Morning Splash: Breaking Down the Always-Tight Men’s 400 Free Relay

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr


Editorial Coverage Sponsored By FINIS

By David Rieder

For the men’s 400 free relay at the Olympics, drama has become something of a requirement.

Remember Sydney in 2000, when Gary Hall Jr. promised that the Americans would smash the Australians like guitars? Michael Klim proceeded to break the world record in the 100 free leading off the race, and after Hall took the lead for the Americans with 50 meters to go, Ian Thorpe stormed home to hand the U.S. it’s first-ever loss in the event in front of a raucous Aussie crowd.

Four years later in Athens, the focus was on the Americans—with Michael Phelps making his debut on the 400 free relay squad—as well as the Australians, Russians, Dutch and pretty much everyone else aside from the South Africans. Then, of course, Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling led wire-to-wire and shocked the world.

Most American fans fondly remember the 2008 final, when Jason Lezak pulled off one of the greatest relay splits in history, overcoming a massive deficit on the final lap to touch out eventual Olympic gold medalist Alain Bernard.

France got its revenge four years later as Yannick Agnel stormed past Ryan Lochte on the anchor leg to win the gold, and the French are undefeated since.

The Australians had been heavily favored going into that Olympic final as they had defending World Champion James Magnussen leading their team, but they fell to fourth behind France, the U.S. and Russia.

And sure enough, it will be those four teams battling it out once again for gold today in Rio, and it would be hard to be terribly surprised if any of the four walked away with the gold medal.

Here’s what it all looks like on paper.


Cameron McEvoy47.04
Kyle Chalmers48.03
James Roberts48.43
James Magnussen48.49


Jeremy Stravius47.97
Florent Manaudou48.00
Clement Mignon48.01
Mehdy Metella48.43

United States

Nathan Adrian47.72
Caeleb Dressel48.23
Ryan Held48.26
Anthony Ervin48.54


Vladimir Morozoc48.06
Andrey Grechin48.18
Alexander Popkov48.41
Danila Izotov48.57

So if all the times hold, Australia is the slight favorite for gold ahead of France and the U.S. But when has everything gone exactly to form in a race as wild as the 400 free relay? It’s still too early in the Games to tell who is swimming well, and inevitably, some of these 16 aforementioned athletes will not be able to hit their marks from earlier in the year.

For the Australians, this is their shot at redemption after their flop four year ago in London. Two of the same men figure to return to that squad in Magnussen and Roberts. Magnussen could never get going at those Olympics after the relay disappointment, and he ended up second in the 100 free by one one-hundredth of a second after entering heavily favored.

As for Roberts, he arrived in London with the second-fastest time in the world that year at 47.63, but he could only manage a 48.09 anchor split. He later ended up missing the individual 100 free final. He has not been on a major international team since.

McEvoy was a prelims relay swimmer in London, but now, as the second-fastest swimmer ever in the 100 free, all the pressure is on him. And as for the 18-year-old Chalmers, this is his first senior-level international meet, but he did win the 50 and 100 free at the Junior World Championships last year.

*As for the French, they’ve been incredibly consistent. Bernard is gone, and stalwarts Agnel and Fabien Gilot are unlikely to swim on this relay. But Manaudou has learned how to swim the 100 free after being very much a one-lap specialist early in his career, and Stravius has underrated versatility. They need a big swim from Mignon, their newcomer to this scene.

*The Americans will have some decisions to make. Held, Ervin, Jimmy Feigen and Blake Pieroni figure to battle it out in prelims to earn one spot on the finals relay, where they would join individual qualifiers Adrian and Dressel and, most likely, Phelps.

Phelps reportedly put up a swift 48-mid flat start 100 free during the U.S. training camp in Atlanta last weekend, but how low can he go here? He’s the winningest Olympian of all time, but this will be his first race of the Games, if he does swim on this relay. It’s safe to say that Phelps is the single-biggest X-factor of the entire race.

*And then Russia. Last week, I wrote this article about Russia’s suffering Olympic medal hopes in swimming with Morozov, Nikita Lobintsev and Yulia Efimova banned from the Games. Well, now they’re all back. Russia doesn’t stack up as well based on the aggregate times, but Morozov has explosive potential, and he figures to unleash a quick leg (46-high?) wherever he swims on Russia’s squad.

Speaking of Efimova…

*The women’s 100 breast gets underway today, and the reigning World Champion will be in the race. What looked like a two-woman dual between 2016 world No. 1 Lilly King and world record-holder and defending gold medalist Ruta Meilutyte will now go three-deep with Efimova on the blocks.

Efimova ranks second in the world in the event at 1:05.70, and it would be surprising to see anyone else besides these three make up the podium when all is said and done. Expect to see at least one woman crack the 1:05 barrier, and it could even take around that to win a medal.