Mixed relays – Who would swim and who would win?

Liam Tancock: would lead off a GB mixed medley team

Last November, word emerged from the FINA technical swimming committee that the introduction of mixed relays into international competition was being considered. At his stage it’s still a vague proposal and it’s not clear how or when they might be introduced into the world championship programme, but there is precedent in that the Youth Olympic games featured both mixed 400m freestyle and medley relays. Equally the mixed freestyle relay was famously swum in the 2007 duel in the pool, when Libby Lenton’s lead off time of 52.99 was disallowed as a world record due the potential draft she received from Michael Phelps in the adjacent lane.

While there’s no immediate prospect of the event taking place, purely in interest, we looked at how Britain would make up relay quartets should the event have been included in Shanghai last year, using 2011’s rankings as a guide and a 0.5 second tolerance per takeover.

For the freestyle relay selection is straightforward; pick the two fastest men and women from the rankings and line them up at the start line. That gives the following team:

GB Freestyle  
Name Time
Adam Brown 00:48.84
Simon Burnett 00:49.09
Fran Halsall 00:53.48
Amy Smith 00:54.93
Total Time 03:26.34
Takeover Tolerance 00:01.50
Final Time 03:24.84

Out of interest, Australia’s time at the 2007 duel was 3:23.41, much faster, but the USA could only manage 03:25.80. The prospect of GB beating the USA in reality seems remote however.

Picking a medley relay squad is not so straightforward due the required stroke combinations, but the fastest team is obtained by picking the two top ranked ladies who are closest to their male counterpart. Consequently there’s no place for Lizzie Simmonds or Stacey Tadd, while Anthony James and Adam Brown make way on the fly and freestyle legs.

GB medley Men   Women   Difference
100 backstroke Liam Tancock 00:53.25 Elizabeth Simmonds 00:59.80 00:06.55
100 breaststroke Michael Jamieson 01:00.79 Stacey Tadd 01:09.08 00:08.29
100 butterfly Antony James 00:52.13 Jemma Lowe 00:57.43 00:05.30
100 freestyle Adam Brown 00:48.84 Fran Halsall 00:53.48 00:04.64
  Total Time 03:44.95      
  Takeover Tolerance 00:01.50      
  Final Time 03:43.45      

The medley relay wasn’t swum at the duel, hence there’s nothing in the senior record books to compare against, so for context we looked at how the USA and Australia might fare under the same circumstances. Interestingly none of the three teams has the same combination of men and women, which is largely a function of the excellence of Rebecca Soni and Michael Phelps. Alicia Coutts was the top ranked Australian in both butterfly and freestyle, but can clearly only swim one leg; in this instance her freestyle wasn’t quite quick enough to make the grade.

USA medley Men   Women   Difference
100 backstroke Nick Thoman 00:53.01 Natalie Coughlin 00:59.12 00:06.11
100 breaststroke Brendan Hansen 01:00.08 Rebecca Soni 01:04.91 00:04.83
100 butterfly Michael Phelps 00:50.71 Dana Vollmer 00:56.47 00:05.76
100 freestyle Nathan Adrian 00:48.05 Missy Franklin 00:53.63 00:05.58
  Total Time 03:42.26      
  Takeover Tolerance 00:01.50      
  Final Time 03:40.76      
Australia medley Men   Women   Difference
100 backstroke Haydn Stoeckel 00:53.70 Emily Seebohm 00:59.21 00:05.51
100 breaststroke Brenton Rickard 01:00.04 Leisel Jones 01:06.18 00:06.14
100 butterfly Geoff Huegill 00:51.83 Alicia Coutts 00:56.94 00:05.11
100 freestyle James Magnussen 00:47.49 Alicia Coutts 00:53.78 00:06.29
  Total Time 03:43.68      
  Takeover Tolerance 00:01.50      
  Final Time 03:42.18      

All of this is of course intensely theoretical, and in any case takes out any concept of tactics. In the medley relay for example, the USA would be way ahead of the rest, but at the 300m stage GB would be 4.72 seconds ahead of Australia, having swum two men already to Australia’s one. That would leave consummate anchor leg swimmer Fran Halsall battling to hold off a fast finshing James Magnussen. No doubt Halsall would relish being the hare in that match up. Maybe it’s one we might see in the future.