Olympic Preview: Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay

By John Lohn

CRANBURY, New Jersey, June 17. ANOTHER week, another look at how an event will shape up at the Olympic Games in Beijing later this summer. This week, SwimmingWorldMagazine.com continues its Olympic Preview Series with a glance at the men's 800 freestyle relay, an event that features the United States as the favorite.

Defending Champion: United States (Phelps, Lochte, Vanderkaay, Keller) 7:07.33.
World-Record Holder: United States (Phelps, Lochte, Keller, Vanderkaay) 7:03.24.
Most Titles: United States – 14 (1920, 1924, 1928, 1948, 1952, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2004).
Notable:While the world record currently sits at 7:03-plus, it's inconceivable that the winning time could dip under the seven-minute mark in Beijing. Crazy thinking? Not really. The United States could have four men produce sub-1:45 splits, which would get the job done.

Here's a look at the leading contenders.

United States:
Since the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the Americans have gone with a familiar foursome – Michael Phelps, Peter Vanderkaay, Ryan Lochte and Klete Keller. By early July, we'll know if that quartet will remain intact. Certainly, there will be major competition at the U.S. Trials.

Phelps is a lock for a spot on the relay, what with his 200 freestyle world record sitting at 1:43.86. Vanderkaay seems to be the No. 2 choice to represent the United States in the individual 200 free and is on the cusp of breaking 1:45. Lochte, too, could very well break 1:45. As for Keller, he's a veteran of two Olympics and will fight for to maintain his slot.

Among the other challengers for an 800 free relay spot include Jayme Cramer and David Walters, members of the World Champs team last year. It's also worth keeping an eye on the likes of Adam Ritter and Michael Klueh. Of course, there's always a breakthrough performer who will make some noise at Trials.

Before the United States regained control in 2004, the Aussies owned this event for several years. Kenrick Monk has been a rising star on the international scene and figures to join forces with Patrick Murphy and Nicholas Sprenger. Obviously, Grant Hackett has been a force for years and will be a key factor in the Aussies chase for a medal.

A little more than a year after winning the bronze medal at the World Championships in Melbourne, the Canadians should factor into the medal equation. Their lineup will be headlined by Brent Hayden, a versatile freestyler whose best work comes in the 100 and 200 freestyles. Colin Russell has been sub-1:47 and Rick Say is a veteran Olympian. Look for Andrew Hurd and Brian Johns as other options.

The Italians won the gold medal at the European Championships earlier this year and can be considered as medal contenders. Filippo Magnini and Massi Rosolino have been at the top of the sport and give Italy a strong starting point. Nicola Cassio is another athlete who will be counted on for a contribution.

Great Britain
The British were just outside of the medals at the 2007 World Championships and will need to ratchet it up to be in contention in Beijing. Great Britain can look to David Carry, Ross Davenport, Robbie Renwick, Andrew Hunter and Ben Hockin to fill the four positions up for grabs.

The Russians picked up the silver medal at the European Championships and will battle for a podium position in China. Andrei Kapralov and Danil Izotov, a surging youngster, will be two of the top guns. Other members of the relay could include Alexander Sukhorukov, who has been sub-1:47, and Nikita Lobintsev, who has gone 1:47-low. Evgeni Lagunov is another possibility.