Olympic Relay Analysis: Caeleb Dressel’s Return Plus Young Sprint Stars Make American Men 400 Free Relay Favorites (Composite Times Included)

Caeleb Dressel -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Olympic Relay Analysis: Dressel’s Return Plus Young Sprint Stars Make American Men 400 Free Relay Favorites

The United States has a complicated recent history with the men’s 400 freestyle relay. The Americans had never lost the event in the Olympics before the start of the 21st century, but in four Olympics from 2000 through 2012, the only U.S. gold came in the famous 2008 final when Jason Lezak overtook eventual 100 free Olympic champion Alain Bernard on the anchor leg to stun France. Aside from that, the Americans had plenty of disappointing international performances in the event.

That all changed with the arrival of Caeleb Dressel and his insertion on the leadoff leg in 2016. Dressel has occupied that spot in two Olympic finals and three World Championship finals, and the Americans won gold in all of them. In 2023, however, with Dressel absent, the Americans relied on veteran Ryan Held plus a team of all rookies, and it showed as they faded to bronze behind Australia and Italy.

But even in Fukuoka, the upside was clear: if this core group of young sprinters could build off their initial international experiences and Dressel returned to form, the Americans would have an elite group for the Paris Olympics.

That is exactly what happened. After swimming well above 49 seconds at last year’s U.S. Nationals, when he competed with minimal training, Dressel was not too far off top form at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Last week in Indianapolis, Dressel clocked as fast as 47.53 in the 100 free — and that was only good enough for third place in the Trials final. That’s because of the emergence of Chris Guiliano and Jack Alexy.


Chris Guiliano — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Guiliano became the first American since Matt Biondi in 1988 to qualify for an Olympic team in the 50, 100 and 200 free, and he swam as fast as 47.25 in the blue-ribband event. Alexy, who won silver in the 50 and 100 free at last year’s Worlds, blazed a time of 47.08 in prelims at Trials to scare Dressel’s American record.

Meanwhile, the other three swimmers who qualified as relay alternates for Paris, Hunter Armstrong, Held and Matt King, all went sub-48. Held joined Dressel on the 2016 Olympic-gold-medal-winning team while King has accumulated significant relay experience at World Championships in 2023 and in February 2024. The U.S. coaches will also have the option of using a swimmer like Brooks Curry or Blake Pieroni, who qualified for the Olympic team in the 800 free relay but have extensive 100-meter experience, on a leg in prelims, and the team would still surely advance comfortably.

Given that speed and depth, the United States has an advantage of almost two seconds when composite relays are assembled considering only times from 2024. Sure, the 400 free relay is never a cakewalk, but it will take some massive improvements from other contending countries to break up a likely American gold.

Australia won the world title last year largely thanks to Kyle Chalmers and his blazing 46.56 anchor leg that vaulted the team up from third place. Italy, meanwhile, will use veteran Alessandro Miressi on the leadoff leg while Thomas Ceccon, the world-record holder in the 100 backstroke, produced silver for his team last year with a 47.03 closing split.

Great Britain might have been favored to win gold at Worlds last year if not for a false start in prelims, and this time will surely be in the medal hunt this year after Matt RichardsTom Dean and Duncan Scott, three of the four men who won 800 free relay gold in Tokyo, all swam under 48 at Britain’s Trials earlier this year. France will get plenty of support from the home crowd, and Maxime Grousset (47.33 at France’s Trials) and Florent Manaudou (47.90 at Trials) will lead the way.


Pan Zhanle — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Perottino / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

China, meanwhile, won gold at the February World Championships when Pan Zhanle led off in 46.80, a world record for the 100 free, and Wang Haoyu anchored in 47.47.

But the Americans still have an edge over all these teams because of having four men in the 47-mid range and two further 47-high swimmers in reserve. Only two other countries have had multiple swimmers go under 48 this year: France, which falls off after Grousset, Manaudou and Rafael Fente-Damers, and Great Britain, whose top swimmer (Richards) has a 2024 best of 47.82.

Here is the composite analysis in this event:

United States: 47.08 + 47.25 + 47.53 + 47.59 = 3:09.45
China: 46.80 + 48.06 + 48.13 + 48.33 = 3:11.32
Great Britain: 47.82 + 47.92 + 47.94 + 48.20 = 3:11.88
France: 47.33 + 47.90 + 48.14 + 48.62 = 3:11.99
Australia: 47.63 + 48.08 + 48.11 + 48.37 = 3:12.19
Italy: 47.72 + 48.09 + 48.25 + 48.33 = 3:12.39

Not only is the advantage substantial, but if they swim to their potential, the Americans will have a chance to take down the world record in Paris. The mark belongs to the U.S. team of Michael PhelpsGarrett Weber-GaleCullen Jones and Lezak from that Beijing showdown, and simply taking a half-second off the times of three of this year’s Americans to account for relay exchanges would result in a 3:07. The mark has not been seriously threatened since the end of the polyurethane-suit era, but a squad featuring Alexy, Guiliano and Dressel should seriously threaten it next month.

More Olympic Relay Analysis:

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23 hours ago

I do want zo ser a ‘super suit WR tumble so if it takes an US Tram to do so so be it. But i think GB could win Gold or even a patriotic pysicolically boosted French Team might!

21 hours ago

I like the look of the GB lads for doing the double. Blitzing the 4×200m Freestyle Relay in a WR tine and also taking out the 4×100m Freestyle Relay. A home ground advantage and psyched France are a ‘smokey’ with Australia an outside chance for Bronze.

21 hours ago

Curious as to why Marchand is not mentioned on the French teams relay, have they announced he is not swimming on it?? Because if he is, you can pencil in perhaps one of the top 3 times of the entire race, so where does that put them??

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