Caeleb Dressel continued his bid for swimming immortality at the Tokyo Games on Thursday with a tight victory in the men’s 100-metre freestyle over 2016 Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers.
Dressel, 24, was widely considered the heir to American greats Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps going into the Olympics with a potentially huge medal haul available to him depending on his relay participation.
But the 100m free, the blue riband event in the pool, ensures Tokyo is a success regardless after he touched the wall in 47.02 seconds, a new Olympic record, just 0.06 seconds ahead of Australia’s Chalmers. Russian Kliment Kolesnikov took bronze a further 0.36 seconds back.
“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.
“That’s what I had in that moment and I executed it.”
American Robert Finke won the inaugural men’s 800m freestyle at the Games thanks to a blistering last 50 metres.
Finke came back from fourth at the last turn, swimming 26.39 seconds in the last 50 metres to beat Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri to gold in 7 minutes 41.87 seconds.
“I noticed 10 metres out I was catching up a little bit of ground and that was the only motivation I needed to try and pass and get my hand to the wall first,” said Finke.
Paltrinieri, 2019 world champion in the event and Rio Olympic champion in the 1,500m freestyle, led for the first 700 metres and held on in the last eighth of the race to win silver with 7:42.11.
Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk won bronze after touching the wall 0.46 seconds after Finke.
The men’s 800m freestyle is officially debuting at the Olympics 117 years after Germany’s Emil Rausch won the 880 yards (804m) at the 1904 Games in 13:11.4.
The 200m breaststroke went to Australia’s Izaac Stubblety-Cook, who turned on the jets in the last length to overtake Dutchman Arno Kamminga, finishing in 2:06.38, a new Olympic record.
Kamminga, who won silver in the 100m, swam the first 150 metres well below world record pace before fading in the last stretch, but managed to hold off a charge by Finland’s Matti Mattsson, who had to settle for bronze.
China’s Zhang Yufei, who on Monday won silver in the 100m fly, won gold in the 200m butterfly in 2:03.86, 1.44 seconds ahead of second placed Regan Smith of the US who took home the silver. Fellow American Hali Flickinger won bronze with 2:05.65.
And Zhang returned an hour later to lead China to gold in a 4x200m freestyle relay world record 7:40.33 seconds.
Junxuan Yang, Muhan Tang and Bingjie Li were in a dogfight with Australia from the start, but eventually prevailed while an incredible anchor performance by 1,500m winner Katie Ledecky earned the US silver.
Australia, led by 100m, 200m and 4x100m winner Ariarne Titmus, took bronze in an Oceania record 7:41.29 with the US posting a continental best 7:40.73.
And Ledecky also topped the 800m qualifier with Titmus sixth.
Dressel, who already has 4x100m freestyle gold from Tokyo and two Olympic golds from Rio relay participation, was given a test to claim his first individual honour.
“I knew that weight was on my shoulders – I’d won (Olympic) relay medals but never individual, so it was really special,” he said.
Dressel will also contest the 50m free and 100m butterfly – which heats he later topped in an Olympic record 50.39 seconds – and he is certain to be part of the 4x100m medley team, and could compete in mixed relays as well.
Spitz took a famous seven golds in Munich 1972 and this was bettered by Phelps in Beijing, whose record eight in 2008 helped him to a career tally of 23 – with 26 more at world championships.
Dressel already has 13 of his own from 2017 and 2019 worlds and has started the lengthy process of hauling in Phelps at the Games – though Spitz’s final total of nine is already within sight.
Australian Emma McKeon topped the women’s 100m free semis followed by Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey and two-time Olympic champion Cate Campbell of Australia while South African Tatjana Schoenmaker just missed the world record in the 200m breaststroke, 2:19.33.
Another Aussie, Kaylee McKeown, led the 200m backstroke heats.
In the men’s 200m backstroke semis, Russian Evgeny Rylov clocked the fastest time and Wang Shun topped the 200m individual medley.
And the inaugural mixed 4×100 medley relay heats were toppped by a powerful British quartet.