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There is a plane some athletes ascend to where the expectations are set so high that anything below the mountaintop feels like a failure. Katie Ledecky reached that level during her otherworldly performance in Rio, where she not only beat the other swimmers in her path, but dusted past her competitors far enough to eliminate them from our TV screens.
But in the wake of Ledecky’s second-place finish in the 400-meter free in Tokyo, it feels worth saying: There is zero shame in winning an Olympic silver medal.
In one of the most anticipated events at the Olympics, Australian Ariarne Titmus turned on the jets in the final 100 meters to pass Ledecky. It may have been surprising if you hadn’t done your research before Tokyo, but those in the know had been warning this race was up for grabs. Before and after the race, they both said all the right things. Titmus credited Ledecky for pushing her the last four years. Ledecky was gracious in defeat.
Ledecky’s time was the third-fastest in the history of the event, it just happened to be second on that day. She will have more chances to win gold before she heads back home, but adding a silver to her medal haul should still be considered a positive when we look back on her week, on her five years in between Olympics and on her career when all is said and done.
Remember that after Michael Phelps’s historic eight golds performance in Beijing, he followed it up with four golds and two silvers in London. Then he hauled in another five golds and a silver in Rio. Those silvers do nothing to tarnish his legacy; they only enhance it.
Simone Biles went to Rio hoping to win five gold medals, and she ended up with four golds and a bronze. Again: Not a failure at all—an incredible achievement.
A gold medal is meaningful and important, and we know that from the reactions of those who get them. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter if you win at all, or that they’re all winners just for being there. But when it comes to those chasing historic achievements, those whose careers span multiple Olympics, those who compete in multiple disciplines or distances or apparatuses, a final tally that falls a little short of all gold doesn’t diminish the overall body of work.
From the Weekend
In Sunday morning’s newsletter I mentioned Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui (including a typo that several of you wrote in about … sorry about that). I now have to pass along this video of his family watching the race. This tweet is not written in English, but it requires no translation.
One more must-see video: This bonkers “false start” in the men’s triathlon, because a motor boat was blocking half of the runners from jumping into the water. It looks like a Snickers commercial.
Yesterday’s newsletter also mentioned Lee Kiefer’s dominant win in the fencing foil semifinals, and Anastasija Zolotic’s spot in the taekwondo finals. Both won historic golds. Kiefer’s was the first ever individual foil for Team USA and Zoltoic’s was the first women’s gold in taekwondo.
While You Were Sleeping
One of this year’s new Olympic sports seems to be a major hit. At least according to the people I follow on Twitter. It felt like everyone I follow was locked in on the event, most of them commenting that the teenage Olympians are more athletic, cooler and have better wardrobes than them. The three medalists were 13, 13 and 16. SI’s Stephanie Apstein was there, here’s her column.
The rugby action started on Monday in Tokyo, and the U.S. men played their first two games. Both were Ws, meaning the team is guaranteed to get out of group play and into the quarterfinals. That’s an improvement over 2016, when the team was eliminated after dropping two games in the group stage.
The first win in particular was exciting, as the U.S. took a 12–0 lead, fell behind 14–12, then came up with a fantastic strip to prevent what was nearly a game-clinching score before going back in front 19–14. In the second game, the U.S. started up 12-0 and held off Ireland 19–17. The U.S. will play South Africa on Monday at 10:30 p.m. ET to determine seeding.
The U.S. finished group play against Japan in a game that didn’t really matter, because the two favorites were already guaranteed to meet each other in the gold medal game. But winning is always nice, and I’m sure the team was happy to preserve its perfect record (as well as gain “home-field advantage” for the final, i.e. the right to bat last). If you’re gonna win, you might as well do it on a walk-off homer, so that’s what they did.
I wrote on Saturday about the U.S. women’s team, which had a historically dominant win over Japan. China put up a much tougher fight, taking a two-goal lead early and keeping things tied 6–6 at halftime. But goalie Ashleigh Johnson mostly shut things down in the second half, as they won 12–7.
NBA fans are already familiar with Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić. The 22-year-old scored 31 points in the first half of Slovenia’s win over Argentina and finished with 48 in all. Remember these are 40-minute games, too.
It had been mostly smooth sailing for the U.S. women’s 3x3 team, but Italy gave them a good game just before 5:00 a.m. ET on Monday. The U.S. had a one-point lead with less than two minutes left, and the Italians got off several shots to tie it. They hung on for a 17–13 win to move to 5–0.
