World Championships: With New Faces, Aussies Still Rule 400 Freestyle Relay

mollie o'callaghan
Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

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World Championships: With New Faces, Aussies Still Rule 400 Free Relay

Not many nations could take away three-quarters of a relay that won an Olympic gold medal within the last year and hardly miss a beat.

Then again, not many nations boast a powerhouse like the Australian women’s sprint juggernaut.

With just one holdover from the squad that set a world record in Tokyo last summer, Australia still dominated Saturday at the 2022 FINA World Championships, in control from start to finish en route to gold in 3:30.95.

The Aussies were more than a second clear of Canada, which won silver in 3:32.15, holding off an anchor-leg charge from the United States. The U.S. secured bronze in 3:32.58.

There’s no usurping otherworldly depth cultivated Down Under. Without Tokyo star Emma McKeon or the perennial relay stalwarts that are the Campbell sisters, Cate Campbell and Bronte Campbell, the Australians still looked like – well, world-beaters. Mollie O’Callaghan got the Aussies into clean water to hand off to veteran Madi Wilson. Meg Harris, the lone Tokyo finals holdover, was the slowest of the four in 53.00, but Shayna Jack removed any doubt with an authoritative final leg.

The medalist spits:

  1. Australia: Mollie O’Callaghan 52.70 – Madison Wilson 52.60 – Meg Harris 53.00 – Shayna Jack 52.65
  2. Canada: Kayla Sanchez 53.45 – Taylor Ruck 52.92 – Maggie MacNeil 53.27 – Penny Oleksiak 51.51
  3. USA: Torri Huske 52.96 – Erika Brown 53.30 – Kate Douglass 53.61 – Claire Curzan 52.71

Australia has become the preeminent relay power. It has won this event at the last three Olympics and four of the last five, plus two of the last three worlds. None of the 2019 Worlds squad was present Saturday (Brianna Throssell swam the 100 fly earlier in the night, as did two of the U.S.’s finals four). Harris was the only swimmer from the Tokyo final, with O’Callaghan and Wilson having swum in prelims there.

It mattered not one bit. O’Callaghan put them in clean water. By the 150-meter mark, the medalists had detached from the rest of the field. (China, in fourth, was nearly three seconds back of the U.S..) The race featured 10 legs of 53.00 or below; the Aussies had four of them, with two each for Canada and the U.S. That’s sprint depth on display.

Canada and the U.S., the two other podium occupants from Tokyo, reprised their battle. The U.S. was ahead at the midpoint, but Maggie MacNeil seized the edge by outsplitting Kate Douglass by .35 seconds on the third leg. Claire Curzan pushed Penny Oleksiak, looking like she might surge ahead at the 375-meter mark. But the Rio Olympic gold medalist in the 100 free put the power down coming home, surging into the wall with a split two-tenths quicker than Cruzan to stretch the lead to .43 seconds.

China was fourth but never a factor. Zhang Yufei led off in the seventh-fastest time, and it wasn’t until Yang Junxuan went 52.79 on the third leg to secure them as best of the rest. Freya Anderson closed in 52.70 for Great Britain, but it couldn’t budge them from fifth.


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