The medley relays didn’t turn the battle for the top rank in the medal chart, the Aussie women claimed their team’s 9th title here, a record for Australia in the Olympic meets, while the US quartet didn’t let the Brits ruin their perfect line of winning all 14 finals they took part before. They stroke back for their loss at the 2019 Worlds and they closed their campaign here in style, bettered the shiny world record from 2009 to win in 3:26.78 and deliver the 11th title for the United States.
Women’s medley relay
Held at the end of each meet, the medley relay is a fine who’s who, featuring the vast majority of the individual champions. Though it’s not a math lesson where you just add up the times and got the winner but title/medal-winning swims are usually good indicators what you may expect in the last bonanza.
And if we look at the list of the medallists from the previous days it was more than obvious that this gold should go to Australia. A generation of brilliant swimmers emerged for these Games including the two Macs, Emma McKeon, fresh from completing the free double and had a bronze from the 100m fly, and Kaylee McKeown, who won both back events. Against such depth the others may have relied on breaststroke – since the other strokes were well covered by the Dolphins.
But the quality favoured the Aussies and they delivered for this last time too. They could even afford the luxury that McKeown trailed by 0.11sec to the individual runner-up Canadian Kylie Masse in the backstroke and they shouldn’t be worried to fall behind over the breaststroke where the US only current world champion, Lydia Jacoby was the fastest but could gain only 0.5sec on Aussie Chelsea Hodges. Then came McKeon who edged out Torri Huske by 0.25sec over the fly and despite the US were leading by a fingernail before the last leg, Cate Campbell brought it home at the end.
It was a great last head-to-head with Abbey Weitzel but the Aussie was 0.38sec faster (clocked 52.11 after a 0.04sec takeover, indeed the best effort in the whole field) and she hit the wall 0.13sec ahead of the American, to set a new Olympic record of 3:51.60. Canada clinched the bronze, thanks to a 52.26 blast from Penny Oleksiak in the anchor leg.
Cate Campbell was a key for the Aussie victory. “It is a little more special to get a win from behind over the US. We’ve been in some incredibly close battles with them over the years where they have got me (Australia). To do it on the world’s biggest stage is a dream come true.”
She also went through some nervous moments before the joy erupted as she produced a risky takeover (recorded 0.04sec according to the result-sheet).“I knew we would be incredibly close. I had full faith in Emma (McKeon) to get her hands on the wall. But as I dove in the water, what went through my mind was, 'I think I either just did a really good changeover or we are disqualified'. I turned around and touched the wall and saw that we had won, celebrated and that little thought came back to my head.
"I told them to wait for the official results because we either won or were disqualified. I think that spoke to the experience I had in relays. I 100% trusted myself and trusted Emma would be coming home strong. I changed from Emma many times so I am familiar with her stroke and thought 'you gotta to risk it for the biscuit', and I am glad we got the biscuit.”
She also offered some thoughts of Australia’s historical performance, most of the titles delivered by their female swimmers.
“We win and lose races by hundredths of a second, so sometimes it can be very hard to pinpoint exactly what is going right and what is going wrong. There has been a momentum that has been building within this Australian swim team that propelled us to the success we achieved. Something about going through adversity together has really united us. Everyone came into these Games behind each and every person on this team.
"Coming through these Games, knowing you have a team that is there to support you no matter what is a completely liberating space to start competing. I think it showed in the meet we put together and the swims we have seen.”
Breaststroker Chelsea Hodges was an Olympic rookie without any medal, unlike her multiple-winner team-mates. “These girls are so amazing. They’ve all got individual medals. I knew I would have to swim out of my skin and (I) gave it everything I’ve got. Cate is one of the best relay swimmers we’ve ever had."
Men’s 4x100m medley relay
It was clear that it was going to be a showdown between the Brits and the US, even though the Americans swam on lane 1, quite unusually. Team GB fielded the same four who brought the world title home from Gwangju and who faced a huge challenge: to break the Americans’ stronghold on this event as the US stood 14/14 in the history of the men’s medley relay. Coming here as the reigning world champions, the Brits may have seen a now-or-never scenario.
Basically, it was about building on the huge gap now two-time 100m breaststroke champion Adam Peaty meant in the second leg. At the Worlds it was 1:45sec (vs Andrew Wilson) and even though Caeleb Dressel claimed that back over the fly but Duncan Scott came up with an ‘alien’ 46.14 split in the free to capture gold for the Brits.
