RIO DE JANEIRO — It was a day of records and history at the Olympic pool. But at least for now, U.S. swimmers are not among the history makers.
Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu smashed the world record to win the women’s 400-meter individual medley on Saturday night in one of the most dominant races at that distance in many years. Hosszu finished in 4:26.36, way ahead of Maya DiRado of the U.S., who took second in 4:31.15. Throughout the race, the only question was how much would Hosszu lower the old mark of 4:28.43, set by Ye Shiwen of China at the London Games four years ago. Hosszu was ahead of record pace at every wall: 1.3 seconds under at 100 meters, 3.34 up at 200, 4.91 up at 250, 5.25 up at 300 and 3.82 at 350.
The ease with which Hosszu blitzed the field will surely raise questions. Last year, Hosszu feuded with Hungarian officials over her whereabouts and availability for out-of-competition drug tests. Hosszu is known as “The Iron Lady” in Hungary, where she is quite popular and powerful. She runs her own management company, and she has shunned national coaches to be handled by her husband, Shane Tusup. It’s almost too bad that Hosszu takes spotlight from DiRado, who has said she plans to retire from swimming at 23 in order to pursue a “real-world” career. The Stanford grad will take a job as a management consultant in Atlanta after the Games just as she is reaching her peak as a swimmer.
Give Chase Kalisz credit for a great rally in the men’s 400 IM that earned him a silver medal. Baltimore’s Kalisz was in third, nearly two seconds down to Japanese swimmer Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto, but he used a strong third 100 meters—the often race-defining breaststroke leg—to push past Seto and get right on the Hagino’s shoulder. Kalisz, 22, has trained with Michael Phelps, who forecasted him for stardom a couple of years ago. It is a tall order to chase down Hagino, the first Japanese ever to earn honors as FINA World Swimmer of the Year and the world’s most dominant IM swimmer. While the Kalisz’s comeback fell short, he has another good quad ahead of him with his ability to make up so much ground in the breaststroke.
Watch for Sarah Sjostrom when they swim the 100 butterfly final on Sunday. Sjostrom won her semifinal race Saturday night in 55.84 seconds, just 0.2 off the world record she set at the world championships last year, and she didn’t appear to push during the last couple of strokes.
It was a great battle to the wire by Australia’s Mack Horton and China’s Sun Yang in the men’s 400 free. Horton finished in 3:41.55, with Sun 0.13 behind. Italy’s Gabrielle Deti was well off in third at 3:43.49, with Conor Dwyer of the U.S. fourth. This is a heated rivalry. Horton and Sun had a shouting match earlier in the week over rights to a practice lane. And the pair can also go self-infliction for self-infliction. Horton flipped his Land Rover in an accident in May, but his injury list is nothing like Sun’s. Sun broke a bone in his right foot training in January, had to withdraw from the world 1500 in 2015 with heart problems, had surgery for a toenail infection in 2014 and walked away from a crash when his car collided with a bus in 2013. Dwyer pushed the pair early in the race, but over the last 75 meters, Horton and Sun traded the lead several times. This night it was Horton, the sport’s answer to Clark Kent with his dark-rimmed glasses, who prevailed.]
So if this is a meet that will be short on records, someone didn’t bother to tell Adam Peaty, the British breaststroker who lowered his own world mark in the 100-meter breaststroke to 57.55 seconds in the afternoon’s semifinals. He broke his own world record of 57.92 that he set in London last April. After his record-breaking swim in the afternoon, Peaty told the crowd, “The job’s not done yet.”
Even a hard-charging Katie Ledecky couldn’t overcome the world-record swim of the Australian 4x100 freestyle relay team. The first two U.S. swimmers, Simone Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil, kept the U.S. in the lead through 200 meters, ahead of Aussies Emma McKeon and Brittany Elmslie. But the last two legs from the Campbell sisters, Bronte and Cate, were too much for Dana Vollmer and Ledecky, who is still not as competitive at the shorter distance on the international scene. She’ll have ample chance to run away from the field in the longer races later in the week. The Campbell sisters are simply stars, two more examples of the great depth that shines in Australia. They went through the youth Olympic festivals in Australia after their parents moved from their native Malawi, where the sisters were born. They led their team home in 3:30.65, a full 1.2 seconds ahead of the U.S.
This was a good night for U.S. swimmers, though the night was colored in silver.