How do the men shape up for the relays in Rio?

As promised here comes the second installment of relay predictions and analysis from #SwimWords but this time we evaluate the Men’s team standings….

Whereas the women will be likely knocking on the door of World Records in at least two out of three relays, the men have not been able to replicate the speed they found in the team events of 2008 and 2009. This, quite understandably, is a reflection on the change in swimsuit regulations; where men were able to wear suits that covered their full body. The change in rules, only allowing men to wear jammers (waist to knee), was a larger jump in material reduction than the women experienced (shoulder to knee) and therefore might correlate in the fact the women are closer (if not now faster) than the times recorded in that ‘super-suit’ era. The ‘super-suit’ providing increased compression and buoyancy aiding the performance of swimmers and resulting in faster racing.

Nevertheless there will be some very exciting battles between the men’s teams in Brazil. Some of the ‘big hitter’ nations, who were alarming disappointing last year (Australia and USA), will look to reassert their dominance in these relay events.

MEN’S 4×100 FREESTYLE RELAY

World Record – 3.08.24 USA – Olympic Games, Beijing, 2008

francerelayvictory-800x533

France: The Olympic Champions become the World Champions in Kazan 2015.

After disappointing performances of recent years from both USA and Australia, culminating in them both missing the finals at the World Championships last year, it has been the French team who have taken the reins and lead the world in men’s freestyle sprinting. After narrowly missing the Gold medal to USA in Beijing in 2008, when Jason Lezak arguably swam the greatest relay leg in history to pass the mammoth Alain Bernard in the final stroke and allow his team-mate Michael Phelps to go on to win a record-breaking 8 Gold medals, the French are now the reigning World and Olympic Champions and will once again be tough to beat. Many of their team have experience of already doing it on the biggest of stages, and that will be invaluable come the final in Brazil. Let’s have a look at how the combined best times of the top 4 per nation shape up in 2016…

AUSTRALIA

USA FRANCE RUSSIA
McEvoy 47.04 Adrian 47.72 Stravius 47.97 Morozov 48.06
Chalmers 48.03 Dressel 48.23 Manaudou 48.00 Grechin 48.18
Roberts 48.32 Held 48.26 Mignon 48.01 Popkov 48.41
Magnussen 48.49 Ervin 48.54 Metella 48.43 Sukhorukov 48.55
Izotov 48.58

3.11.88

3.12.75

3.12.41

3.13.72

1 3 2

4

Note: Turn device on it’s side to see full table, if reading this on a mobile phone.

The French men sit second behind the Australians and just ahead of the USA quartet on 2016 form, and their combined time (3.12.41) after taking into the account the advantage of rolling starts where each athlete can gain half-a-second, the French are still in the form to replicate their gold medal winning performance from the Kazan Worlds last year (3.10.74). However, it is the emerging Australian’s who have shown the most twitch so far this year and now look like the favourites to take the top spot on the podium. This has undoubtedly been helped by the mesmerising display of sprint freestyling by Cameron McEvoy at the Australian Olympic trials. The diminutive frame of the Australian is nothing to be fooled by, as he sliced through the water to post a textile best time (fastest time ever by someone wearing jammers) of 47.04. But arguably more promising for the Australians is the return of James Magnussen after shoulder surgery, who seems to be getting better and better with every race. If he were to recapture the form he showed in 2012 (47.10 – previous textile best) then the Australians look to be an unbeatable force.

It is very possible for the Australians to dip under the 3.10 barrier but the world record will be some ask. Although when the USA set this record they were wearing the Lazar Racer, a suit not as advanced as the suits available in 2009, they did have a man in Jason Lezak who ate up the water in an astonishing time of 46.06. A relay split that hasn’t been touched since. Even McEvoy who is capable of some miraculous relay theatrics will be hard pushed to replicate the Lezak speed.

The Russian team, who won Silver in their home World Championships last year, have lost their talisman Vladimir Morozov to a FINA drugs ban and therefore look less likely to threaten the French and Americans for the minor medals. The USA, who have dramatically improved their team from last year with the new blood of Caleb Dressel and Ryan Held, will be more than competitive in Rio. The question for the Americans is whether they will use Michael Phelps in their team. Phelps at his best would put the USA in a much stronger position to battle for Gold, but no one is sure (including Phelps himself) on where his sprint freestyle form will be after an up and down season on the stroke. It has been suggested that the US team will be holding time trials this Saturday, a week out from the Games, to get a better understanding of where everyone is.

