Tokyo 2020, North America Day 1: US Doubles Opening Night Medal Count From 2016

2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Some of the pre-Olympic chatter had to do with the USA’s overall medal count, and whether or not the team would be able to match its lofty totals of the last three Summer Games, where US swimmers have won at least 31 medals each time around.

Well, while there’s plenty of swimming to come, the first night of Olympic competition went almost as well as could be imagined, as the US collected a total of six medals: one gold, two silver, and three bronze. That haul doubled the count from the first day of competition in 2016, when the US team won three silver medals. 

One of those 2016 silver medalists, Chase Kalisz, got the night going with a gold in the 400 IM. His University of Georgia teammate training partner Jay Litherland took silver. 

Next up, Kieran Smith popped a 3:43.96 to take bronze in the 400 free. That time moved Smith to #6 all-time among US men. Up until early 2020, Smith was probably known more for his IM than his freestyle, but he broke out with a U.S. Open record in the 500 yard freestyle in February 2020, and while we never quite know how short course performance will translate into long course, it seemed like Smith had the potential to pop a 3:43 or better at some point, which he finally did tonight.

The US men haven’t won a gold or silver medal in the 400 free since 1984, when George DiCarlo and John Mykkannen went 1-2 in Los Angeles. There was a 16 year-old medal gap, then, Klete Keller (2000, 2004), Lars Jensen (2008), and Peter Vanderkaay (2012), won four-straight bronze medals before the streak was snapped in 2016, when Conor Dwyer finished 4th by about half a second.

After the 400 free, it was finally the US women’s turn, and then responded with a pair of medals of their own, as Emma Weyant and Hali Flickinger took silver and bronze behind Japan’s Yui Ohashi in the 400 IM. The American women hadn’t had put two women on the same podium in this event since 1968, when Claudia Kolb and Lynn Vidali went 1-2 in Mexico City. The last time the Games were held in Tokyo, in 1964, Donna de Varona, Sharon Finneran, and Martha Randall swept the podium for the USA.

Finally, the women earned a bronze medal in the 4×100 free. After the women’s 100 free times at the U.S. Trials last month looked pretty slow, there was again a lot of speculation that the U.S. women might not even medal in the event — something that has never happened when the U.S. has actually entered a team. 

And while Australia unsurprisingly rolled to a new world record, the quartet of Erika Brown, Abbey Weitzeil, Natalie Hinds, and Simone Manuel kept the U.S. on the podium here, taking bronze just 0.03s behind Canada, but almost a second ahead of 4th-place Netherlands.

Quick Hits

  • Buoyed by a 52.26 by anchor Penny Oleksiak, the Canadian women won their fourth medal ever in this event. The previous three medals had all been bronze, and tonight’s showing was the first time the Canadian women ever finsihed ahead of the U.S. women in this event.
  • Oleksiak won four medals in 2016, so tonight’s silver medal moves into her a tie as the most-decorated Canadian in Summer Games history, alongside Leslie Thompson and Lou Marsh. Two Canadians have won six medals (one all Winter medals, one with a combination of Summer and Winter Games), so if Oleksiak can earn another medal this week, she’ll move into a tie as the overall most-decorated Canadian Olympian.
  • Several smaller North American countries had their only male swimmers compete today. Alex Sobers of Barbados finished 34th in the 400 free, swimming a 3:59 for the 2nd Games in a row. Josue Dominquez (Dominican Republic), Izaak Bastian (Bahamas), and Adriel Sanes (Virgin Islands) all swam the 100 breast, finishing 39th, 40th, and 42nd, respectively.

Continental & National Records On Day 1

  • None

North America Medal Table Through Day 

NATION TOTAL MEDALS GOLD SILVER BRONZE
USA 6 1 2 3
Canada 1 1

With a total of seven medals, North America has earned more medals at the end of the first finals session than all other continents combined.

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