Former Georgia teammates Kalisz, Litherland finish 1-2
As a kid Chase Kalisz followed his older sister, Courtney, to the famed North Baltimore Aquatic Club but would dive into the pool that produced Michael Phelps only when enticed by people throwing coins to the water.
If he was lucky, the former Georgia NCAA champion, later recalled, he might come back up with more than a dollar.
Sunday morning a world and decades away from his childhood days of searching for precious medal at the bottom of pools, Chase Kalisz found gold at the end of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Kalisz won the first swimming gold medal of these Olympics Games in the first Olympic final in the post-phelps era, capturing the 400-meter individual medley title that eluded him four years earlier in Rio de Janeiro and leading a 1-2 Team USA sweep with Jay Litherland, Kalisz’s training partner at the Athens Bulldog Swim Club, claiming the silver medal.
“It is my lifelong dream,” said Kalisz, “It is what everyone dreams of in the sport. I do feel like I let the U.S. down in 2016, even though I swam faster here. The U. S. has a proud legacy in the 400m individual medley. This was my redemption story.”
Indeed the nature of UGA, uh, USA sweep was befitting two fighters who had overcome childhood obstacles.
Leon Marchand, the French 19-yearold who has committed to Arizona State, took the early lead with Kalisz trailing in second. Marchand began to fade near the 200 mark with New Zealand’s Lewis Clareburt leading at the halfway mark, Kalisz still second 1:59.99 to 2:00.33. But 50 meters Kalisz had taken a lead that he stretched to nearly three seconds with 100 to go. Kalisz touched the wall in 4 minutes, 9.42 seconds.
“That is really cool that I am the first and I hope it motivates the rest of the team for some more kick-ass performances,” said Kalisz, who at 27 years, 140 days becomes the second oldest Olympic 400 IM champion in history.
“Since the starter beeped everything has been a blur. I don’t know when it (reality) is going to kick in. This is a lifelong dream. I’ve accomplished everything, world titles, NCAA titles and this is the last thing I wanted to check off.”
Litherland, sixth with 100 to go, fourth at the final turn, finished in 4:10.28, Australia’s Brendon Smith taking the bronze medal at a tenth of a second back (4:10.38).
It was the U. S. men’s ninth 400 IM gold medal, Team USA’S sixth in the last seven Games, two of them among Phelps’ Olympic record 23 golds. The sweep was also marked the seventh time the U.S. has gone 1-2 in the event, the first time since Phelps and Erik Vendt took the top two spots in 2004 in Athens.
“We are off to a pretty good start,” Kalisz said referring to both the Tokyo Olympics and Team USA in the post-phelps era. “This has been a year of massive uncertainty and dramas for the team. We’ve even had problems getting over here. But the team has really come together in these last moments ( before the Games). I’m amped to see my team-mates swim.”
Litherland is a triplet and he and his brothers, Mick and Kevin, were born two months prematurely in Osaka because of doctor concerns about breathing issues.