World Championships: China Tough to Beat in Mixed Medley Relay (Relay Breakdown)
Among the most impressive teams so far at the Fukuoka World Championships has been China, with a pair of gold medals already collected thanks to back-to-back wins Monday from Qin Haiyang in the men’s 100 breaststroke and Zhang Yufei in the women’s 100 butterfly. A trio of bronze medals so far have come from the women’s 400 freestyle relay team, Yu Yiting in the women’s 200 IM and Li Bingjie in the women’s 1500 freestyle. Qin will be heavily favored to add another gold in Wednesday’s 50 breast, and Zhang will be among the favorites in the 200 fly.
These individual-event efforts mean that we need to keep an eye out for impressive Chinese performances in the relays. Thanks to Qin, the men’s medley relay has moved into the favored group along with the United States and Italy, but the mixed 400 medley relay comes up first, at the end of the Wednesday finals session. And it looks very plausible that Qin could actually win two golds in the session as he will be central to a star-studded group.
China’s mixed medley will lead off with Xu Jiayu, fourth in the 100 backstroke already in Fukuoka, before Qin and Zhang are expected to be among the best on their legs. Superiority on breaststroke can decide the outcome of a medley relay, just as Great Britain has proved on so many occasions thanks to Adam Peaty handling those duties on both the men’s and mixed medley squads, and Qin provides that for his team. The United States, likely the primary challenger to China, will deploy co-silver medalist Nic Fink on that leg, but his time of 58.72 was more than one second behind Qin’s 57.69.
One of several women can fill the freestyle slot for Team China, with Yang Junxuan and Cheng Yujie set to swim the individual 100 free. We will project Wu Qingfeng for that slot after she split 52.64 on China’s 400 free relay earlier in the meet.
The top Chinese composite medley relay looks like this, using season-best times plus Wu’s relay split:
China: Xu Jiayu 52.26 + Qin Haiyang 57.69 + Zhang Yufei 56.12 + Wu Qingfeng 52.64 = 3:38.71
That’s about one second clear of the competition, not an insurmountable margin given the volatility of relays but a strong position from China can operate heading into the event.
Assembling a team’s fastest mixed medley relay requires a fair bit of strategy on every level from summer league to the World Championships, and the United States coaching staff will have some decisions to make. The Americans learned from a disastrous outcome at the Tokyo Olympics that a male swimmer must handle breaststroke and a female swimmer freestyle because of the differences in top speed between women and men in those strokes. Backstroke and butterfly, however, are interchangeable.
So that means the Americans will likely use Fink on breaststroke and Kate Douglass anchoring. But do they go with a team of Regan Smith on backstroke and Dare Rose on butterfly? Or is it 100 back world champion Ryan Murphy swimming that leg followed by Torri Huske on fly?
Here’s the two options in composite form, based on top times from Fukuoka or season-best times for events yet to be contested (women’s and men’s 100 free and men’s 100 fly):
United States: Regan Smith 57.78 + Nic Fink 58.72 + Dare Rose 50.74 + Kate Douglass 52.57 = 3:39.82
United States: Ryan Murphy 52.22 + Nic Fink 58.72 + Torri Huske 56.61 + Kate Douglass 52.57 = 3:40.12
So, choose the first option, right? Well, not so fast. Smith is scheduled to swim the 200 fly and 50 back semifinals Wednesday night, so a mixed relay effort would be her third race of the session, a tall ask for any swimmer. So perhaps the first option is the better one.
If season-best times are considered, that relay comes a lot closer to China. Fink went 58.36 in the 100 breast last month at U.S. Nationals while Huske swam a time of 56.14 in the 100 fly. Put that relay together with Murphy and Douglass, and the Americans have a composite mark of 3:39.29, less than six tenths shy of China. That would be the ideal situation but not the expectation after plenty of American swimmers have struggled to replicate their Nationals swims so far at Worlds.
Australia will be favored to win the bronze medal and could challenge the United States for silver. Kaylee McKeown and either Mollie O’Callaghan, Emma McKeon or Shayna Jack can provide exceptional bookends to more-than-capable men swimming the middle legs. O’Callaghan is the reigning world champion in the 100 free, but the Aussie coaching staff might opt to go with one of the other sprinters since O’Callaghan will race in the 200 free final earlier in the session. Regardless of who Australia chooses, this team is extremely dangerous if they are anywhere close entering the anchor leg.
Here are composite relays from the other medal contenders, based on season-best times and/or times from Fukuoka (with a few 400 free relay splits).
Australia: Kaylee McKeown 57.53 + Zac Stubblety-Cook 59.68 + Matt Temple 51.35 + Mollie O’Callaghan/Shayna Jack 52.08 = 3:30.64
Netherlands: Maaike de Waard 59.84 + Arno Kamminga 58.71 + Nyls Korstanje 51.49 + Marrit Steenbergen 51.84 = 3:31.38
Great Britain: Medi Harris 59.61 + James Wilby 59.25 + Jacob Peters 51.16 + Freya Anderson 52.51 = 3:32.54