Since the Commonwealth Games, Australian women have commanded all relays

Since the Commonwealth Games, Australian women have commanded all three relays

A year ago, Australian women dominated the Olympics. The swimming-obsessed nation had won just one gold medal for women in London and Rio, but The Aryans Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and Emma McKeon led to an Australian revival in Tokyo, an effort capped by gold medals in the 400 freestyle and 400 medley relays. Titmuss and McKeon subsequently missed the 2022 World Cup, but with an almost full squad restored, Australia destroyed the field in the women’s events at the Commonwealth Games.

Now, with one full year in this shortened three-year cycle, culminating in the Paris Olympics, the Aussies are the team to beat. This includes individual events where Molly O’Callaghan is a burgeoning star alongside the Tokyo gold trio and also in the relays. That’s right: the most prestigious events in women’s swimming descend on the whole of Australia.

Of course, the 400 free relay has been all-Australian for many years. The last time Australia did not win a world title in the event was in 2017, when the United States beat an Australian group missing a sprint star Kate Campbell by only three tenths. At this year’s World Championships, Australia missed three of the four swimmers from last year’s Olympic gold-medal-winning, world-record-setting team, and the result was the same: gold by more than a second. And that was without McKeon, who split 51.88 at the Commonwealth Games.

Put simply, there is no foreseeable scenario in which any of the other Budapest medal-winning countries catch up to Australia. Canadian team of Penny Oleksiak, Taylor Hand, Maggie McNeil and summer Mackintosh? American squad led by rest I rememberwho broke 53 for the first time in the 100 free this year and won bronze at the World Championships, and fellow teenager Claire Curzon? These are good teams, but they can’t handle an Australian line-up led by McKeon and swimmers ranked first and second in the world in the 100 free this year, world junior champion O’Callaghan and the resurgent Shaina Jack – and it’s really hard to imagine the landscape changing in the two short years before Paris.

As for the 800m free relay, Australia entered the Tokyo Games as heavy favorites for gold with a quartet led by Titmus, but in one of the biggest upsets of the Olympics, China took the win, followed by the US and then Australia. At this year’s World Cup, Australia were favored again, even without Titmus, but this time it was the Americans, fueled by To Katie Ledecky usual perfection and separation of anchor outside the body Bella Simswho won the gold.

Then, at the Commonwealth Games, Australia broke the world record, the first ever sub-7:40 relay – a swim that Australian women were fully capable of a year earlier in Tokyo. This time, Madison Wilson, Kia Melverton and O’Callaghan set it, and Titmus finished with the fastest split in history. The time was two seconds faster than the Americans’ performance in Budapest.

Unlike the 400 free relay, however, this one is not insurmountable and the nation best poised to chase Australia down is the US again, with Ledecky leading the way and a cohort of teenagers showing big improvements in the 200 free. This includes Sims, Claire Weinstein, Katie Grimes and Erin Gemmell, who broke into the top 10 in the world in the 200 free at last week’s US Nationals. Canada, led by the rapidly improving McIntosh, and China, the 200 free world champions Who Junxuan in the team, players remain.

It’s worth noting that Australia’s track record for consistent performances in the longer free relay isn’t great (again, think Tokyo), so that leaves a glimmer of hope for teams in the chase. But it’s hard to argue with a world record from days ago.

Finally, the medley relay, where the US has won the last three world titles but Australia won Olympic gold by just 0.13 last year in Tokyo. This year’s showdown in Budapest went to the United States by half a second, but that was without McKeon holding his usual butterfly leg. Add in her 56.59 split in a win in Birmingham and the result is different.

Perhaps the medley relay is best described as a draw, with many qualifiers to declare each side the favourite. For example, the Americans were missing their usual breaststroke style this year Lily King struggled at the worlds, but for Australia, McKeown didn’t come within a second of his back-to-back world record of 100 at any of the summer’s championship events. On the other hand, Huske’s butterfly leg of the USA medley relay was more than a second slower than her individual performance in the 100 fly.

This back and forth can go on all day. But it is the weakest of the three Australian women’s relays and the best of the American teams.

And of course all the events are important, but the relays mean a little more. A big relay performance is exciting for any team, from an Olympic or elite college team to a high school or summer league team, and a relay failure is just as depressing. Accordingly, the highest priority focus for the US in the run-up to Paris? “We’re going to try to focus on how we can get our men and women faster in those relays,” US National Team Managing Director Lindsey Mintenko said. “That’s going to be a big focus for us.”

And it certainly didn’t sit well with the U.S. being shut out of the women’s relay gold medal in Tokyo, even as all the swimmers in the relay finals turned in admirable performances. But Australia are currently in the lead and leave the Commonwealth Games in an enviable position in women’s swimming’s most significant event.

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