Tokyo Flashback: Australia Puts Exclamation Point On Superb Week With Gold in Women’s 400 Medley Relay
One year has passed since the Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to COVID-19, unfolded in Tokyo. To celebrate what went down in the Japanese capital, Swimming World is revisiting the championship finals – each on their one-year anniversary – by once again running the stories that were posted after the medals were decided.
What went wrong? What needs to change? How can the problems be remedied? These are all questions that faced Australia in recent years, as the Dolphins struggled at the Olympic Games and did not back up their country’s rich history in the sport. Well, those queries will not be posed at any point in the near future, as the Aussies put together a superb performance in Tokyo, one punctuated by a gold-medal showing from its women’s 400-meter medley relay.
Battling with the United States for the entire race, Australia eked out a tight triumph as the quartet of Kaylee McKeown, Chelsea Hodges, Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell registered an Olympic-record time of 3:51.60. That effort edged the 3:51.73 mark of Team USA, which turned to the unit of Regan Smith, Lydia Jacoby, Torri Huske and Abbey Weitzeil. Canada claimed the bronze medal in 3:52.60.
The Aussie women capped the Tokyo Games with a 14-medal haul, including eight of the golden variety. McKeown, McKeon and Ariarne Titmus each won double-gold in individual events and the squad won two of the three women’s relays, including an opening night world-record triumph in the 400 freestyle relay. Four years ago, Australia managed just five women’s medals in Rio de Janeiro, with the London Games of 2012 producing seven medals.
Obviously, the Land of Oz is back on the Gold Medal Road.
“I think we’ve seen what girls are capable of this week,” Campbell said. “The girls have been the standouts of the Australian team and it is a privilege to be a part of it. I hope this is an inspiration to take up sport and pursue excellence. You can’t be what you can’t see, and the girls have been front and center. I hope that has been seen.”
The opening backstroke leg of the relay resembled the final of the 100 backstroke as McKeown and Smith engaged in a battle with Canadian Kylie Masse. At the exchange, it was Masse in the lead at 57.90, with McKeown (58.01) and Smith (58.05) right there. As Canada dropped off on the breaststroke leg, the U.S. moved into the lead behind a 1:05.03 split from Lydia Jacoby. But Hodges’ effort of 1:05.57 was crucial in keeping the Dolphins within striking distance.
Coming into the meet, the breaststroke leg was viewed as a potential liability for the Australians. Hodges was unproven on the world scene and there was knowledge the United States boasted power on that spot with Lilly King. Ultimately, Team USA turned to Jacoby after she won gold in the 100 breaststroke, with King talking bronze. For Hodges to stay within a half-second of Jacoby was critical – and satisfying.
“I certainly came into this meet wanting a relay spot,” Hodges said. “To be up there with these girls was a great opportunity and meant a lot.”
On the butterfly leg, McKeon slightly cut into the Americans’ lead with a split of 55.91. It was the latest impressive swim by McKeon, who was less than 40 minutes removed from capturing the gold medal in the 50 freestyle. For the United States, Torri Huske was 56.16 on the fly leg and Team USA went into freestyle with an edge of 2:59.24 to 2:59.49.
As has been witnessed many times before, Campbell carried Australia on the anchor leg. Clocking in at 52.11, Campbell passed the United States Abbey Weitzeil (52.49) to give the Aussies the perfect finish to their time in Tokyo. Campbell has been known throughout her career as one of the best relay swimmers in history. While she has split faster times in the past, she came through again when her country needed her.
Australia’s gold medal in the medley relay raised McKeon’s medal count for the week to seven. McKeon is the fourth swimmer in history to win seven or more medals at a single Games, and the first female. She joins Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi in the elite club. More, she is just the second female – all sports – to win seven medals at one Olympiad. In 1952, Soviet gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya won seven medals – two gold and five silver. McKeon finished with four gold medals and three bronze.
“It means a lot to me and to the team I have behind me,” McKeon said of her record achievement. “They have put in just as much hard work. It’s overwhelming knowing how much hard work has been put into this.”
With its finish, the United States ended with two silver medals and a bronze in women’s relay action. The silver medal in the 800 freestyle relay arrived with a time that broke the previous world record. Meanwhile, the 400 free relay fought to bronze when it appeared a podium miss was possible. In the medley, the U.S. nearly pulled out gold, a stellar Aussie club preventing that scenario from unfolding.
Meanwhile, Canada reached another relay podium, complementing its earlier silver in the 400 freestyle relay. After Masse got the team off to a strong start, Sydney Pickrem went 1:07.17 for breaststroke. Maggie MacNeil (55.27) and Penny Oleksiak (52.26)
“We thought our medley relay was going to come together because we have some of the best girls in the world,” Oleksiak said. “We saw the potential in Rio.”
Women’s 400-Meter Medley Relay
World Record: United States (Smith, King, Dahlia, Manuel) 3:50.40 (2019) Olympic Record: United States (Franklin, Soni, Vollmer, Schmitt) 3:52.05 (2012)
Final Results 1. Australia, 3:51.60 2. United States, 3:51.73 3. Canada, 3:52.60 4. China, 3:54.13 5. Sweden, 3:54.27 6. Italy, 3:56.68 7. Russia, 3:56.93 8. Japan, 3:58.12