Tokyo Flashback: Great Britain Ends Medal Drought in 800 Freestyle Relay; Americans Fail to Medal

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tom Dean (GBR), James Guy (GBR) and Matthew Richards (GBR) celebrate as Great Britain wins the men's 4x200m freestyle relay during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Dean, James Guy and Matthew Richards celebrate after Duncan Scott touches with the gold medal in the 800 free relay; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Tokyo Flashback: Great Britain Ends Medal Drought in 800 Freestyle Relay; Americans Fail to Medal

One year has passed since the Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to COVID-19, unfolded in Tokyo. To celebrate what went down in the Japanese capital, Swimming World is revisiting the championship finals – each on their one-year anniversary – by once again running the stories that were posted after the medals were decided.

Five teams entered the 800 freestyle relay at the 1908 Olympics at London’s White City Stadium. Four made the final (tough luck, Sweden). One wouldn’t make the podium with a time – and a name, Australasia – lost to the annals of history. All of 23 nations participated in that Olympics.

Great Britain ascended the top step of an Olympic men’s relay podium in those long-ago Games. The women would win gold four years later in Stockholm, in the first women’s swimming competition at the Games.

And since then, Great Britain has hardly sniffed an Olympic relay podium. Until Wednesday morning. And it came at the expense of another impressive streak.

Great Britain got the win in 6:58.58, Duncan Scott dropping the hammer off the end with a 1:43.45 to get the gold in emphatic fashion. With Russia second and Australian third, the Americans miss out on a medal for the first time in a non-boycotted Games.

The golds go to Tom Dean, the 200 free individual winner, James Guy, Matthew Richards and Scott. Dean was actually second to the first wall, beaten by Kieran Smith, but it merely delayed the inevitable. Guy was outstanding at 1:44.40, Matthew Richards turned in a solid 1:45.01 and then Scott brought it home. The time is .02 off the Olympic record set by the U.S. in Beijing and .03 of the American world record from 2009.

Russia surged from sixth to second on the back of Mikhail Dovgalyuk’s split of 1:45.23 off the end in a generally front-loaded relay. Australia’s Thomas Neill (1:44.74) held off Townley Haas of the U.S. (1:44.87) on the anchor to get the bronze for the Aussies.

Just as historic as Great Britain’s win is the absence of the Americans. For the first time in 51 Olympic men’s relays (in non-boycotted Games), the U.S. men are off the podium. They have won 10 of 13 400 freestyle relays, including in Tokyo. They have gone 14-for-14 in the medley relay. And in the old standby of the Games, the 800 free relay that dates back more than a century, the United States has 17 golds, five silvers and two bronze (1908, 1992). And now, this.

It’s even more perplexing given Caeleb Dressel’s absence on the relay. He was not selected, despite a 1:46.63 from Olympic Trials. Merely substituting that flat-start time with no improvement from a tapered Dressel instead of Zach Apple, who died in the final 50 on the way to a 1:47.31 split, would’ve vaulted the U.S. from the 7:02.43 to silver.

“It’s shocking,” Michael Phelps said on the NBC broadcast about the Dressel absence. “In my opinion, he’s probably the best 200 freestyler in the world. He could probably put up one of the best times that we’ve seen. Leaving him off that relay, to me, I think it makes it a lot harder to win the gold medal.

Olympics: Great Britain On Verge of Ending 109-Year Gold Medal Drought in 800 Freestyle Relay

Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay

  • World Record: United States (Michael Phelps, Ricky Berens, David Walter, Ryan Lochte), 6:58.55 (2009)
  • Olympic Record: United States (Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens, Peter Vanderkaay), 6:58.56 (2008)
  1. Great Britain (Tom Dean, James Guy, Matthew Richards, Duncan Scott) 6:58.58
  2. Russia (Martin Malyutin, Ivan Girev, Evgeny Rylov, Mikhail Dovgalyuk) 7:01.81
  3. Australia (Alexandre Graham, Kyle Chalmers, Zac Incerti, Thomas Neill) 7:01.84
  4. United States (Kieran Smith, Drew Kibler, Zach Apple, Townley Haas) 7:02.43
  5. Italy (Stefano Ballo, Matteo Ciampi, Fliippo Megli, Stefano di Cola) 7:03.24
  6. Switzerland (Antonio Djakovic, Nils Liess, Noe Ponti, Roman Mityukov) 7:06.12
  7. Germany (Lukas Martens, Poul Zellmann, Henning Bennet Muhlleitner, Jacob Heidtmann) 7:06.51
  8. Brazil (Fernando Scheffer, Murilo Setin Sartori, Breno Correia, Luiz Melo) 7:08.22
Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

Australia’s Zac Incerti was -0.03 on his start. One more 1/100 and they would have been disqualified.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x