The evening began with a semi-final pitting America’s most dominate female, Katie Ledecky, facing Sweden’s powerhouse Sarah Sjostrom in what should be the most competitive final in Ledecky’s schedule, the 200m free. Ledecky opened the race up easy but found that Sjostrom had too much closing speed to catch in the semis. Both posted impressive times, ranking top among swimmers in the world this year, but far from the record of Francesca Pelligrini, who was swimming in the same heat and finished third. Ledecky will have to find speed and take the race out quickly to hold off the powerful and persistent Sjostrom, who already has a gold medal this Olympics from the 100m fly.
Following that, Americans Conor Dwyer and Townley Haas faced off in the 200m freestyle final against the tough international field. The gamey and irreverent Chad Le Clos of South Africa took the race out with an incredible first 100, 50.36, nearly a second ahead of the field. Le Clos would succumb to the advance of China’s Sun Yang who ultimately won, but the South African hung on for a silver medal. Conor Dwyer of the US swam the race of his life and swam a 1:45.23, missing Le Clos by .03 and picking up a bronze, ahead of Great Britain’s James Guy and Haas. This was Yang’s 2nd medal this Olympics, Dwyer’s first ever, and the first this time for Le Clos as well, who went on to swim the semi-finals of the 200 fly later in the evening.
In the 100m back final, the young American Kathleen Baker came in on top but had to worry about the dominance of Katinka Hosszu who has been absolutely on fire so far this meet. Hosszu closed hard with the fastest final 50m in the field to grab the gold in an impressive 58.45, tenths off the Olympic and World records. Baker clung on to second by the narrowest of margins, touching ahead of China’s Yang Fu and Canada’s Kylie Masse at 58.76 by a mere .01 to secure her silver medal. The Olympic Record holder and reigning champ, Emily Seebohm had a notably off race and finished at the bottom of the heat with Australian teammate Madison Wilson. Olivia Smoliga of the USA grabbed 6th.
The finals of the 100m back pitted four men of near even speed against each other in one of the best battles so far. Young gun Ryan Murphy and Olympic rookie and 31-year-old David Plummer from the US matched up with the fastest man in the world last year, Australia’s Mitch Larkin, and France’s Camille Lacourt (whose best times all span the same two tenths of a second) as well as China’s Jiayu Xu. Larkin had the race at the first wall, followed by Xu and Plummer, but Ryan Murphy fought back from 4th and became the second man to break 52 seconds, the first to do it without a tech suit, the new Olympic Record holder and the gold medalist, continuing a 20+ year streak of US backstroke dominance. Xu held on to take silver ahead of America’s Plummer who grabbed bronze. This is the third straight Olympics in which both American men medalled in the 100m back.
The 100 breast final was clouded by a personal feud propagated by American Lilly King against once-suspended Russian Yulia Efimova. The story, which is often muddled, is the Efimova unintentionally purchased a supplement from a GNC containing banned substances while training at USC. It is almost certain she did not dope as part of a larger Russian conspiracy, as many fond of bashing East Germany would have you believe; furthermore, one of the substances detected in her sample has come on and off the banned substance list. King, the 19-year-old professed-“not fan” of doping was not shy about calling Efimova out before and after the race…which brings me to the results. Lilly King swam a hands-down out-of-this-world 100m breast. She was out fast, had strong strokes and aggressive turnover and was in control of the race from the get-go. Teammate Katie Meili was not far behind, second at the first turn, and looking technically perfect throughout – however, Efimova turned on the gas in the last 20m and chased down Meili to grab a silver. Meili, a proud Columbia University graduate and all-around awesome person, picked up the bronze. The story here should be a new Olympic record was set and there was a great race between three swimmers approved to compete in the Olympic games. King’s 1:04.93 is tied for 7th fastest swim ever with a Rebecca Soni swim in 2010. Only world record holder Ruta Meilutyte has ever been faster, and she finished a surprising 7th with a pedestrian 1:07.32. Shin Jinglin of China grabbed 4th.
The men’s 200m butterfly semifinal, which did not include American Tom Shields, pitted the legend Michael Phelps against the reigning Olympic champion and general provocateur Chad Le Clos, veteran Laszlo Cseh with the second fastest time in history, Japanese star Daiya Seto, and rising star and fast-closer Tamas Kenderesi. Cseh narrowly took the first heat in a 1:55.18; the second heat was where the action was. Phelps looked controlled but a little off on his way to swimming a 1:54.12, but he was passed handily in the last 10 meters by a possessed Kenderesi. Le Clos grabbed third in the heat and fourth overall, .01 behind Cseh’s time. This framed the final nicely. Will Cseh and Le Clos drop down to the 1:52s they’re capable of, will Kenderesi overtake Phelps in his signature event and keep him from gold again, or will the king be restored to his throne?
Day three ended with another dominant swim, but not for once from Katinka Hosszu, who only had to be good enough to make top 8, since she had just crushed the 100 back and was more than likely starting to feel tired. Siobhan Marie-O’Connor of Great Britain wowed the crowd in the first heat, taking off on the butterfly leg and cementing a 1-second lead during the breaststroke to finish in a 2:07.57, a top-15 all time swim. Dirado grabbed second in the heat. In the second heat, Hosszu posted a 2:08.13, just ahead of Dirado’s time, followed by embattled Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen and American Melanie Margalis (who had touched out veteran Caitlin Leverenz at Olympic Trials in dramatic fashion to earn this swim). This race will come down to Hosszu vs Marie-O’Connor unless Dirado unleashes something amazing on the pool, but the Stanford grad is in a great position to fight for third.
On day 4, we’ll see the outcome of the women’s 200m free, the men’s 200m fly, and the women’s 200m IM, as well as the 4×200 free relay with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, as well as semi-finals in the men’s 100m free with Nathan Adrian and Caeleb Dressel, women’s 200m fly which Hosszu is listed for as well, and men’s 200m breast.