2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
With 14-time World Championship medalist Caeleb Dressel withdrawing from the remainder of the meet, there are major implications for the American men’s 4×100 medley relay.
Dressel has been a member of this relay at every major international meet for the United States since his breakout meet at the 2017 World Championships. As the world record holder in the 100 butterfly and the fastest textile performer in the 100 freestyle, Dressel’s absence cannot be denied. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Dressel threw down the fastest butterfly relay split in history (49.03), leading the field by over a second on his leg and helping Team USA to a gold medal.
Without Dressel, the US will be missing a critical leg of this relay. However, with such depth across the roster, the coaches still have several options of who they could replace him with.
This leg is the easiest to determine in Dressel’s absence as neither of the United State’s top 100 backstrokers cross over into other strokes. The only debate the coaches will have is whether to use Hunter Armstrong or Ryan Murphy in finals. The two were almost dead even in the individual 100 backstroke, as Murphy won silver over Armstrong by .01. However, Armstrong won the 100 backstroke at the US International Team Trials, while breaking the World Record in the 50 backstroke. Given the fact that he already got the nod for the finals of the 4×100 mixed medley relay over Murphy, he will most likely be the one swimming in finals here, especially if he betters his 50 backstroke World Record later this week.
Here’s where things get a little more complicated. Nick Fink will be on the finals relay, that’s not in question after he won the 50 breaststroke and earned a bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke. The real question is: Who will swim the breaststroke leg on the prelims relay?
Michael Andrews was the second individual 100 breaststroker for the United States here, which would usually give him the prelims relay spot. However, Andrew is also the top remaining 100 butterflier following Dressel’s scratch, which will most likely slot him in on that leg in the finals relay. The coaches could elect to use Andrew on both the prelims and finals relays, giving him a double. However, Andrew already has a pretty crowded schedule for the meet, and his individual 100 breaststroke race was not his best race as he missed qualifying for the final.
They also could elect to use Fink twice, putting him on the breaststroke leg both times. This seems like the safest option, especially considering how strong Fink’s meet has been so far. Traditionally, the US has used completely different lineups from prelims to finals, making this an extremely uncommon move. However, with Andrew’s qualifications in the 100 breaststroke and butterfly, it is likely that the coaches already would have discussed this possibility.
The team also has Charlie Swanson, the other entrant in the men’s 200 breaststroke. Despite his prowess in the longest breaststroke event, Swanson only holds a lifetime best of 1:00.06 in the 100 breaststroke, making it appear to be too risky to include him on the prelims relay.
This will be the most critical leg for the US to figure out, as Dressel’s splits on the butterfly often separated them from the rest of the field. As already mentioned, Andrew is almost guaranteed to get the nod for the finals relay, especially in the absence of Dressel. This season, Andrew has been 50.88 in the 100 butterfly, which stands as the third fastest time in the world.
The coaches also have several viable options for the prelims relay. They could use Andrew twice as both a butterflier and breaststroker, forgo him swimming any breaststroke, or they may elect to rest him for the final. Other options include Shaine Casas, Trenton Julianand Luca Urlandoall of whom have strong 100 butterflies as well.
Both Julian and Urlando represent the US individually in the 200 butterfly, with Julian finishing 16th in the semi-finals and Urlando placing 5th in the final. Based on that performance, it appears as though Urlando is in better form than Julian. However, Julian holds the fastest lifetime best out of the two, 51.10 compared to Urlando’s 51.64. Casas is also a viable option for this spot. Although he did not qualify to swim any butterfly events individually at the World Championships, he holds a lifetime best of 51.09 from March. If his performances in the 200 backstroke this week indicate that he’s on-form and the coaches think that he can throw down a decent butterfly time, he appears to be in line for this spot.
Although Dressel most likely wouldn’t have been the freestyle leg of this relay anyways with his fly prowess, there’s still plenty of decisions that the coaches have to make here.
LSU swimmer Brooks Curry placed 2nd behind Dressel at the US Trials meet with a lifetime best of 48.04. He already bettered that mark in Budapest, posting a 47.90 during the semi-finalists of the event before placing 5th in the final with a 48.00. Curry also contributed a 47.20 anchor leg for the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay on night 1 of the meet, helping Team USA claim gold in the race. It is clear that Curry is on-form right now, but even then, he’s still not clearly the leader for this spot.
The US also has powerhouse Ryan Held to potentially use on this leg. Held finished 3rd at the US Trials meet, failing to earn an individual 100 freestyle swim. However, he posted an explosive 46.99 split in the final of the 4×100 freestyle relay, and was 47.17 in prelims. Held has consistently shown in his relay splits over the years and has consistently thrown down his best performances for the US when needed. It is not unprecedented for the US coaches to bump someone from the finals relay if they feel that another swimmer is having strong performances. Back in 2019, Regan Smith was slotted onto the backstrong leg in the finals of the women’s 4×100 medley relay, despite not racing the event individually, due to the fact that she broke the world record in the 200 backstroke earlier in the meet. That being the case, given his experience level, Held could be a valuable asset for the US squad as they search for gold.
This could be a less-challenging decision than the coaches had in 2019 as Curry entered the meet as the 2nd fastest 100 freestyler for the US behind Dressel, meaning that if Dressel was used as the finals freestyle leg, he would’ve swam the prelims relay anyways.
Both swimmers will most likely race on the mixed 4×100 freestyle relay later this week, which could factor into the coaches’ final decisions.
The US coaches have some tough decisions to make for this relay, and the remainder of the meet will also factor into those decisions.
The battle for the backstroke leg will be between Armstrong and Murphy. Though their performances in the 50 backstroke and 200 backstroke, respectively will contribute to the final decisions, Armstrong has the slight edge based off of his performances at World Trials.
The safest move is to put Nick Fink on the breaststroke leg for both prelims and finals, though there is always the chance that the coaches decide to rest him. With that, Michael Andrews should be on the finals relay swimming butterfly, and Casas appears to be the strongest option for the prelims leg.
Based on previous performances and international experience, Held seems to have a slight edge over Curry for the slot on the freestyle leg of the finals relay. Whoever does not swim in finals will definitely end up swimming in prelims.