U.S Men’s Relays Look Strong for World Championships

caeleb-dressel
Caeleb Dressel -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S Men’s Relays Look Strong for World Championships

Last year, the two U.S. men’s relays captured Olympic gold medals, with the 400 freestyle relay squad pulling away to win by more than a second before the 400 medley relay quartet capped off the Games by breaking a 12-year-old world record. But in between those two golden moments, the Americans did not reach the podium in the 800 free relay, marking the first time that any U.S. relay squad competed in the Olympics but did not win a medal.

What should we expect from the U.S. men’s relays for this year’s World Championships in Budapest? We will go event-by-event, but based on performances from Trials and key swimmers missing from Worlds, the Americans sit in a favorable position in all three events. After examining what to watch for in the women’s relays last week, here’s what we have for the men.

400 Freestyle Relay

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Brooks Curry will play a bigger role on the U.S men’s relays at this year’s World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Caeleb Dressel led off the U.S. men’s 400 free relay for the first time at the 2016 Olympics, and the Americans took gold. Dressel has held down the first spot at every major meet since, and the team has not lost. The group of Dressel, Blake Pieroni, Bowe Becker and Zach Apple won gold in Tokyo with the fastest time in 13 years. Dressel is the only one from that group set to return this year, with Pieroni injured and both Becker and Apple missing the Worlds team (and Becker subsequently retiring). Still, this year’s squad has some impressive talent.

Brooks Curry, a prelims relay swimmer in Tokyo, was the No. 2 100 freestyler behind Dressel at Trials with his time of 48.04, while Ryan Held will return to the 400 free relay at a major meet for the first time since the 2016 Olympics after finishing third in 48.18. Both of those swimmers have 47-mid potential from a relay start. Hunter Armstrong and Drew Kibler tied for fourth at Trials in 48.25, while Justin Ress qualified as a relay alternate in 48.38.

No other country has that combination of opening speed (Dressel) and depth. Italy has the next-best group with Alessandro Miressi leading the way and three swimmers who 47-mid on the way to an Olympic silver medal. On the other hand, Australia will miss superstar Kyle Chalmers at Worlds while Russia, with 100 free Olympic bronze medalist Kliment Kolesnikov, will be completely absent from Worlds because of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sure, the U.S. would hope to establish some more proven options in this relay before going for a third consecutive Olympic gold in 2024, but there’s time for that. For this year, the Americans enter as a pretty clear favorite.


800 Freestyle Relay

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Kieran Smith will lead the U.S. men in the 800 freestyle relay — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

That ill-fated 800 free relay from the Olympics included Townley Haas’ last hurrah as a relay stalwart as well as Kieran Smith and Drew Kibler swimming in a relay final at a major international meet for the first time. And a disappointing effort from Zach Apple, selected for the last spot on the relay over Caeleb Dressel or Andrew Seliskar, doomed the relay’s medal hopes.

In 2022, the Americans will bring the strongest group in years to Worlds for this relay. Smith, Kibler and Carson Foster all swam in the low-to-mid 1:45-range at Trials, with Trenton Julian at 1:46.69 for third. The composite time created using those four swimmers’ times from the Trials final produces a mark of 7:02.92, less than a half-second off the Americans’ Olympic final time, and that’s without the benefit of relay starts.

And once again, no Kyle Chalmers to lift Australia, the team took bronze in Tokyo. Olympic silver medalist Russia is also out because of the ongoing Ukraine war. Great Britain won Olympic gold last year, and that squad will be tough to beat with 200 free Olympic gold medalist Tom Dean, 200 free Olympic silver medalist Duncan Scott and veteran James Guy, but the Americans should be the favorites for silver with this year’s young and improving squad.


400 Medley Relay

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Hunter Armstrong could take over backstroke duties on the U.S men’s 400 medley relay from veteran Ryan Murphy — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In a stunning performance three years ago, Great Britain upset the United States to win the world title in the 400 medley relay as Duncan Scott unleashed a 46.14 split, the second-quickest in history behind only Jason Lezak’s 46.06 from the 2008 Olympics. Scott’s performance allowed him to overtake and pass American veteran Nathan Adrian. In Tokyo, however, the Americans rebounded to win gold in world-record time while the British claimed silver.

Britain’s usual weapon in this relay is Adam Peaty, the top sprint breaststroker in the world since 2014. Peaty split 56.53 in the Tokyo relay final, almost two seconds faster than American Michael Andrew. But Peaty will miss this year’s Worlds because of a foot injury. The British men will still contend for a medal, likely with James Wilby stepping into Peaty’s breaststroke spot, but any chance at winning gold is gone, particularly with the all-around strength of this American group.

The U.S. men’s group will consist of either Hunter Armstrong or Ryan Murphy on backstroke followed by Nic Fink or Andrew on breast. Expect Caeleb Dressel to handle the butterfly, where he produced history’s fastest split in Tokyo (49.03), and that leaves Brooks Curry as the likely anchor swimmer. In a race missing Peaty, it would be surprising if that American team did not win gold by at least two seconds.

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commonwombat
1 month ago

Much easier read than the women’s side where they’re prohibitive favourite in 4XMED, medalling 4X100 & as strong a ticket as anyone in the lottery of 4X200.

Here, its a case that they are prohibitive favourites to bat 2/3 with 4X100 & 4XMED. Should correct the Tokyo aberration of missing podium in 4X200 but GBR still looks to have a significantly stronger hand.

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