- Associated Press
Sunday, July 25, 2021

TOKYO — No Michael Phelps, no problem for U.S. swimming.

The powerhouse Americans collected six medals — including a gold for Chase Kalisz in the 400-meter individual medley — in the first session of finals. During Phelps’ record-setting career that spanned five Games, the U.S. never won that many medals in the first batch of events.


“A pretty good start for the U.S.,” said Kieran Smith, who in his first major international meet snagged a bronze in the men’s 400 freestyle. “We executed today. I’m really proud of us.”

Kalisz got things going with the country’s first medal in any sport, with teammate Jay Litherland making it a 1-2 finish for the U.S. by rallying on the freestyle leg to claim silver. Emma Weyant and Hali Flickinger took silver and bronze in the 400 IM, and the women’s 4x100 freestyle relay team finished third.

In the 400 free, 18-year-old Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia beat a field of faster and older swimmers. He finished in 3 minutes, 43.26 seconds, punctuating his victory with loud yelling that echoed in the mostly empty 15,000-seat arena.

“I was surprised with myself,” said Hafnaoui, who joined Ous Mellouli as a gold medalist from the north African country. “I couldn’t believe it until I touched the wall and saw the 1 (on the scoreboard).”

Katie Ledecky opened her Olympic program as the top qualifier in the 400-meter freestyle, setting up a showdown with Ariarne Titmus of Australia as the American star tries to defend her title.

Ledecky advanced with a time of 4:00:45 on Sunday night. Titmus was third-quickest in 4:01.66. The first of their multiple showdowns in Tokyo comes in the final on Monday morning.

Ledecky will be looking to carry forward the momentum her teammates built on the first day of the meet, when the U.S. earned six of 12 medals Sunday. Ledecky won the 400 free with a world-record time five years ago in Rio. Titmus, the new star in Australian swimming, took down Ledecky at the 2019 world championships.

Under a ROC

Simone Biles and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team trailed the Russians after qualifying in the team event, the first time in a decade they’ve failed to finish atop the standings during any portion of a major international event.

Biles led the field in a bid for her fifth gold medal, but the U.S. team has work to do to repeat as Olympic champions. The ROC had a score of 171.629 through the first three subdivisions at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, ahead of the second-place Americans’ 170.562.

Biles was the best in the gym but shaky by her standards. She stepped all the way off the mat following a tumbling pass on her floor exercise, then basically did the same on vault. She responded with a solid set on uneven bars, but a spectacular beam routine ended with her taking three major steps backward following her dismount.

Jordan Chiles had a major mistake on bars and a fall on the beam. Sunisa Lee overcame a so-so performance on the floor to surge into second behind Biles with an electric bar routine.

The team final is scheduled for Tuesday night.

In the rough

Known for their towering drives, Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm won’t make it to the tee box at the Olympics.

The past two U.S. Open champions became the best-known athletes to drop out of the Tokyo Games on Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19.

DeChambeau’s positive came before he left the United States for Tokyo. The muscle-bound American famous for his game-changing swing speed will replaced by Patrick Reed.

“I am deeply disappointed not to be able to compete in the Olympics for Team USA,” DeChambeau said in a statement. “Representing my country means the world to me and it is was a tremendous honor to make this team.”

Rahm was flagged for COVID-19 for the second time in two months — he had a six-shot lead at the Memorial in early June when he was forced to withdraw because of a positive test. The Spaniard said he had gotten his final vaccine shot fewer than 14 days before that positive.

Osaka’s debut

Naomi Osaka got back on the court — and back in front of reporters’ microphones — for the first time since withdrawing from the French Open in May to take a mental health break.

The Japanese superstar who lit the Olympic caldron defeated 52nd-ranked Zheng Saisai of China 6-1, 6-4 in her opening match.

Osaka revealed in May that she has dealt with depression and stopped talking with reporters, saying the experience gave her “huge waves of anxiety.”

She said she was “happy” that journalists were asking her questions, then added: “I feel a little bit out of my body right now.”

Taekwondo first

Anastasija Zolotic won the United States’ first gold medal in women’s taekwondo by beating Russian athlete Tatiana Minina 25-17 on Sunday to claim the featherweight division title.

“My 8-year-old self was running around the schoolyard saying I was going to be Olympic champion but she could never have imagined what this moment is like,” Zolotic said. “It’s unbelievable. It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”

The 18-year-old Largo, Florida, native was only the fourth American to reach an Olympic taekwondo final and only the second woman. Steven Lopez won the U.S. team’s only two previous Olympic golds in taekwondo.


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