World Championships: Ceccon, Martinenghi Lead Italy to Medley Relay Gold Over United States

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Thomas Ceccon, Federico Burdisso & Nicolo Martinenghi (left to right) celebrate Italy's gold in the men's 400 medley relay -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships: Ceccon, Martinenghi Lead Italy to Medley Relay Gold Over United States

Italy had never captured a World Championship gold medal in the men’s 400 medley relay, but this year’s Italian team had a chance for a special result with world champions swimming the first two legs. Thomas Ceccon had broken the world record in taking gold in the men’s 100 backstroke while Nicolo Martinenghi put on an incredible finishing spurt to take gold in the 100 breaststroke. The only question for Italy was whether its butterfly and freestyle splits could deliver.

Yes, they could. Ceccon opened up in 51.93, about three tenths off his new world record of 51.65 but still the fourth-fastest performance in history. More importantly, Ceccon was more than a half-second quicker than American leadoff swimmer Ryan Murphy, who went 52.51. On the breaststroke leg, Martinenghi extended the lead over American Nic Fink, the gold medalist this week in the 50 breast and bronze medalist in the 100 breast. Miressi split 57.47, and then he handed over a lead of almost a second to Federico Burdisso, who was 10th in the 100 fly this week.

Burdisso was going head-t0-head with American Michael Andrew, the fourth-place finisher in the individual 100 fly. Andrew came through with a 50.06 split, more than a second quicker than his individual time of 51.11, but Burdisso was also faster with his 50.63 split.

That gave Italy a lead of four tenths going into the anchor leg, and while American Ryan Held went out fast and took a slight lead with 50 meters to go, Federico Burdisso fought back. Burdisso ended up splitting 47.48 (compared to Held’s 47.36), and he touched the wall 0.28 ahead of Held in 3:27.51, tying Great Britain’s European record of 3:27.51 set at the Olympics last year. The United States took second in 3:27.79.

Based on individual flat-start times from this week, Italy had a very strong chance of pulling off this gold medal, and everything fell into place. This gold medal was Italy’s fifth of the week, with Martinenghi, Ceccon and Benedetta Pilato (women’s 100 breast) having won gold earlier in the week and Gregorio Paltrinieri having just delivered a marvelous performance for gold in the 1500 free earlier in the night.

“Before the race, we said that Italy had a perfect championship, and we should finish it perfectly as well,” Martinenghi said. “We won the gold medal, which is incredible. My personal aim was to sing the national anthem from the top of the podium. As a team, we did really well. I’m really happy for everyone. Here, friendship comes first before being teammates. That’s why it feels it so good to share this gold with my friends.”

The U.S. men, the dominant power in the medley relay for generations, were slightly undermanned in this relay with Caeleb Dressel having withdrawn from the World Championships around the halfway point. Dressel split 49.03 on the world-record setting medley relay squad in Tokyo last year, and although Andrew came through on the fly split, it was not enough of an advantage to make up for the first-half deficit.

The Italians and Americans ended up more than 3.5 seconds ahead of the rest of the field, and it was Great Britain that emerged victorious in the fight for bronze. The British squad that won the world title in this event in 2019 and the Olympic silver medal last year was without Adam Peaty this week, with the star breaststroker out with a foot injury. But in his absence, the team of Luke GreenbankJames WilbyJames Guy and Tom Dean put together a time of 3:31.31.

Australia was in seventh place at the halfway point, but Matt Temple split 50.75 on butterfly, and Kyle Chalmers anchored in 46.89 to pull the Aussies into fourth place at 3:31.81.

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