Women’s 400m freestyle preview analysis

Rebecca Adlington goes for gold in London

It’s the first chance that the British public will get to see their darling of Beijing, Rebecca Adlington, as she looks to defend her 400m freestyle crown. Four years ago it was a surprise win, and defending her title will be possibly harder than winning it in the first place. There is scope for serious intrigue in this race with a variety of tactics likely to be employed. One of the most interesting aspects will be how holder of the textile best time Camille Muffat decides to swim the race. The graphic below considers how the race might pan out.


The graphic above considers the world top 3 this year, Camille Muffat of France, Britain’s Rebecca Adlington and the USA’s Allison Schmitt. Because Muffat has swum similar times with dramatically different tactics, her swim from the French Trials and also her swim in Canet at the Mare Nostrum are shown. World Champion Federica Pellegrini will also be chasing the Olympic title, but has not yet shown her hand this year posting a modest 4:05.70, so her winning time from Shanghai is included instead.


Schmitt: 57.50 – Muffat (Trials): 58.37 – Adlington: 58.63 – Pellegrini:59.77 – Muffat (Canet): 1:01.09

Schmitt is the hare in this match up jumping into an early lead with a fast first 100m. Muffat showed in her trials swim she can go out fast, while Adlington is more measured, preferring to measure her effort early. Pellegrini, much as she did in Shanghai is content to let the rest go early and watch them, while in Canet, Muffat started at a pedestrian pace – saving herself for later


Schmitt: 1:58.34 – Muffat (Trials): 1:59.34 – Adlington: 1:59.97 – Pellegrini: 2:02.30 – Muffat (Canet): 2:04.43

Half way and Schmitt still has the lead, increasing her lead marginally over Muffat’s trials swim to exactly one second. Adlington has held her form over the second hundred and maintained station, while Pellegrini is still letting the race go away from her, banking on her second half speed. Meanwhile, Muffat in Canet put in a second 100 of just 1:03.34, which his incredibly slow at this level. However this is where the blue touchpaper was lit in the south of France.


Schmitt: 3:00.39 – Muffat (Trials): 3:00.84 – Adlington: 3:01.75 – Pellegrini: 3:02.60 – Muffat (Canet): 3:04.01

Schmitt still leads but is starting to pay for her early pace as Muffat comes back at her, closing the gap by half a second from 200 to 300m. Adlington holds on in third while Pellegrini and Muffat in Canet have started to move, raising their pace dramatically in the third quarter. It’s all set up for a frantic closing 100m.


Muffat (Trials): 4:01.13 – Pellegrini: 4:01.97 – Adlington:4:02.35- Schmitt: 4:02.84 – Muffat (Canet): 4:02.97

And this is where the afterburners kick in for Pellegrini while the wheels come off for Schmitt. The American loses ground quickly in the last 100m, paying for her early pace, while Muffat at trials holds her form to come home at the head of the pack. Pellegrini can’t catch her but passes Adlington and Schmitt, probably on the final 50m, to finish second. Meanwhile Muffat in Canet makes up a huge amount of ground in the final stage of the race, to finish just 0.13 behind Schmitt, the world number 3 this year.


A quick look at the splits tells the story. Muffat’s and Adlington’s trials swims are pretty conventional pacing with a 2.4s drop off from first to second 200m, with Muffat just being able to start faster and then hold her pace a bit better, taking about 0.6s out of Adlington in each half. Pellegrini meanwhile, negative split her race in Shanghai by 2.63 seconds giving her the finishing burst needed to win. If she keeps herself in contact then the front runners may find themselves mown down in the closing stages. Meanwhile Schmitt really paid for her opening speed, with her second 200m over 6s slower than her first. We don’t know how her taper was structured at the US trials however, so she may have more in the tank come London – she will need it unless she is more circumspect over the opening 4 lengths.

However, the big stand out is the incredible 5.89s negative split Muffat produced in Canet in a swim that was the polar opposite of her trials performance. Her second 200m split of 1:58.54 would be good enough for 45th in the world in the individual event and shows she has the weapons to counter any tactics her opponents may choose, be it front running or a Pellegrini style late charge. The Frenchwoman starts as a firm favourite on this basis, but needs to get her mental approach right – she was third in Shanghai, but had twice swum faster in the lead up. That slight chink in her armour leaves hope for the others, but she has the pace and strength to win.

  Muffat (T) Adlington Pellegrini Schmitt Muffat (C)
First 200 01:59.34 01:59.97 02:02.30 01:58.34 02:04.43
Second 200 02:01.79 02:02.38 01:59.67 02:04.50 01:58.54
Difference 02.45 02.41 -02.63 06.16 -05.89