Caeleb Dressel and Emma McKeon confirmed their status as Tokyo 2020’s stars after both added two more swimming titles to their haul yesterday, capping a golden run on the final competition day.
Dressel won the 50m freestyle final in an Olympic-record 21.07 seconds, ahead of France’s Florent Manaudou (21.55) and Brazilian Bruno Fratus (21.57).
He added a fifth gold as the Americans won the 4x100m medley relay in a world-record 3min 26.78sec, ahead of Britain (3:27.51) and Italy (3:29.17).
Not to be outdone was McKeon, who also won the 50m free in an Olympic record of 23.81sec before helping Australia pip the US to gold in the women’s medley relay.
She ended with four golds and three bronzes, her seven medals tying Soviet gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya’s haul from Helsinki 1952 for the most by a woman at a single Games.
Dressel, touted as successor to his compatriot and 23-gold Olympic champion Michael Phelps, finally understood what it is like chasing Olympic history.
Before the Games, there was talk he would swim up to seven events. He settled on six – skipping the 4x200m free – and yesterday admitted the stress had been “terrifying”. He had trouble sleeping and had been crying and shaking during the meet.
Dressel, 24, said: “I try to convince myself the World Championships are the same… but it’s a different type of pressure here and I’ll stop lying to myself.
“This is something that happens once every four years for a race that happens 40-something, 20-something seconds, you have to be so perfect in that moment. There’s so much pressure on one moment. Your whole life boils down to that moment… how crazy is that?”
He is still in illustrious company. Only Phelps (five at Rio 2016, six at Athens 2004, eight at Beijing 2008), fellow Americans Matt Biondi (six at Seoul 1988) and Mark Spitz (seven at Munich 1972), and East Germany’s Kristin Otto (six at Seoul 1988) have won at least five swim golds in a single Games.
For McKeon, 27, who swam 13 races in nine days, it was “surreal” to be part of the record books. She said: “I grew up watching amazing athletes do amazing things in Australia. I grew up wanting to do a similar thing, and now I’m here. That’s pretty surreal.”
number of golds American swimmer Caeleb Dressel won. Australian swimmer Emma McKeon earned four golds.
The resurgence of her country in the pool has also been unimaginable. Australia finished with nine golds, just two behind leaders the US. Australia won three at Rio 2016 and just one at London 2012.
Their strongest ever performance eclipsed the eight golds won at the 1956 Melbourne Games.
Besides McKeon, 20-year-olds Ariarne Titmus and Kaylee McKeown – both won two individual golds each – also stood out. Rescheduling the Australian swim trials to five weeks before the Games, instead of months, ensured the team were in peak form.
China also surprised with three golds, including a world record in the women’s 4x200m free relay.
China Youth Daily journalist Ci Xin said: “This success is unexpected because morale has been low since the Sun Yang controversy. But Zhang Yufei’s win in the women’s 200m butterfly gave the team a huge confidence boost to perform above themselves.
“While other teams were affected by the pandemic, China had been able to continue training as a team. In the relay team, there are teenagers like Yang Junxuan, 19, and Tang Muhan, 17, and they can be a force at Paris 2024.”
Yui Ohashi’s double in the women’s 200m and 400m IM gave hosts Japan something to celebrate despite the ban on fans, while there were emotional wins for Tunisian Ahmed Hafnaoui, 18, in the 400m free and South African Tatjana Schoenmaker in the women’s 200m breast.
Not every fairy tale needs to end in gold though. Fratus’ reaction after the 50m free final – he missed out on a podium finish by 0.02sec at London 2012 and was sixth at Rio 2016 – as the 32-year-old hugged and kissed his wife and coach Michelle Lenhardt deserved an audience.
Fittingly, he got one as hundreds of athletes, officials and guests created a rare boisterous atmosphere inside the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
It has been a roller coaster of emotions for Dressel. He is looking forward to Paris 2024 but wants to take a break and spend time with his family.
“My goal is not to be Michael, my goal is not to be Mark,” he said. “I feel like I’ve already exceeded my expectations here. I’m really happy with what I did and had a really fun time being here and know I can be better.”
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