The Men’s 400 Freestyle Relay: A Race Of Kings In Doha

Vlad Morozov Arena

Photo Courtesy: Gian Mattia Dalberto/Lapresse

Commentary by Maria Dobysheva

DOHA – All the debates about short course popularity in swimming quieted down after the first day of World Championships in Doha. Traditionally, all the attention is attracted to the king’s event: the men’s 400 freestyle relay. Even though some of world’s best swimmers skipped the meet for various reasons, the Hamad Aquatic Center in Doha was filled with many elite athletes from the best teams in the world. That was very evident in the final of the 400 free relay.

The main plot centered on three teams that find themselves on the podium in every big meet since the London Olympics. Could the United States maintain its World Champion title from 2012? Would Russia be a contender for medals after finishing fourth two years ago? And what would France show against these two teams?

Team France didn’t swim the 400 freestyle relay at the 2012 Worlds but has been a true nightmare for its rivals since 2012. The line-up may have changed but France has been dominated in this relay in all the major meets. It took the Olympic gold in an outstanding race against USA and repeated the success at the last long course World Championship in Barcelona. This time, France, led by 50 free Olympic Champion Florent Manaudou, was preparing to show its abilities in the short course pool.

Russia has no shortage of fast swimmers who were able to make the 400 freestyle relay team this season. There were some questions, however, about its leader Vladimir Morozov. It’s been a shaky year for the Russian sprint star. He wasn’t satisfied with his performance at European Championships in August (didn’t make finals in 50 and 100 free yet won 50 back gold) and skipped the World Cup circuit and Nationals due to the hard training cycle in USA with coach Dave Salo. Morozov’s fitness level was anyone’s guess, as he hadn’t raced in short course meters this season. Also, the Russian team lost some of its key members, as Nikita Lobintsev and Andrey Grechin elected to skip the meet this week. In their place, Danila Izotov and Sergey Fesikov were the safe bets to lead their team for a win.

Team USA sent to Doha quite an impressive group of great swimmers. Even without 100 free Olympic Champion Nathan Adrian and Worlds medalist Anthony Ervin, the team was a great threat. With Ryan Lochte, along with veteran Matt Grevers and experienced sprinter Jimmy Feigen, the Americans were a serious contender for the gold. Tom Shields was kind of a “dark horse” on the team, despite being one of the best short course swimmers in the world.

Lead-off swimmers set the pace

Vlad Morozov anchored Team Russia and got almost two body lengths lead. He proved his doubters wrong not only by makingthe huge lead for his team but also by beating his own Championship Record and setting the world’s best this season with a 45.51. On the other side, it was only 0.01 faster than his split from Istanbul two years ago. France was third behind Australia (Cameron McEvoy with a 46.56) and followed by Japan. The United States, with Jimmy Feigen as lead-off, was sixth after the first leg (47.41). Russia was clearly in command.

Second leg keeps Russia in front
Fesikov kept Russia’s lead with a big breakaway split of 46.01, while France’s Fabien Gilot was chasing him. A 46.13 from Gilot did nothing to get France closer to Russia. Italy’s Marco Orsi dropped the fastest split of his team, a 45.39 with an impressive 0.00 for reaction time. Matt Grevers had a solid 46.13, yet it moved the Americans back into seventh place.

Third leg gives life to France
Russia and France started the third leg in first and third with Italy close by in second. Lochte was seventh, and two seconds behind the leader. Was the United States going to lose a medal spot? Manaudou caught up to Italian Luca Leonardi after the first 50 meters (20.75 to Luca’s 22.26). Manaudou’s 44.80 (0.18 reaction time) was simply the best among all men and closed the gap on Russia. Though it was a relay split, it was just 0.04 shy of countryman Amaury Leveaux’s world record!
Lochte almost closed the gap and put the United States fourth just 0.13 behind Italy. Lochte’s split of 46.02 (0.12 RT) was the fastest one in his team, and much-needed if the Americans were to get a medal. And yet he was faster two years ago in Istanbul. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the Olympic year and all the distractions and troubles Lochte went through since 2012, but just as a matter of fact, his Istanbul split was 45.64.

Anchor legs to decide the medals
Tom Shields’ world championship debut in the 4×100 free relay was perhaps better than expected, as he equalled Lochte’s time – 46.02 – to leave Italy without medals and bring Team USA the bronze.

But the real battle was for gold. The Russian anchor was inexperienced Mikhail Polischuk, who wasn’t seen in the world’s rankings of the 100 free this season. This questionable decision to place Polischuk as anchor put the team’s lead in danger as France’s Mehdy Metella (seventh in the world) dropped a 45.80 against Polischuk’s 46.87 to out-touch him at the finish by four tenths of a second and grab the gold medal. Had Yannick Agnel not decided to stay home, France would have won the race with no problems. But each team was without big stars and we can only wonder what would have happened if every big name was in the race. Still, it was a classic showdown and incredible thriller in the same fashion that got France Olympic gold in 2012 and world championship gold in 2013. The French proved they are not only the best in the world but also do so in the most thrilling scenario possible. France’s winning time of 3.03.78 set the new Championship record and got very close to the world record of 3:03.30.

Perhaps that will happen in 2016.


MIGNON Clement (0.64 RT) 22.97 47.05
GILOT Fabien (0.40 RT) 21.73 46.13
MANAUDOU Florent (0.18 RT) 20.75 44.80
METELLA Mehdy (0.21 RT) 21.99 45.80

MOROZOV Vladimir (0.62 RT) 21.50 45.51
FESIKOV Sergei (0.17 RT) 21.59 46.01
IZOTOV Danila (0.48 RT) 21.77 45.79
POLISHCHUK Mikhail (0.29 RT) 22.05 46.87

FEIGEN Jimmy (0.67 RT) 22.46 47.41
GREVERS Matt (0.20 RT) 21.75 46.13
LOCHTE Ryan (0.13 RT) 21.80 46.02
SHIELDS Tom (0.22 RT) 21.93 46.02