TOKYO – The first Summer Olympics without Michael Phelps in 25 years gathered pace on Saturday without an American medal. On Sunday morning, and rightly so, a protégé of Phelps brought Team USA onto the board.
And he didn’t just win a medal. Chase Kalisz won gold.
Kalisz, who grew up nine years behind Phelps and 45 minutes behind him in Maryland, won the men’s 400-meter individual medley. His compatriot Jay Litherland won the silver medal.
These are the first of a dozen swimming medals the United States will win over the next eight days.
Phelps, calling the race for NBC about 50 yards, raised his arms in the air and pumped a right fist.
“My heart is about to come out of my chest,” Phelps said on the show. “I’m so happy right now.”
Kalisz swam a strong butterfly leg and finished second after the first 100. He took second after the backstroke and then took the lead with his breaststroke, full length and 2.47 seconds when he hit the wall before the final 100. And he held on with his style. free, winning in 4: 09.42, 0.8 ahead of Litherland. Australian Brendon Smith won bronze.
Kalisz first met Phelps when he was 6 years old. They started training together when the first was a teenager and the second was already an Olympic gold medalist. Phelps broke the 400 IM world record in 2008, then later in his career he turned away from swimming’s most grueling race.
Kalisz finally took his place, not as an Olympic legend, and far from the world record of Phelps which still stands, but as the best American in the event. He won silver in Rio five years ago, almost chasing Japan’s Kosuke Hagino for gold, but was unsuccessful.
A year later, at the world championships, Kalisz clocked 4: 05.90, the third fastest time ever in the 400 IM. He then struggled with a painful and frustrating shoulder injury a few years later, but recovered to travel to Tokyo for what he said was his last Olympic 400 IM.
Along the way, he had Phelps in his corner, helping him with running strategy, giving him an occasional kick in the butt when he needed it.
“Michael has really been like an older brother to me in my life from a very, very young age,” Kalisz said during the US Olympic trials.
On Sunday, Phelps watched from the press gallery.
“He was a little brother to me and still is,” said Phelps. “I love her to death.”
The first of many American swimming medals
Saturday marked the first time in 49 years that the United States failed to win a medal on the first full day of the Games. But on Sunday the swim finals arrived and definitely changed the tales. Over the next eight days, the American swimmers will propel the American team to the top of the medal standings and likely hold them there the rest of the way.
On Monday, Katie Ledecky, Torri Huske, Claire Curzan, Michael Andrew and another relay team could further strengthen the total.
By Wednesday, Ledecky, Lilly King, Ryan Murphy and a few American teens could have the United States firmly in the lead.
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