnington and Taylor have all been 1:45s since the start of 2023. The composite of the swimmers’ best times add up to 7:02.26, which is a far cry from the British top composite of 6:58.65 (which is just a tenth off the world record).

The Americans are sure to bring a foursome capable of a sub-7:00 effort to Paris while China and South Korea both went 7:01s at the February World Championships. Once again, the Aussie men will have to be nearly perfect here for a medal shot.

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1 day ago

Realistically both Cooper and Williamson need to drop half a second each to get us into Bronze. Hope Cooper can break into the high 52sec, but I think Williamson ill be able to take half a second or more of his time. Temple and especially King Kyle Will perform!

1 day ago

Womens Medley will be very tough to defend. Another ‘Hodges’ style swim and Emma to actually perform in the fly will be needed.
Mens 4×200m Freestyle everyone will need their best times for a chance at Bronze!

Relays Predictions:
Australia 4 ×100m Freestyle

Australia 4×200m Freestyle

USA 4×100m Medley

USA (or lottery!) 4×100m Freestyle

Britain 4×200mFreestyle(WR)

China/USA 4×100m Medley

Mixed Medley:

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