US superstar Caeleb Dressel flew faster than Kyle Chalmers to add the Olympic 100m freestyle crown to his two world titles Thursday, as China’s women sparked a huge upset with a new world record to win the 4x200m relay.
American Dressel missed out on the sprint medals at Rio in 2016, but he has since exploded, winning an incredible 13 titles over the past two world championships to be an imposing force.
He was in front at the turn in Tokyo but had to dig deep to hold off a storming Chalmers and hit the wall in a new Olympic record time of 47.02sec.
The Australian took silver in 47.08 ahead of Russia’s Kliment Kolesnikov in 47.44.
“It’s been a really tough year, really hard. I’m really happy,” said Dressel, in tears as he was connected via video link to his wife and family back home.
“It’s so fun going with Kyle, I mean every time we make it good.”
It was his second gold of the Games after spearheading the US to the 4x100m relay title, but his first-ever individual Olympic crown.
He will also swim the 50m freestyle and the 100m butterfly, and could feature in two other relays to keep his dream alive of a six gold medal haul.
Chalmers was disappointed, but said he did all he could.
“It’s half a second faster than I was in Rio,” he said. “I left everything in the pool. I gave everything I could.
“But you know, to win gold in 2016, come back and win silver, it is great.”
In a major shock, neither the United States nor Australia won the women’s 4x200m relay for the first time since the event was added to the Olympic program in 1996.
Instead, China’s Yang Junxuan, Zhang Yufei, Li Bingjie and Tang Muhan dominated, leading all the way to clock an incredible 7:40.33 ahead of the United States (7:40.73) and Australia (7:41.29).
All three teams were under the previous world time of 7:41.50 set by Australia in 2019.
Li held off a charging Katie Ledecky over the final leg to clinch the title.
“These girls swam their lights out and I got in a position where I thought I could take on those ladies next to us,” said Ledecky. “I wish I had another half second in me but I gave it my all.”
More to give
Meanwhile, Zac Stubblety-Cook became the first Australian to win the Olympic 200m breaststroke crown in 64 years, upstaging Russian two-time world champion Anton Chupkov who came fourth.
Arno Kamminga went out hard but was overpowered by Stubblety-Cook in the final 50m, touching in a new Olympic record time of 2:06.38 ahead of the Dutch ace and Finland’s Matti Mattsson.
“That was an experienced field but as I stepped through the heat and semi it was quite exciting to know that I had a little bit more to give,” said Stubblety-Cook. “It’s just an honour.”
China’s Zhang earlier was untouchable in the women’s 200 butterfly, blasting to gold in the third fastest time ever, adding to the silver she won over 100m.
The 23-year-old has been in hot form and hit the wall in a new Olympic record time of 2mins 03.86sec, well clear of American Regan Smith and team-mate Hali Flickinger.
The men’s 800 freestyle was making its Olympic debut this year and American Robert Finke became the first winner, hauling in Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri over the dying stages to post 7min 41.87sec. Ukrainian Mykhailo Romanchuk took bronze.
In semi-final action, Emma McKeon topped the timesheets with a sizzling 52.32 leading into the women’s 100m free final followed by Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey and fellow Australian Cate Campbell.
Russia’s Evgeny Rylov was best into the men’s 200m backstroke decider while South African Tatjana Schoenmaker was unstoppable in the women’s 200m breaststroke.
She swum the second fastest time in history (2:19.16) in the heats and posted 2:19.33 Thursday, putting Rikke Moller Pedersen’s long-standing 2:19.11 world mark under threat.
With Michael Phelps retired, the men’s 200m medley will see a new champion for the first time since 2000, with China’s Shun Wang quickest into Friday’s showdown.