Can the U.S. Men Break the Legendary 400 Freestyle Relay World Record in Tokyo?

Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Can the United States Men Break the Legendary 400 Freestyle Relay World Record In Tokyo?

How fitting would it be to see a legendary relay record fall at a historic Olympic Games?

As swim meets safely resume all over the world, all signs indicate to Tokyo 2021 happening as (re)scheduled in a little under 10 months. What better way to get people amped for fast swimming than discussing potential world-record swims?

With the U.S. men having arguably the deepest pool of 100 freestylers in its history, the men’s 400 freestyle relay will be, without a doubt, one of the most exciting races in Tokyo. Last year, the U.S. had six men under 48 seconds, and five in the world top-10. Going off of what we saw last year, they have to be massive favorites, not just for the Olympic title, but to break the first men’s relay world record since the super-suit era.

Over the years, the U.S. has produced some memorable performances in Olympic history in the 400 freestyle relay, none greater than in 2008 when Jason Lezak cemented himself as an Olympic legend, and kept Michael Phelps’ record-breaking dreams alive, throwing down what remains the fastest relay split ever, to overtake Frenchman Alain Bernard on the anchor leg in Beijing. Since Lezak dropped a mind-boggling 46.06 to help the U.S. obliterate the previous world record, no team has come close to the 3:08.24 done in the Water Cube. With the U.S. currently having an abundance of talent in the event, a world record seems like a very real possibility, no matter what four guys are behind the blocks in the Olympic final.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

At last summer’s World Championships, the United States men swam the fastest relay time since Beijing, when Caeleb Dressel, Blake Pieroni, Zach Apple, and Nathan Adrian combined to win gold in a championship record-setting 3:09.06. While the swim was extremely impressive, many believe Team USA is capable of much faster. In Gwangju, Dressel was almost seven-tenths slower than what he swam to win gold in the individual event, Apple was coming off of swimming a full schedule at the World University Games a few weeks prior, and Adrian was recovering from testicular cancer.

Outside of those four guys, 2019 NCAA Champion in the event, Dean Farris, threw down a 47.08 rolling-start in the 400 free relay prelims at the World University Games last summer. Only Apple split faster in Gwangju. Throwing Farris into that team, and Dressel going within a quarter of a second of what he went individually would put them right on the world record mark. Put a healthy Adrian and a fresh Apple in the mix, and on paper, it seems the world record is in great danger.

Many other young superstars could be a part of the potentially historic relay as well. Olympic gold medalist Pieroni, known more for his 200-yard freestyle exploits at the NCAA level, has been a mainstay on the 400-freestyle relay since Rio, constantly putting up fast splits for Team USA’s relays.

Another Olympic relay champion who has been up and down since Rio, Ryan Held, showed people he is not down and out, breaking the U.S. Open record last summer. He knows how it feels to be in an Olympic relay final, and with potential history on the line, he would love to put up a big split on a finals relay again.

Recent college grads Tate Jackson and Maxime Rooney haven’t had much experience at the senior international level, making it hard to tell how they would do in a high-pressure situation like an Olympic final, but if last summer is anything to go by, they both seem more than ready for the challenge if they make it to Tokyo.

Texas stars Daniel Kreuger and Drew Kibler, who were in the middle of breakout NCAA seasons before the coronavirus pandemic put them to a halt, were unable to show how their progress in yards would translate in the long course pool, but they surely put their names in the conversation as relay possibilities after impressive short course seasons.

2020 SEC Champion Brooks Curry added another name to watch with his massive time drops during his freshman season at LSU. He wasn’t able to build upon his stellar college campaign this past summer but could certainly take his newfound confidence to Omaha and potentially onto a world record relay.

With a core group of young stars who are constantly getting faster, mixed in with Adrian’s veteran presence, the United States has an abundance of firepower in the 100 freestyle. Blessed with so much talent around the peak of their careers, combined with the hype and flair that comes with swimming at the Olympics, Tokyo may prove the best chance to knock one of the most impressive super-suit era world records off the books.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.