TOKYO — American Caeleb Dressel finished off his gold rush at the Tokyo Olympics with two more dazzling races, and Australia’s Emma McKeon won seven medals, more than any other female swimmer in a single games.
Now, when the greatest swimmers are mentioned, there are two new names on the list.
Taking his place alongside Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi, Dressel captured his fourth and fifth gold medals of the pandemic-delayed games on the final day of swimming at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
With victories Sunday in the 50-meter freestyle and 4x100 medley relay, the 24-year-old Floridian joined a truly elite club of swimmers who won at least five gold medals at one games.
Phelps did it three times, of course, highlighted by his record eight golds at the 2008 Beijing Games. There’s also Spitz (seven golds in 1972), East German Kristin Otto (six golds in 1988) and Biondi (five golds, also in ‘88).
Dressel starred at the pool with McKeon, who also won two more golds Sunday to push her overall total to seven — four gold and three bronze. She is the first female swimmer to win seven medals at a single games. The only men to do it are Phelps, Spitz and Biondi.
“It still feels very surreal,” the 27-year-old from Brisbane said. “It’s going to take a little bit to sink in. I’m very proud of myself.”
Mirroring Dressel’s final day, McKeon won the 50 free and took the butterfly leg on the Aussies’ winning 4x100 medley relay team on the women’s side.
In the men’s medley — a race the men have never lost at the Olympics —the Americans were trailing two other teams when Dressel dived in for the fly. Just like that, he blew by Britain and Italy with a blistering leg of 49.03 seconds, more than a second faster that anyone else.
Zach Apple made the lead stand up on the freestyle to give the Americans a world record of 3 minutes, 26.78 seconds — eclipsing the mark of 3:27.28 they set at the 2009 Rome world championships in rubberized suits.
Ryan Murphy and Michael Andrew joined Dressel and Apple on the winning team, ensuring the Americans remained unbeaten in the medley relay — the final swimming event at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
In the first event of the morning, Dressel won the 50 free for his third individual title of the games.
Dressel cruised to a relatively easy win in the frenetic dash from one end of the pool to the other, touching first in the 50 free with an Olympic record of 21.07.
When he saw his time and, more important, the “1” beside his name, he splashed the water and flexed his bulging arms.
He also won gold in the 100 free, set a world record in the 100 butterfly and took part in the winning 4x100 free relay.
A few minutes after Dressel climbed from the pool, McKeon completed her own freestyle sweep. She touched in 23.81 to add the 50 title to her victory in the 100.
In the medley relay, McKeon entered truly rarified territory. She is only the second woman in any sport to win seven medals at an Olympics, joining Soviet gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya, who claimed two golds and five silvers at the 1952 Helsinki Games.
McKeon took the butterfly leg before Cate Campbell anchored the Aussies to a victory over the two-time defending champion Americans.
“I don’t know how she does it. I’m exhausted,” said Kyle Chalmers, one of the McKeon’s teammates. “To win one gold medal or an Olympic medal, it’s very, very special. We’re lucky to have her on the team.”
In keeping with the theme of the day, Bobby Finke pulled off his own sweep in the two longest freestyle races.
With another strong finishing kick, Finke became the first American man in 37 years to win the 1,500 freestyle. He added to his victory in the 800 free, a new men’s event at these games.
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One swimmer’s goggles slipped off. Another worried about who was chasing her down. And strangest of all, the world’s dominant male swimmer dived in with no chance.
The Olympic debut of the 4x100-meter mixed medley relay lived up to its promise of utter chaos and unpredictability.
In the end, Britain emerged with a gold medal and a world record of 3 minutes, 37.58 seconds Saturday. China claimed silver and Australia took bronze.
The event features two men and two women from each team who can swim in any order.
Swimming his third event of the day, Dressel anchored the US team as the only man to swim the freestyle leg. Most teams used women on that leg, because the difference in time between women and men is generally less on that stroke than the other three.
The Americans decided not to use Abbey Weitzeil or Simone Manuel, who had competed in the 50 free semifinals right before the relay. If they had, a male swimmer could have taken, say, the breaststroke leg, where there’s a larger gap between the fastest men’s and women’s times — roughly 7½ seconds for the gold medalists in Tokyo.
Ryan Murphy led off for the Americans and had them tied for first with Italy after his backstroke leg.
Lydia Jacoby dived in next for the breaststroke and her goggles immediately slipped down to her mouth.
“I was definitely panicking,” she said. “My turn was where it was most rough because I couldn’t see the wall.”
The 17-year-old from Alaska was wearing just a single cap. Most swimmers wear two caps to help hold their goggles in place.
An impaired Jacoby valiantly battled through her two laps, but the US fell to sixth. The Americans were in eighth when Torri Huske turned it over to Dressel for the closing freestyle leg.
He had far too much of a deficit to make up, pulling the Americans only up to fifth at the finish.
“We didn’t execute well. Fifth-place is unacceptable for USA Swimming, and we’re very aware of that. Our standard is gold,” Dressel said, adding, “I think everyone swam as well as they could have in the moment.”
The other countries either went with two men on the first two legs and two women on the last two, or women on the opening and closing legs with two men swimming the middle legs.
The British team boasted 100 breaststroke champion Adam Peaty, who moved them from sixth to fourth. Anna Hopkin swam the anchor leg, knowing that Dressel was lurking in the choppy water.
“He’s so fast, it is a bit intimidating,” she said.
No need to worry, though.
Dressel was more than 8 seconds off the lead when he took over.
“The guys ahead of me got me such a good lead,” Hopkin said. “He wasn’t catching me.”
The US finish doomed Dressel’s chance to win six golds in Tokyo. He earlier led off the winning 4x100 free relay, and won the 100 free and 100 butterfly. In addition to his 50 free win, he was going for one more in the 4x100 medley relay Sunday, the final day of swimming.
For the second time in the Olympics, the US failed to earn a medal in a relay that it entered, after a fourth-place finish in the men’s 4x200 free relay in Tokyo.
“Next year at worlds, we’ll give it another go and put the pieces together again,” Dressel said.
Dressel said he hadn’t offered any advice to his teenage teammates, pointing out that Jacoby won the 100 breaststroke and Huske, an 18-year-old from Virginia, was fourth in the 100 butterfly.
“Lydia won a gold medal before I did,” Dressel said. “She probably should have been telling me what to do.”
Regardless of the outcome, the mixed relay’s addition to the Olympics brought rave reviews.
“It’s a fun event and that’s what sport needs,” Peaty said. “It needs to be fun.”
Meanwhile, a most trying Olympic year for Manuel came to a disappointing end in the previous race.
The American sprinter failed to advance to the 50 free final. She finished tied for 11th in the semifinals. The top eight made Sunday’s final.
“It’s hard to work so hard for something and not see the results pay off,” she said. “The swim I had was my best today, but it’s not representative of my potential.”
The chaotic single-lap race was Manuel’s only individual event in Tokyo, where she was a co-captain of the US women’s team. She didn’t qualify at the Olympic trials in the 100 free and wasn’t able to defend her historic title won five years ago at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Manuel became the first Black woman to win an individual gold in swimming in 2016. She also claimed silver in the 50 free, one of her four medals from Rio.
She revealed at the trials that she had been diagnosed with burnout earlier this year, forcing her to stop training for a time after the coronavirus pandemic had already disrupted her Olympic preparations. She rallied at trials to qualify for the 50 free.
“I’m really proud of myself,” she said, with teammates Natalie Hinds, Lilly King and Allison Schmitt standing behind her. “I finished what I started.”