World Championships: Americans Pull Away for Men’s 400 Free Relay Gold With Dressel, Held, Ress, Curry

Caeleb Dressel of United States prepares to compete in the 50m Butterfly Men Heats during the FINA 19th World Championships at Duna Arena in Budapest, Hungary, June 18th, 2022. Caeleb Dressed placed 2nd. Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Caeleb Dressel -- Photo Courtesy: DeepBlue Media

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World Championships: Americans Pull Away for Men’s 400 Free Relay Gold With Dressel, Held, Ress, Curry

The United States has not lost the men’s 400 freestyle relay at a major international competition since Caeleb Dressel first took the blocks as the leadoff swimmer in 2016, and that streak continued at the World Championships in Budapest. Dressel led off for the U.S. in 47.67, the fastest 100 freestyle mark in the world this year. He touched just ahead of Canada’s Josh Liendo (47.87), and Dressel’s American teammates did the job from there.

Ryan Held swam the second leg for the U.S., and he delivered a massive 46.99 split to put the American team almost seven tenths ahead. Justin Ress handled the third leg after he blasted an impressive 47.57 split in prelims, and he swam even quicker with a 47.48 split at night. Brooks Curry anchored in 47.20, and the Americans’ final time was 3:09.34, almost a second-and-a-half ahead of anyone else in the field.

“I just wanted to get my hand on the wall first, get these guys some clean water,” Dressel said in a post-race interview with NBC Sports. “Of course, the time’s not even great, but we’re not going for time here. We’re going to win. We got the job done. We did. Everyone did their part, and it was awesome. Really fun race to be a part of.”

While Dressel has become a mainstay for the U.S., the supporting cast has completely turned over. Nathan Adrian, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 free and a member of this relay squad for a decade, has not competed since he missed making the U.S. Olympic team last year, and none of the swimmers who joined Dressel on the finals squad that won gold in Tokyo, Blake PieroniBowe Becker and Zach Apple, qualified for Worlds this year, with Pieroni dealing with injuries and Becker and Apple both missing the U.S. team at the International Team Trials in April. Although the entire Russian squad was absent while under suspension, no other contenders were missing any key names, and the Americans still won easily.

For Held, the moment was particularly special as he was competing on the major international level for the first time since helping the U.S. men capture Olympic gold in this event in 2016. After narrowly missing World Championships teams in 2017 and 2019, Held believed he had qualified for the 2021 Olympic team after finishing sixth place at Olympic Trials in the 100 free, but he was surprisingly left off the squad because the Americans could only take 12 relay-only swimmers to the Games. But he rebounded significantly this year to qualify for the team, and when he learned about his sub-47 split in a post-race television interview, Held screamed with joy.

“I had it in my head all day, ‘47.1 is child’s play’. 46.9. 46.9. Let’s go,” Held said. “At Trials, I was telling the guys, I had this dark cloud over my head. I thought it could maybe happen again, but now I’m here, I’m on the team. This is why I love swimming, just racing and having fun.”

In a back-and-forth battle for second place, Canada and Hungary were in the mix over the first half of the race before Italy took over with a 47.35 split from Lorenzo Zazzeri on the third leg. But at the end, Australia’s Kyle Chalmers split 46.60, quicker than anyone else in the field, to move the Aussies up from fifth place to second. Australia’s team of William YangMatt TempleJack Cartwright and Chalmers took silver in 3:10.80, while Italy’s Alessandro MiressiThomas Ceccon, Zazzeri and Manuel Frigo finished with a bronze medal in 3:10.95.

In addition to Chalmers and Held, Hungary’s Kristof Milak (46.89) and Great Britain’s Tom Dean (46.95) split under 47. Neither swimmer walked away from this race with a medal, but it was a positive start to the World Championships for two swimmers who won individual Olympic golds last year, Milak in the 200 butterfly and Dean in the 200 free.

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