Rumblings of Relay Doom

by Casey Barrett

Four years ago, an epic in Beijing… Is an encore even possible in the men’s 4 x 100?

It’s too soon. Yeah, I know. They haven’t even swum the final yet. But I’m not the only one reading the writing on the wall. It’s written in Australian. Similar language, easy to read…

Maybe in the finals of the men’s 100 free, things will break wide open. Maybe Nathan Adrian and Jimmy Feigen will both go 47-mid. Maybe miracle man Jason Lezak will find his way back on the Team and Olympic lightning will strike twice.

Maybe, maybe, maybe… When you come across that many unknowns in business, you don’t make the bet.

Because right now, here’s how things look: The American men will be fighting for the bronze in the men’s 4 x 100 free relay in London. As it stands now, the Aussies are in another league. The French look better too. And the Russians are to be reckoned with.

Right now, the top American sprinter is over a second slower than his Aussie counterpart, James Magnussen, in 2012. Nathan Adrian’s top-seed time in the semi-finals would make him the 4th best Aussie, 1/100th behind Matt Targett and two tenths ahead of Eamon Sullivan’s best this year.

Of course, the Americans have something they do not. That is: the two best swimmers in history. (Yes, Ryan Lochte has surpassed Mark Spitz as the 2nd best ever behind Phelps…) Neither will be racing in that 100 free final, but both will without question be on that relay in London. Phelps will almost certainly lead off in 47-something. Can Lochte do the same? His 48.9 in semis wasn’t exactly an eye-opener, but then we know he’s still in tune-up mode, focused on filling his Olympic scorecard with a Phelpsian laundry list of events.

Which means we’re really only talking about two spots available. Places 3rd through 6th will be relegated to prelims only, despite the inevitable grumbles.

So, like the now champion Miami Heat, the question comes down to the Other Guys. Like Lebron and D-wade, Phelps and Lochte must carry the load. That goes without saying. But they won’t win without a lot of help. It just doesn’t look like it will be there.

Yes, we’ve heard this before. Do you remember Rowdy Gaines’s pre-race call before that relay in Beijing? It went something like this: “Dan, I’ve done this race on paper so many times and I just don’t see how the Americans can win. The French just look like the better team.” The sad settling for silver went right up until the last lap, with Lezak still way back. With forty meters to go, Hicks says: “The United States trying to hang on for silver…”

And then…

Then, the greatest finish to any race in Olympic history. Watch it again on YouTube. It holds up. Still gives you chills. Wherever you’re from, I imagine it will be giving swim fans chills for the next century. It’s swimming’s version of the Shot Heard Round the World.

These things don’t happen twice. Especially when the odds are even longer four years later. The French were very very good in Beijing, the deserved favorite. In London, the Aussies will be better.

But as they say at the track: That’s why they run the race.

Just don’t bet on it.