USA’s Caeleb Dressel and Australia’s Emma McKeon confirmed their status as the fastest swimmers on earth in their respective gender as both completed the sprinting double by adding the 50m crown to their 100m titles.
Men’s 50m free
Though the dash events have their risks as even one small minor error may ruin a top contender’s chance, it was hard not to call Caeleb Dressel (and Emma McKeon) as the hot favourite. Dressel was superior in this event (as well) at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships and came here as a distant world rank leader who clocked 21.04 at the US trials (interestingly, No. 2 ranked Vlad Morozov of ROC finished bottom in the semis).
And in this event the American’s outstanding starting dive and powerful underwater kicks secure an even bigger edge as after surfacing only 35m remain to be covered and he is already ahead by a metre or so.
And the script did not change for the Tokyo final either. Dressel never let his advantage go, he touched in first in 21.07, the fastest ever swim at the Olympics, with a visible gap of 0.48sec ahead of the others – the largest margin ever recorded in this event at the Games.
The battle for the minor spoils were much more reminiscent of the usual fierce finishes from the past – and Florent Manaudou managed to get the silver once more. It was the first medal here for France (in swimming) and a third consecutive podium for the giant, a fantastic feat indeed (only the second man to achieve that after USA’s Gary Hall Jr). Manaudou, little bro for Olympic gold medallist Laure, was champion in London 2012, lost by 0.01sec in Rio which disappointed him enough to look for some consolation in handball, only to return in 2019 and regain his shape for these Games.
Ageless Brazilian warrior, 32-years old Bruno Fratus, 4th in London and 6th in Rio, finally made the Olympic podium. He was runner-up to Dressel at the last two Worlds so he was really destined to earn this medal – and he could nail it this time. Faith gave him back what he lost in London – back then he missed the podium by 0.02sec, now he out-touched US Michael Andrew by exactly the same 0.02sec for the bronze.
Since the debut of the 50m in 1988, only the first three editions saw the sprinting double, first by Matt Biondi (US) in Seoul, then by Alexander Popov (RUS) in back-to-back editions in 1992 and 1996. After 25 years, Dressel joins these two all-time greats to appear on an unmissable page in the history book.
"I'm proud of myself, I think I reached what my potential was here at these Games” Dressel said at the end of the session as he was also swimming in the relay. “It was just really fun racing. I'll give myself a pat on the back and then I'll just put it away and move forward.”
He admitted that now is a bit of exhausted. “I'm going to take a break here – I'm pretty over swimming. It was real fun competing here and I wouldn't change a single thing. Once a meet's over, of course I'm happy, but I was also very happy when it was going on. I'm pretty over it to be honest, so to end it with this relay like we did is so special, very special."
Runner-up Florent Manaudou was much more delighted than five years ago. "It's a much better one. I stopped swimming for two and a half years and played handball, I went and enjoyed my life and realised that sport is good for crazy moments like this. I enjoyed that race, when you stop and come back you appreciate much more the journey."
With Paris 2024 is already on the horizon, it’s obvious to ask if he stay on board for the home Games in the next three years.
"I hope so. I would love to go to Paris to be with the fans. Even if it was not in France, being in an Olympics is good but without the people, it is different. I would love to finish in Paris and just race and take some good moments."
The last Olympics in Rio produced the tightest finish ever, with the top five hitting the wall within 0.08sec. That was repeated in Gwangju 2019, where the top four came in 0.07sec and the eventual champions, Pernille Blume (DEN) and Simone Manuel (USA) won by 0.02sec on both occasions.
However, this time Emma McKeon stood out – her speed was unmatchable in the 100m and also delivered an Olympic record-breaking swim in the semis. The final reproduced the ranks from the SF – but McKeon really saved her best to the last and with a 23.81 blast she won with ease.
Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom should get all the credits to regain some shape after fracturing her elbow in the winter – the world record holder was a clear second in 24.07, while title-holder Blume managed to grab the bronze in 24.21, 0.09sec ahead of 2012 champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED).
In a heart-warming scene, the Danish bronze medallist was first hugged by the men’s runner-up Florent Manaudou who remained on the deck and waited for her sweetheart to greet her a kiss – a nice couple with a nice couple of medals.
Emma McKeon was overwhelmed with the happenings this morning as she bagged two golds.
“I never thought I’d win two gold medals in one session. I’m very happy. It is very surreal. It went by very quickly, I’m very happy with how the meet went.”
Though Sarah Sjostrom had some truly outstanding achievements behind her back, this silver medal is a very special chapter in her story, which included a broken elbow just five months ago.
"This is one of my biggest achievements in my career” the Swede said. “I've been winning a lot of medals and breaking a lot of world records, but this has been the toughest challenge so far. In my first swim a couple of weeks after my surgery, I didn't believe in myself. I'm happy I had a lot of people around me that helped me – they believed in me all the way."
"We didn't know if I would make it all the way to the podium – we were just like, 'maybe a final if I can’. It has been a really hard journey, but it has definitely made me even tougher as an athlete, so very exciting."