Morning Splash: What We Know So Far About the Women’s Medley Relay

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

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By David Rieder.

All summer, everyone pretended to know what would happen in the medley relay events at the Olympics—just add up the top times this year from all the 100s of each stroke, right. Well, not so much.

With five of eight days of Olympic swimming complete, it’s become fairly clear who is performing well and who not so much. And so perhaps now it’s worth venturing into this murky territory to try to break this race down. Everything we thought a week ago? Out the door, as stalwarts have struggled, and new faces—new countries, even—have emerged as legit contenders.

First off, the women’s medley relay. The book on the 100 free is still to be written in tonight’s finals, but we at least have an idea of how it will look at the 300. Let’s go stroke by stroke, beginning with backstroke.

That’s the stroke where most expected the Australians would have a massive advantage with Emily Seebohm leading things off. But the reigning World Champion in the 100 back actually finished seventh in Rio, and the best time of any Aussie backstroker this week was Madison Wilson’s 59.03 in the semifinals.

The Americans will go with Kathleen Baker, who was the silver medalist in the event at 58.75, and right behind her was a tie for bronze between China’s Fu Yuanhui and Canada’s Kylie Maase at 58.76. China won the World title in the medley relay last year, so it’s been clear all along that they will contend here with the U.S. and Australia.

Canada? Well, that squad was sixth in Kazan—in a final where two teams were disqualified. But since then, so much has changed. Canada’s bronze in the 400 free relay Saturday night was the country’s first women’s swimming medal in 20 years, and since then, there have added three more. Don’t believe they can contend here? Keep reading.

The Americans have the big advantage on breast with gold medalist Lilly King (1:04.93) and figure to have a significant lead after that leg. China’s Shi Jinglin finished fourth in the event, and Canada’s Rachel Nicol fifth.

But promising young Australian breaststroker Georgia Bohl, who entered ranked fourth in the world at 1:06.12, didn’t even make the semifinals, and teammate Taylor McKeown ended up 11th in the semifinals. Her best time this week is 1:06.73, but if there is not massive improvement in the next few days, the Aussies will still be staring at a big deficit at this point.

Then comes fly, and as hard as it is to believe, Canada actually has the most potential here of any of the contenders. That’s because they will have 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak, the silver medalist behind Sarah Sjostrom (whose Swedish team does not have the bookends needed to compete). Oleksiak clocked a 56.46 in that race, just edging the USA’s Dana Vollmer, who ended up taking the bronze.

Australia’s Emma McKeon was seeded second in this event going into finals, but she ended up seventh. China will likely go with Chen Xinyi on the fly leg over Lu Ying after Chen edged out Lu for fourth in the 100 fly, 56.72 to 56.76.

And so if nothing changes, this is how the race will look based the aggregate of best times at the Olympics:

United States: 58.75 + 1:04.93 + 56.56 = 3:00.25
China: 58.76 + 1:06.31 + 56.72 = 3:01.79
Canada: 58.76 + 1:06.68 + 56.46 = 3:01.90
Australia: 59.03 + 1:06.73 + 56.81 = 3:02.57

And then there’s the freestyle leg, which should be of some relief to Australian fans, as Cate Campbell, the big favorite for gold in tonight’s 100 free final, figures to have a big advantage over whoever China and Canada put on that anchor leg.

China’s top freestyler, Shen Duo, finished 15th in the 100 free prelims in 54.41 before scratching the semifinal round. Shen has delivered some big freestyle legs in the past but nothing that will stack up with the best freestyler in the world.

Oleksiak has been Canada’s top freestyler this year, anchoring the 400 free relay in 52.72, but she figures to be a bit occupied her with butterfly duties. That leaves Chantal van Landeghem, who was tenth in the 100 free semifinals, or possibly Taylor Ruck.

But the Americans should be way ahead here, and if the lead is indeed more than a second and a half, there’s no way either Simone Manuel or Abbey Weitzeil, both finalists in the 100 free, will give up that lead.

It won’t be until after tonight’s 100 free final, however, that we get a real grasp on around what everyone can split in the 100 free. Then it will be clear how big a lead the U.S. will need to have in order to hold on for gold, even with Cate or sister Bronte Campbell—whichever of the two the higher finisher in the 100 free—coming home hard.

Certainly, much can change between the individual events and the relays, but the American advantage on breaststroke with King may prove too much to overcome.

*After one day’s break from her pursuit of a sweep not accomplished in 48 years to focus on relay action, Katie Ledecky goes this afternoon in the event that first made her famous: the 800 free. She kept her hopes alive of matching Debbie Meyer’s 1968 sweep of the 200, 400 and 800 free events with a dramatic win over Sarah Sjostrom in the 200 free Tuesday night.

“That was such a tough race. I came pretty close to throwing up the last 50,” Ledecky said afterwards. “The 200 free is such a more stressful event for me than the 400 and 800 just because I can’t really settle into my rhythm—one mistake, and you’re done.”

But now, in the 800, Ledecky has more than a little bit of wiggle room. Her world record stands at 8:06.68, and next on the all-time list is Rebecca Adlington, who Ledecky stunned to win gold four years ago in London, at 8:14.10. All of the top-ten races ever swum belong to Ledecky. She is seeded 11 seconds ahead of anyone else slated to swim this morning.

Ledecky is on the verge of history, and she is keenly aware of the significance of the feat.

“It’s pretty cool,” Ledecky said. “Usually I don’t think about the history like that, but I think I’m just really honored to be part of the tradition of American freestyle swimming. I want to make them proud. Debbie told me she wanted me to do it. I don’t want to let her down.”

Click here to full the view heat sheets for day six prelims.

1 Comment

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Bryan

    Is there any chance that Maya Dirado could get the nod for backstroke in the relay?

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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