Great Britain’s Tom Daley made his Olympic debut at age 14 in Beijing, and he received a lot of attention for winning a bronze representing the host country in London in 2012. In his fourth Olympics, he finally won his first gold medal, with partner Matty Lee, in the 10m synchronized platform.
Amber English won gold in skeet shooting with an Olympic record 56 points in the finals.
Snapshots from Tokyo
Here’s our latest gallery from SI’s photographers on the ground in Tokyo. I love these every day.
What To Watch
Monday night and Tuesday morning, all times ET.
Swimming: Another full slate starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday. This session’s medal events: Men’s 200-meter free, men’s and women’s 100-meter backstroke, women’s 100-meter breaststroke
Gymnastics: One of the signature events of the Olympics, the women’s team final is at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday
Softball: Gold medal game between Team USA and Japan at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday
Triathlon: Women’s race starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday
Shooting: Mixed team 10m air pistol at 10 p.m. Monday
Cycling: Women’s cross country mountain bike at 2:00 a.m. Tuesday
Diving: Women’s synchronized platform at 2:00 a.m. Tuesday
Shooting: Mixed team 10m air rifle at 2:15 a.m. Tuesday
Weightlifting: Women’s 59kg at 2:50 a.m. Tuesday; 64kg at 6:50 a.m. Tuesday
Canoe slalom: Women’s kayak at 3:15 a.m. Tuesday
Equestrian: Dressage team grand prix at 4:00 a.m. Tuesday
Fencing: Women’s epee team at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday
Judo: No Americans, but overnight bouts with medals around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday
Taekwondo: No Americans, but overnight bouts with medals at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday
Women’s beach volleyball: April Ross and Alix Klineman vs. Spain at 8:00 p.m. Monday
Water polo: USA men vs. South Africa at 9:00 p.m. Monday
Surfing: Caroline Marks at 9:00 p.m. Monday and Carissa Moore at 9:36 p.m. Monday
Volleyball: USA women vs. China at 10:05 p.m. Monday
Rugby: USA men vs. South Africa at 10:30 p.m. Monday
Men’s beach volleyball: Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser vs. at 11:00 p.m. Monday
3x3 basketball: USA women vs. Japan 12:30 a.m. Tuesday
Basketball: The USA women have their Olympic debut against Nigeria at 12:40 a.m. Tuesday
Soccer: USA women vs. Australia at 4:00 a.m. Tuesday
Boxing: Delante Johnson vs. Kazakhstan’s Ablaikhan Zhussupov at 4:15 a.m. Tuesday
Men’s doubles badminton vs. Germany at 5:00 a.m. Tuesday
Swimming: Morning heats starting at 6:00 a.m., including men’s 100m free and men’s 800m free
Boxing: Oshae Jones vs. Mexico’s Sandoval Cruz at 6:39 a.m. Tuesday
Caz’s Medal Picks
Every day Brian Cazeneuve will give us a few medal predictions for some upcoming events.
Gymnastics, women’s team final
The U.S. has won a medal in seven straight Olympic team finals. In 2016, the winning U.S. margin was 9.959 points, greater than the gap between silver medalist China and 12thplace Belgium (7.441 points).
Japan defeated the U.S. for gold, the last time softball was in the Olympics in 2008.
Diving, women’s synchronized platform
Gold: Chen Yuxi and Zhang Jiaqi (China)
Silver: Meaghan Benfeito and Caeli McKay (Canada)
Bronze: Mun Yee Leong and Pandelela Pamg (Malaysia)
Leong is 36. Jessica Parratto and Delaney Schnell (U.S.) have a chance at a medal.
Triathlon, women’s individual
Gold: Flora Duffy (Bahamas)
Silver: Summer Rappaport (U.S.)
Bronze: Maya Kingma (Netherlands)
Taylor Knibb and Katie Zaferes give the U.S. three solid chances at a medal. Bermuda’s only other Olympic medal was Clarence Hill’s bronze in heavyweight boxing in 1976.
• Again, Stephanie Apstein on women's skateboarding.
• Stephanie also wrote about Jennifer Mucino, who had never heard of archery until she decided to become an Olympic archer.
• Michael Rosenberg on Katie Ledecky, silver medalist.
• Pat Forde on Bowe Becker, who retired and was waiting tables, then became a gold medalist.
Fun weekend! Hopefully everyone can still catch all the early morning action on a workday. Thanks for reading.