While the drama died down slightly, jaw-dropping performances by incredible athletes in the pool were a mainstay until the very end in Rio.
To kick off day five of the eight-day competition, Josh Prenot charged through the 200-meter breaststroke to earn a silver medal. He managed to accelerate throughout the race and almost caught a fading Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan but fell short by .07 seconds. Prenot’s final time, however, was .37 seconds off his American record time from U.S. Olympic Trials.
Without missing a beat, Cal swimmers continue to haul in medals. Following Prenot’s race, Nathan Adrian, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter freestyle, won the bronze medal in the event. Adrian, a consistent and reliable sprint freestyler for Team USA, was unable to accomplish the rare feat of being a repeat champion in the event.
He added another bronze medal in the 50-meter freestyle, an event in which he holds the American record. Adrian was .09 seconds behind another former Bear, Anthony Ervin, who won the gold medal. The last time Ervin won an Olympic gold in the 50-meter freestyle was 16 years ago in Sydney, where Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut.
For Ryan Murphy, the Olympic Games was not only a special moment but also a noteworthy page in history.
In addition to becoming the first person to sweep the backstroke events at the Olympic Games since Aaron Piersol in 2004, Murphy took the Olympic record in the 100-meter backstroke in the individual event on day three of competition. Jacob Pebley joined Murphy in the 200-meter backstroke — an event Murphy won — but uncharacteristically faded to fifth place. On the last day of competition, Murphy led off the 4×100-meter medley relay and broke the 100-meter backstroke world record by .09 seconds.
In the 4×100-meter medley relay, Murphy joined Cody Miller, Phelps and Adrian to take down the Olympic record and win the gold medal. The medal was Murphy’s third Olympic gold. Phelps’ last race, however, the medley relay, gave him his 23rd gold and 28th overall medal at the Olympic Games. Former Bear Tom Shields also earned a gold medal by swimming the butterfly leg in the prelims before being replaced by Phelps, who oddly finished in a three-way tie for second in the 100-meter butterfly in finals. Shields, however, did not medal in either of his individual events.
Both the men’s and women’s 4×100-meter medley relay team were hunting for the world record. Unfortunately, both fell short. The women’s event had a remarkable value, however, as the gold medal-winning relay of Kathleen Baker, Lilly King, Dana Vollmer and Simone Manuel earned Team USA’s 1,000th gold medal in Olympic history. Abbey Weitzeil, an incoming freshman at UC Berkeley, received a gold medal for her prelims swim in the event. Weitzeil also finished 12th in the 50-meter freestyle and seventh in the 100-meter freestyle, the race in which Manuel tied for gold with 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak from Canada.
Relay dominance is fairly typical for Team USA because of the country’s incredible depth. In six relays, the United States won gold in five and silver in the sixth. Both Cal and Stanford swimmers have played a huge role in most of the relays. While the medley relays were controlled by the Bears, Stanford women were more prominent in the freestyle relays such as the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. In that event, Missy Franklin — who has had a rough competition — and Cierra Runge helped Team USA qualify for finals. But Katie Ledecky — an incoming Stanford freshman — and Maya DiRado replaced the two en route to a gold medal.
As the swimming portion of these Olympic Games have come to a close, the community has an opportunity to think about what it has witnessed. In his swan song, Phelps had one of the all-time greatest Olympic performances by finishing with five golds and one silver. DiRado and Manuel proved why Team USA should never be betted against. Murphy had his Olympic breakout party. Ledecky showed the world what dominance looked like. More importantly, however, the United States demonstrated why it was great on an international stage.