From finger-wagging and meme-worthy angry faces to failed cap throws, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games have been nothing short of dramatic. The doping scandal during the lead-up to Rio has resulted in Lilly King’s disrespectful singling out of Yulia Efimova and Efimova’s asking, “Why start (the Cold War) again, by using sport?”
Out of the pool, the stands lack the same reaction to each stroke Michael Phelps takes, as parts of the Phelps clan are missing. In the pool, however, competitors are smashing world, national and Olympic records as well as personal bests.
In just four days of competition, the United States has claimed 18 medals in swimming — seven golds, four silvers and seven bronzes. Hungary, ranked second in terms of gold medals and total medals, has three golds, zero silvers and one bronze.
Cal swimmers have not been slouching. The program’s international swimmers are making huge strides for their countries as the American swimmers demonstrate why the program is one of the best in the country.
With Dana Vollmer, Farida Osman and Noemie Thomas, the Bears were well-represented in the second event, the 100-meter butterfly, of the eight-day competition. Thomas, who struggled in her preliminary race, placed 18th overall and failed to advance to the semifinals despite having the 10th fastest time in the world this year. Her personal best from the Canadian Olympic Trials would have been good for the fifth-fastest time in prelims. Osman qualified for semifinals and broke the Egyptian National Record with a time of 57.83 in prelims. But she, too, would fall short of making finals, as only Vollmer managed to go all the way. Vollmer, the eventual bronze medalist in the event, finished in 56.63, 1.15 seconds behind new world record holder Sarah Sjöström and 0.65 seconds slower than her winning time in London four years ago.
Vollmer teamed with fellow Cal swimmer Abbey Weitzeil and Stanford swimmers Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel for another Olympic medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Stanford’s Lia Neal, Amanda Weir and Allison Schmitt also earned silver medals for their efforts in prelims. Although the squad was more than a second behind the world record-setting Australian relay, the foursome quieted doubters of American women’s sprint freestyler.
The American men’s sprint freestyle corps, however, faced different questions. Cal alumnus Nathan Adrian has been Team USA’s go-to person since 2009. While the United States had plenty of depth, there weren’t any young guns ready to break out at the international level. The men’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay ended up being an excellent opportunity for several college stars to signal the changing of the guard.
Rising juniors Caeleb Dressel and Ryan Held at Florida and North Carolina State, respectively, joined Phelps and Adrian in the relay to take gold, .61 seconds ahead of runner-up France. Dressel, Held and Blake Pieroni, who swam in prelims, could be mainstays on this relay for years to come as Phelps, Adrian, Jimmy Feigen and former Bear Anthony Ervin have been.
In these Olympic Games, the Bears continue to demonstrate both Cal’s and Team USA’s backstroke dominance. On the men’s side, Ryan Murphy, a first-time Olympian, set a new Olympic backstroke record of 51.97, a mere .03 seconds off of Aaron Piersol’s world record. Murphy’s gold medal made it six straight for Team USA in the 100-meter backstroke.
On the women’s side of this event, Kathleen Baker finished in second place, .3 seconds behind a surging Katinka Hosszu. Although Baker couldn’t extend the gold medal streak set by Natalie Coughlin (2004 and 2008) and Missy Franklin (2012), Baker joins a long line of elite backstroke specialists at Cal.
In just four days of competition, the United States has dominated. At just 19 years old, Ledecky is smashing world records. Phelps, in his fifth Olympic Games, continues to make history by collecting three more gold medals. More importantly, several Bears helped Team USA accumulate multiple medals and are in great position to add more. Cal swimmers have three golds, three silvers and one bronze, which would rank second overall if Cal was its own country.