SwimWords Olympic prediction:

GOLD SILVER BRONZE
Men’s 4×100 Free Relay AUS USA FRA

 

MEN’S 4×200 FREESTYLE RELAY

World Record – 6.58.55 USA – World Championships, Rome, 2009

It was a relatively weak year in 2015 for Men’s 200 Freestyle, and with no disrespect to the British team, they took advantage of this to snatch the Gold medal away from USA and Australia at the World Championships. There is no doubt that the GBR men were the best on the day, helped by a wondrous final leg from James Guy, but once again there is expected to be a natural retaliation by other teams this year at the Games.

AUSTRALIA

USA GERMANY GBR
McEvoy 1.45.63 Dwyer 1.45.41 Beidermann 1.45.45 Guy 1.45.19
Fraser-Holmes 1.45.63 Haas 1.45.66 Vogel 1.46.44 Milne 1.47.15
McKeon 1.46.61 Conger 1.45.77 Fildebrandt 1.47.06 Renwick 1.47.23
Smith 1.46.87 Lochte 1.46.62 Rapp 1.47.63 Scott 1.47.28

7.04.74

7.03.36

7.06.43

7.06.85

2 1 3

4

The USA in particular have further implied this by an impressive showing at their recent Olympic Trials in Omaha, where their combined individual times of 7.03.36 is nearly a full second ahead of the winning time the British men clocked in Kazan (7.04.33). With a likely 1.5 seconds to be dropped from this due to relay take overs and the great Ryan Lochte in 4th position swimming through an injury in Omaha, it is not unforeseeable for the team to get close to the 7.00 mark and collect a Gold to match their female colleagues. Once again the decision to add or leave out Michael Phelps in the quartet will be an interesting one, particularly as the Men’s Head Coach is Bob Bowman, MP’s long-time coach and friend. The answer maybe to ask Phelps just to swim in the heats and still earn himself that relay medal.

The World Record however from 2009 is unlikely to be touched by any of the teams in the Rio final. When breaking down the splits for that performance in Rome, it doesn’t seem probable for three men to swim below 1.44.5 in the same team. It maybe some time before this one is broken….

WR – USA

Phelps 1.44.49
Berens 1.44.13
Walters 1.45.47
Lochte 1.44.46
imgID34557955.jpg.gallery

Great Britain celebrating their Gold in Kazan last year.

The Australians have two men swimming mid 1.45 in their ranks and because of this are favourites for the silver medal – going one better than their bronze in Kazan. The reigning World champions, Great Britain, would be the #SwimWords prediction to wear the Bronze medal around their necks. The GBR team have not shown the form of last year yet, with a few members of last year’s team way down on their expected performance at trials. But the 4th ranked team on combined time in 2016, will just be too strong we believe for the Germans. With the experienced Robbie Renwick (twice Olympic finalist in the individual 200 free); the extremely talented and fast improving Duncan Scott; and the firepower of the reigning World Champion James guy on the anchor leg who loves to race when it is on the line; the GBR team will be expected to finish with silverware.

SwimWords Olympic Prediction:

GOLD SILVER BRONZE
Men’s 4×200 Free Relay USA AUS GBR

 

MEN’S 4×100 MEDLEY RELAY

World Record – 3.27.28 USA – World Championships, Rome, 2009

The battle for Gold looks like it will come from usual suspects, USA and Australia, and then behind this there will be a close race for who takes the 3rd place on the podium. Let’s look at the form of these first two nations, who came first and second in Kazan also, in more detail…

AUSTRALIA

USA WR – USA
Larkin 52.54 Plummer 52.12 Peirsol 52.19
Packard 59.64 Cordes 58.94 Shanteau 58.57
Morgan 51.64 Phelps 51.00 Phelps 49.72
McEvoy 47.04 Adrian 47.72 Walters 46.80
3.30.86 3.29.78

3.27.28

On 2016 performances it is clear that the Australians are considerably weaker than the USA on the Breaststroke and Butterfly legs, and although Larkin and McEvoy are world beaters on the outside legs, the American men will just be too strong for their competitors. An event the USA have not lost since its inception in 1960, expect in 1980 when the USA weren’t attending The Moscow Games due to their intentional boycott.

