A fine first day for the United States at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games ended Saturday where U.S. hopes often are brightest, in the swimming pool.
While there was no playing of the Star-Spangled Banner on this night — something that might not happen again at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium — there was a lot for the Americans to like, and build on.
There were three strong silver medals, the last coming in the U.S. women’s 4x100 freestyle relay, anchored by U.S. stalwart Katie Ledecky. She helped lead her team to an American record while Australia set the world record to win the gold by more than a second. It very likely could be the last time Ledecky comes in second in this pool.
Next up: one of her specialties, the 400 freestyle on Sunday, followed by the 200 and 800 and 4x200 freestyle relay as the week goes on.
The U.S. women’s relay performance was fitting on a day when American teenager Ginny Thrasher, competing in the women’s 10-meter air rifle, won the first gold medal of the Rio Games.
U.S. women’s teams picked up right where they left off four years ago in London, where American women won 63% of all U.S. gold medals and 56% of all U.S. medals total.
U.S. women’s field hockey? A big upset of the world’s second-ranked team, Argentina, 2-1. U.S. women’s volleyball? It opened with a smooth win over Puerto Rico. U.S. women’s rugby sevens? It won its first Olympic game. U.S. women’s soccer? We all know that team. It won its second game of the Olympic tournament on a goal by Carli Lloyd (of course) with its second consecutive shutout.
Sometimes individual victory can come without actually finishing first. All three American silver medals in the pool came from stellar personal performances Saturday. First came Chase Kalisz, the 22-year-old protégé of Michael Phelps, who swam his fastest time ever to win a silver medal in the men’s 400 individual medley.
Next, Maya DiRado, the 23-year-old Stanford grad who is retiring from swimming after the Olympics. She ran into a buzz saw in Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, who shattered the world record in the women’s 400 IM by more than two seconds, an astounding margin, to win the gold. DiRado finished nearly five seconds slower than Hosszu, but swam her personal best time by more than half a second. Every swim race has its stories. Hosszu and DiRado each wrote theirs.
Then came the U.S. women’s relay team, which was expected to finish behind the swift Aussies, and did.
“It made it so much more fun to have a relay as my first event, to compete as a team,” Ledecky said.
Added Dana Vollmer, her relay teammate, “We’ve swam faster than any other Americans before. You have to be proud of that.”
The U.S. medal total will swell when Ledecky digs into her specialties and Michael Phelps gets going with his Olympic schedule, also on Sunday in the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay. In London four years ago, the USA dominated the swimming competition with 31 total medals, 16 of them gold. China was a distant second with five gold and 10 medals overall.
In the history of Olympic swimming, the USA is the big cheese by a mile, winning 230 golds and 520 total medals before Saturday night, light years ahead of Australia’s 57 gold and 178 total medals.
That's some pretty impressive math, with new numbers on the way.