Feel-Good Anchor by Nathan Adrian Lifts United States to Gold in 4×100 Freestyle Relay

Nathan Andrian and team-usa-400-free-relay-2019-world-championships_6
For the past decade, Adrian has been Mr. Reliable for the United States in relay action Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

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World Swimming Championships (Nathan Adrian)

Gwangju 2019

Day 1 finals

Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay

Flash back to the beginning of this year. As the calendar flipped through the early pages of 2019, Nathan Adrian wasn’t concerned with times on a scoreboard. His coaches weren’t tracking splits during practice sets. Instead, the multi-time Olympic champion was thinking about his mortality, and putting up a fight against testicular cancer.

Flash to this evening in Gwangju, Korea, site of the 18th edition of the World Championships. There was Adrian, not as a spectator, but in the water as the anchor of the United States’ 4×100 freestyle relay that captured the gold medal by fending off Russia. A fairytale story? Hell, yes.

For the past decade, Adrian has been Mr. Reliable for the United States in relay action, routinely coming through – primarily in anchor duty – for the Stars and Stripes. He was in that position again on Sunday night and true to form, Adrian got the job done. Teaming with Caeleb Dressel, Blake Pieroni and Zach Apple, Adrian powered the United States home with an anchor split of 47.08, a leg that enabled Team USA to finish in 3:09.06 for a comfortable victory over Russia (3:09.97) and Australia (3:11.22).

With Dressel putting the United States in front with an opening split of 47.63, the Red, White and Blue enjoyed a wire-to-wire triumph that was punctuated by Adrian. Pieroni (47.49) and Apple (46.86) handled the middle legs for the U.S., setting the stage for Adrian, a relay stalwart who has accumulated 22 gold medals and 34 overall medals in international competition during his career.

Challenged by Russia’s Evgeny Rylov during the anchor leg, Adrian found another gear down the final lap to reject any possibility of a Russian takeover. A few hand slaps from the water with his deckside teammates served as a celebration for Adrian, a longtime Team USA captain and a man who has carried himself with class and grace throughout his days representing the United States. How much is Adrian respected? During the Olympic Channel’s post-race interview with the winning relay, Apple stopped short of speaking about the race and directed the attention on Adrian.

“I’ve looked up to this guy for so long,” said Apple of Nathan Adrian. “He’s over 30 and nothing stop this guy. He’s had cancer and he’s still anchoring our relays. He’s been with us all the time, and it’s pretty amazing what he’s done.”

In late December of 2018, pain and swelling encouraged Adrian to see a doctor and, ultimately led to his diagnosis with testicular cancer. Suddenly, swimming was not a focal point of his life. Rather, Adrian had to weigh several options related to treating his disease. The removal of one of Adrian’s testicles revealed that there may be trouble in his lymph nodes, which caused Adrian to opt for non-invasive, laparoscopic surgery for treatment. Returning to normal life was a process, of course. After surgery, walking down the hallway was a challenge. Incisions needed to heal. And, in the long run, Adrian had to regain his fitness and the training base that has made him one of the greatest sprinters and relay performers of all-time.

“It’s not anything anyone’s prepared to deal with – sitting down with a doctor and learning you have cancer,” Adrian said. “Fortunately, mine was treated with just surgery. The good thing is swimming brings me back to home base. Being on the block with three excellent, excellent swimmers that threw down great legs for me, getting me in the spot that I was – that’s home. That brings me away from the cancer stuff. That brings me away from the anxiety that this might come back at any time, so that was huge for me.”

Having qualified for the World Championships last summer as a relay member, Adrian knew his preparation for the meet was moving in the right direction when he clocked 48-mid in the 100 free in a tuneup meet. When the United States coaching staff left him off the prelim squad, it figured he had shown enough in training camp – and through his leadership – to be given a spot on the evening relay. Obviously, Nathan Adrian delivered.

One of the co-favorites to win the gold medal in the 100 freestyle later this week, Dressel wasted little time handing the U.S. the lead, splitting 47.63 to set the stage for Pieroni to remain ahead. It was then Apple’s turn to shine. The gold medalist in the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle earlier this month at the World University Games, Apple scorched the third leg for the Americans, managing the only sub-47 split of the competition. Adrian then provided the sealer.

Apple’s split is one of the quickest relay splits in textile in history. France’s Yannick Agnel was a 46.74 to anchor France’s 4×100 free relay as the fastest relay split this decade. Pieter van den Hoogenband has the fastest split ever in textile with a 46.6 from the 2003 Worlds.

“The relay was great,” Dressel said. “All the guys stood up, especially Zach on that split, and Nathan, he just does his job every single time. It’s just that experience. You can’t beat that experience. That’s a tough leg, anchoring that with the Russians coming on quick.”

Russia’s silver-medal showing came courtesy of the quartet of Vladislav Grinev, Vlad Morozov, Kliment Kolesnikov and Rylov. For Australia, its bronze medal was fueled by Kyle Chalmers’ anchor leg of 47.06. Italy finished .17 off the podium in 3:11.39.

By prevailing, the United States claimed its second straight world title and third consecutive global crown, including the gold medal won in the relay at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Most important, it was a chance to celebrate Nathan Adrian, a man who has meant a great deal to USA Swimming as not just a competitor, but as a leader and mentor to younger National Team members.

“I’m very grateful to be here racing,” Adrian said. “It beats the heck out of being home and waiting for test results.”

1 United States of America USA 3:09.06 Dressel, 47.63, Pieroni, 47.49, Apple, 46.86, Adrian, 47.08
2 Russian Federation RUS 3:09.97 Grinev, 47.83, Morozov, 47.62, Kolesnikov, 47.50, Rylov, 47.02,
3 Australia AUS 3:11.22 McEvoy, 48.44, Lewis, 47.61, Graham, 48.11, Chalmers, 47.06
4 Italy ITA 3:11.39 Condorelli, 48.72, Frigo, 47.29, Dotto, 47.81, Miressi, 47.57
5 Great Britain GBR 3:11.81 Scott, 47.97, Guy, 47.72, Proud, 48.27, McLay, 47.85
6 Brazil BRA 3:11.99 Chierighini, 48.10 Spajari, 48.14 Fratus, 47.78 Correia, 47.97
7 Hungary HUN 3:12.85 Kozma, 48.59, Milak, 48.05, Holoda, 48.53 Nemeth, 47.68
8 France FRA 3:13.34 Mignon, 48.25 Stravius, 48.33 Paco Pedroni, 48.92



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Nicole Josephs
4 years ago

A dream team!! ❤??‍♂️

Angie Chu
4 years ago


Darl Bonnema
4 years ago


Thomas A. Small
4 years ago


Thomas A. Small
4 years ago


Jeanne Jones
4 years ago

YAY!!!! I am so glad to see you back in the pool! Go Nathan Adrian

Jim Venn
4 years ago

Go Nathan Adrian

Jim Venn
4 years ago

Go Nathan Adrian

Linda Marino
4 years ago

Congratulations Nathan !!!

Patsy Patterson Martin

Congratulations fo a great champion .

Dave Hoover
4 years ago

Glad to see Nathan Adrian back in top form again.

Maliha Hashmi
4 years ago

Shayaan Ali

Shindig Smith
4 years ago


Pat Ulberg Snyder
4 years ago

Yo, Adrian! Great swim by all 4 guys!

Bob McKeon
4 years ago

Class act

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