What is interesting however is debating whether the World Record in this event can be broken in two weeks’ time by the men from the United States. The USA individual times at first glance would suggest not, however looking it at more detail it could be much closer than suspected, and it could come down to the Greatest swimmer to ever stand behind the block to make the difference. Something Michael Phelps seems to be able to do on a regular basis.

David Plummer is swimming at the same speed as Aaron Peirsol did in 2009 – and if it isn’t Plummer then his replacement Ryan Murphy will be. Kevin Cordes is coming off an American Record (58.94) at his Olympic Trials and therefore has gone faster than Eric Shanteau was ever capable of. At the halfway mark the Americans could be right on the WR line. On the freestyle leg David Walters split with a rapid 46.80 in Rome, but this could definitely be in the range of Nathan Adrian on the anchor leg. The Californian speedster was not at his best at the World Champs in 2015, posting a 48.31 in the final of the individual but produced splits of 47.41 and 47.29 in the relays in Kazan, quite considerably faster than his individual swims. If Adrian can reproduce that relay show, considering he is in better form posting 47.7 indivually at trials, he could get close to Walter’s clocking.

It then comes down the most successful Olympian of all time to replicate the form he showed in 2009 with an incredible 49.72 split (49.82 on the individual event in Rome). It is a tough ask for Phelps who won trials in a much slower 51.00 only a few weeks ago. His 50.45 however from US nationals in 2015 (wasn’t eligible to swim at Worlds in Kazan) is much nearer the speed he will require to help USA get close to WR line. Although he is now an older man of 31 years, it is worth considering that Phelps is likely to have a had an easier week than he is accustomed to leading up to the medley relay on the final day. In previous major championships MP would be taking on the 400IM and 200 freestyle individual races, resulting in an extra 5 races during the week, which this year he can put his feet up for instead.

You feel that the Australians will be the next home, with the talent they have in their ranks. But the Bronze medal will be a fascinating fight between a collection of nations. Russia, not included in the graphic below will also be competitive.

GBR FRANCE SOUTH AFRICA CHINA
Walker-Hebborn 53.73 Lacourt 52.97 Reid 53.12 Xu 52.98
Peaty 58.36 Perez-Dortona 61.68 Van De Burgh* 59.61 Wang 59.6
Guy 52.15 Metella 51.70 Le Clos* 51.56 Li 51.24
Proud 48.52 Stravius 47.97 Erasmus 49.56 Ning 47.96
3.32.76 3.34.32 3.33.85 3.31.78

It is important to acknowledge that South Africa will be much more competitive than their combined times in 2016 so far suggests. Both Chad Le Clos and Cameron Van der Burgh can and will swim at least a second faster than their rankings in 2016 show. This is due to the fact that they haven’t had such a competitive selection process required to qualify and therefore haven’t needed to peak in 2016 like other nations. They now arrive with a competitive backstroker in Chris Reid, so it comes down to what they can get out of their freestyler to bring the medal home. The fastest this year is Erasmus for SA but he is going to have to go significantly faster than that for South Africans to be successful.

Great Britain have a fighting chance due to the extreme speed of Adam Peaty on the breaststroke leg, which could quite reasonable put the team in the lead at half way if he posts another 57 point leg like last year (the team was actually leading the race through the 300 metre change over in 2015). For GBR to compete like they did last year though, Walker-Hebborn will need to get back to his 52 second form on the backstroke lead off. Guy will have to drop down to 51 low in the Butterfly and Ben Proud will need to drop into the mid 47s. The latter maybe a tough ask.

France, who took the bronze medal last year with a particularly scintillating swim from Metella on the butterfly leg who split 50.39, do not boast one of the fastest combined four times. Particularly as their Breaststroker, Perez-Dortona, has only produced a 1.01.68 in 2016, some 2 seconds slower than he split in the relay in Kazan (59.88).

SwimWords Olympic Prediction:

GOLD SILVER BRONZE
Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay USA AUS RSA

 

Let us know if you either agree or disagree with the SwimWords predictions above. All predictions for individual Olympic medals will come very shortly.

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