This morning Peaty was even more on fire. He had to be as Ryan Murphy’s lead-off leg gave the Americans a 1.5sec lead but that was something we had also seen in Korea. Then came Peaty and a monstrous 56.53, a full 2sec better split than Michael Andrew’s one on lane 1 so the Brits were in the lead. However, the next stroke decided the outcome as Caeleb Dressel produced one last flying. It was a flight rather, a top-flight of 49.03 – even though James Guy came up with a 0.6sec better split than in 2019, now the Americans were in command.
And Zach Apple didn’t let it go. A same miraculous swim from Scott would have granted a touch-touch finish but this time the Brit anchor could not even match Apple’s speed. The American delivered 46.95, stopped the clock at 3:26.78, a brilliant world record, bringing down one of the remaining shiny ones from 2009. Scott rushed for a 47.07, securing a new European record by the Brits, on 3:27.51. The USA’s winning margin was 0.78sec, so they kept their perfect line (now 15/15) – a stylish (and traditional) way to finish the championships by the US.
The Italians landed the bronze, their first ever in this event, 0.04sec ahead of the ROC team. Though this time the ‘azzuri’ ended the meet without a gold (had 2 silvers and 4 bronzes, tying their best total of 6 medals from Sydney 2000), this relay offered a bright vision for the future as its average age was 20.5 years, by far the youngest in the field.
Ryan Murphy said that the world record was very much in the cards, their coaches already told them that a day before. “They read out the splits of the past week. (They said) 'We don’t want to make it more than it is, but you guys have done this in the last week (splits which would ensure a world record time), let’s go out there tomorrow and let’s try to be great tomorrow'.”
Michael Andrew has a very special upbringing, taking very special training courses at home and bypassing the world-famous US university system – but he was still here, and even though his individual tries didn’t bring a medal, now he became Olympic champion in the relay.
“Coming from a background where I swim alone all the time, it’s an honour to represent the US, but to come together with such a strong group of men and women has been an incredible experience. The camp was amazing in Hawaii and the time at the performance centre was incredible. Here at the village, knowing everyone has each other’s backs, has been an amazing time.”
Zach Apple had a couple words on the final. "It's hard to mess that up when you have two world-record holders (Dressel and Murphy) and the fastest American breaststroker ever in front of you. I had an easy job there! It's such an honour to represent the USA especially in relays and to come home with gold and a world record is the icing on top."
On the importance of the relays and his leg, he said: “Yeah, that’s how it rolls. For Team USA, the relays are always so important. You always want to come away with a medal, usually a gold one. Last night, we all went through and said we had the times that could break the world record. In that moment, I was extremely self-confident. It was hard to do because the middle of my meet didn’t go as well as I hoped, to say the least. But sitting down last night and walking out today, I was very confident in myself and eyeing the gold.”
Silver medallist Adam Peaty offered some irony and deeper thoughts too.
“If you win all the time, it gets a little bit boring right? Everyone wants to have a bounce-back story. Me now, I felt the pain of what it is like coming second. I don't like it, at all. Me being a competitor, how do we get in the best position, in the running, in the next three years. Who knows what it will take? It might be another record, they (USA) might set it again. If they find a breaststroker, close that gap again.”
Team mate Duncan Scott was content with the outcome. “Looking down at some of the splits the American guys put down, the fact that it was a world record… we have done all we can. It is the best time for this quartet, a European record. We put it all out there but they put down an unbelievable performance.”
This relay concluded the swimming competition at the 2020 Olympic Games. The US top the medal chart (11 gold, 10 silver, 9 bronze, 30 in total), ahead of Australia (9-3-8, 20), Great Britain (4-3-1, 8) and China (3-2-1, 6).
Just as at the preceding World Championships, Caeleb Dressel was the man of the meet and he also became the fifth swimmer in history to collect at least 5 gold medals in a single edition – and he is the first athlete here at the Games who achieved this feat.
Among the women, Emma McKeon’s count stopped at 7 (4 gold, 3 bronze), this is only the second time in the entire Olympic history that a female athlete could hit this number in a single edition, gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaja (URS) produced that haul back in 1952 in Helsinki. McKeon is also the first Australian to claim 11 medals at the Olympics and the first since Ian Thorpe to have five titles.