Bears earn 4 medals in 1st half of swimming events

photo of a swimmer during the Olympics
Ilgar Jafarov/Creative Commons

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Bear territory extends far outside the confines of Berkeley.

After sending more than a dozen athletes abroad to swim in the Tokyo Olympics, Cal swimming won four medals in the first four days of the swimming competition. Several additional current and former Bears have represented their alma mater and home nations in event finals.

Former Bear Abbey Weitzeil secured the first Cal swimming medal of the 2020 Olympics and the third Olympic medal of her career as she helped the U.S. women earn bronze in the 4×100-meter free relay. Weitzeil dropped a 52.68 一 the team’s fastest split 一 and, in the process, became one of only 10 swimmers in the final to go under 53 seconds.

Her performance provided a much-needed boost: Weitzeil dove into the water with the United States in sixth place and ended her leg in fourth. Weitzeil is also slated to swim in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, marking her second Olympic appearance in these two disciplines.

The men’s 100-meter back final featured two Bears. Ryan Murphy, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter and 200-meter back, finished third with a time of 52.12.

“It was good. That was the fastest backstroke field heat ever. To be a part of that, that was my best swim of the year, so it is nice to be able to do that in a pressure-packed final,” Murphy said. “ ‘Shoot for the stars and land on the moon.’ That is kind of what it is. Winning an Olympic gold means you’re the best in the world — third in the world is no slouch.”

Murphy was dominant during his time at Cal, earning eight individual NCAA titles in his years donning the blue and gold.Those eight titles were the sum of his wins in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke over four consecutive years.

Murphy won silver 200-meter back, alongside fellow Bear Bryce Mefford, who placed fourth. Murphy has the ability to compete in either of the medley relays.

Recent Cal graduate Katie McLaughlin won a silver medal behind China as part of a thrilling 4×200 relay, which upset the heavily favored Australians, who finished third. All three medalists finished under the existing world record. Swimming third, McLaughlin split a 1:55.38. In the preliminaries, she helped the United States to its second-place seed with a time of 1:56.02. This is her first Olympic Games, though she previously swam at the 2019 World Championships, helping the United States secure a silver medal and American record.

“It was awesome. It was like a dream,” McLaughlin said in an interview right after the race with NBC. “Walking out on a finals relay for the U.S. … and with these girls, I can’t even explain it.”

Spaniard and current Cal swimmer Hugo González also swam in the 100-meter back final and finished sixth with a time of 52.78. He will compete again in the 200-meter individual medley.

A Rio Olympian, González established himself as an impact swimmer on Cal’s roster last season. As part of the 400-meter freestyle relay team, González won an NCAA title in 2021. He also earned all-American honors, totaling 42 points in the Bears’ runner-up performance at the NCAA championships.

Cal swimmer Alicia Wilson, swimming for Great Britain, swam in an Olympic final as well this week, placing eighth in the 200-meter IM with a time of 2:12.86. Wilson’s Olympic performance was preceded by a second-place finish at the Olympic trials, where she earned a lifetime best of 2:09.61.

Wilson also is on the heels of an impressive season with the Bears: At the Pac-12 championships, she captured the gold in the 200-meter IM and anchored Cal’s 800-meter freestyle relay to victory.

Cal swimmers have plenty of races yet to come as Olympic swimming continues this week, with many more medals up for grabs. Outside of the familiar waters of Spieker Aquatic Center, the Bears have nevertheless risen to the occasion on the world’s biggest stage.

Contact Rachel Alper at [email protected].