TOKYO — Caeleb Dressel climbed atop the lane rope, a look of wonder in his eyes. He gazed all around the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, eager to soak up every last moment of something he’s never done before.
Win an individual gold medal at the Olympics.
The most dominant swimmer of the post-Michael Phelps era filled in the last hole on his resume, winning a gold all by himself with two furious laps of the pool earlier today.
Dressel, whose three previous golds were all on relays, lived up to the hype at an Olympics where several U.S. stars have faltered.
“I knew that weight was on my shoulders,” he said after a nail-biting victory in the 100-meter freestyle over defending champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia.
Katie Ledecky got another shot at Ariarne Titmus, but this time neither won gold. China knocked off both the Americans and the Australians with a world-record performance in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay.
All three teams went faster than the previous mark, but it was China that earned the second world record of the Tokyo Games despite a blistering anchor leg from Ledecky.
“I wasn’t as nervous maybe and knew I was going to let it go and go for it each lap of that race,” said Ledecky, who went faster than anyone but couldn’t quite catch the Chinese, winding up with her second silver of the Games.
Dressel was golden. As is his style, the 24-year-old Floridian dived into the pool and popped out of the water with the lead. He was still ahead at the lone flip, and grittily turned away Chalmers’ bid for a second straight gold.
Dressel’s winning time was an Olympic record of 47.02 seconds — a mere six-hundredths ahead of Chalmers, who had to settle for a silver this time.
“I wasn’t worried about anything,” Dressel said. “During the race there’s only so much you can do. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I stuck to my race plan so if it got me first, OK, if it got me second, OK.”
The two have developed quite a rivalry. Chalmers won at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where Dressel was sixth, but the American won the last two world championships, with Chalmers finishing second in 2019.
“We do enjoy racing against each other and we do bring the best out of each other,” Chalmers said. “It’s almost a relief to get it done with now.”
The first three gold medals of Dressel’s career were all in the relays — two in Rio, another in the 4x100 free relay at the Tokyo Games.
Now, he’s got one of his own.
“It is a lot different. I guess I thought it would be, I just didn’t want to admit to it,” he said. “It’s a lot tougher. You have to rely on yourself, there’s no one to bail you out.”
After Phelps retired, Dressel emerged as the world’s dominant swimmer. He turned in staggering performances at the last two world championships, earning seven gold medals at Budapest in 2017, followed by a six-gold, two-silver performance at Gwangju in 2019.
As important as those meets were, they’re not the Olympics. Dressel knew he needed an individual gold to solidify his legacy.
From his perch on the lane rope, he cherished the significance of his victory.
“These moments are a lot different than worlds,” Dressel conceded.
Dressel’s gold was the second of the morning for the Americans, who got a surprise victory from Bobby Finke in the Olympic debut of the men’s 800 free.
Also winning golds: Australia’s Izaac Stubblety-Cook in the men’s 200 breaststroke and China’s Zhang Yufei in the women’s 200 butterfly.
Zhang returned to swim a leg on the 4x200 free relay, joining Yang Junxuan, Tang Muhan and closer Li Bingjie for a winning time of 7:40.33.
That broke the previous record of 7:41.50 set by Australia at the 2019 world championships.
Ledecky took the final leg for the Americans, diving into the water in third place — nearly 2 seconds behind Li and also trailing Australia’s Leah Neale. She quickly zipped by Neale and closed the gap significantly on Li, but couldn’t quite catch her at the end.
China’s surprising win denied both Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus another gold medal. After winning both the 200 and 400 free individual titles, the Terminator led off for Australia but was a bit sluggish; she was more than a second slower than her gold medal performance in the 200.
Ledecky had finished second to Titmus in the 400 and didn’t even win a medal in the 200, finally claiming her first Tokyo gold in the debut of the women’s 1,500 free.
Champion pole vaultertests positive
American world-champion pole vaulter Sam Kendricks will miss the Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19.
Kendricks’ dad posted on social media that his son had no symptoms but was informed while in Tokyo that he tested positive and was out of the competition.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed the news and said Kendricks has been placed in isolation at a hotel. He is being supported by the USOPC and USA Track and Field.
Kendricks won the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics and took gold at the last two world championships. He holds the American record at 19 feet, 10 ½ inches (6.06 meters).
Biles grateful for support
Simone Biles has expressed her gratitude on social media for the support she has received since dropping out of the women’s team gymnastics final at the Tokyo Olympics.
She withdrew after the first rotation, vault, because she said wasn’t in the right headspace to compete.
A day later, she gave up her chance to defend her all-around title.
The most decorated gymnast ever said in a tweet, “the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”
Biles still has not decided if she will compete in the individual events.
The women’s all-around competition is Thursday night Tokyo time, while individual events start Sunday.
Finke takes gold
Bobby Finke of the United States has captured gold in the debut of the men’s 800-meter swimming freestyle event at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri grabbed the silver after leading most of the race, while the bronze went to Mykhailo Romachuk of Ukraine.
It was a thrilling finish. Germany’s Florian Wellbrock grabbed the lead from Paltrinieri on the final flip, with Finke lurking back in fourth. But the American turned on a dazzling burst of speed at the end of the 16-lap race, passing all three swimmers ahead of him to take the gold.
Finke’s winning time was 7 minutes, 41.87 seconds, just 0.24 ahead of Paltrinieri. Romachuk finished in 7:42.33, knocking Wellbrock back to fourth.
The men’s 800 freestyle was added to the Olympic program for the Tokyo Games, marking the first time that approximate distance was contested by the men since there was an 880-yard race at the 1904 St. Louis Games.
U.S. beach volleyball wins with gusto
American beach volleyball players Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil dispatched Kenya in just 25 minutes, the fastest women’s match since the Olympics adopted their current format.
The U.S. pair beat Brackcides Khadambi and Gaudencia Makokha 21-8, 21-6 to improve to 2-0 and almost certainly clinch a spot in the knockout round of 16. They have one match remaining, against Brazil on Saturday.
The match was the fastest since the international volleyball federation adopted the rally scoring and best-of-three sets format in 2002.