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Dressel considered on ill-fated relay, saw no chance of gold

Dressel considered on ill-fated relay, saw no chance of gold

Caeleb Dressel has a shot to win six gold medals at the Tokyo OlympicsBy PAUL NEWBERRY AP Sports WriterJuly 30, 2021, 7:41 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleTOKYO — Caeleb Dressel has a shot to win six gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics.He might’ve added another medal to his collection if he’d swam the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, but he doesn’t think there’s any chance it would’ve been gold.Dressel revealed Friday that he was in strong consideration for the relay — a move that Olympic icon Michael Phelps says would’ve given the Americans a shot at gold.Britain wound up winning the race, just missing a world record, while the U.S. quartet was shut out of the medals with a shocking fourth-place showing.It was the first time the Americans have failed to win a medal in a relay they entered at the Olympics. They had been 94 of 94.“I think (Britain) was going to win that no matter who was on a relay,” Dressel said. “They had the depth this year. In my opinion, I think it was a race for silver. It kills me to say that. The standard for United States swimming is gold. But GB had the guys. They had a fantastic relay.”The British were led by Tom Dean and Duncan Scott, who finished 1-2 individually in the 200 freestyle.Dressel did not attempt to qualify for the U.S. team in the 200 free, though he has plenty of experience at that distance.He swam it in the preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic trials — mainly to stay sharp in the early days of the meet — before dropping out to focus on his stronger races.Dressel is competing in three individual events at Tokyo, and is expected to be on three relays. He already led the Americans to gold in the 4×100 free relay and claimed his first individual Olympic title with a victory in the 100 free.Dressel said he learned a couple of days before the 4×200 free relay that he wouldn’t be on the team.“It was really tough, but we thought that’s what was what was best for the team,” he said. “I’m still OK with the decision. There’s nothing I can do about it now, so I’m fine with the decision. I thought the coaches nailed the order. I don’t think that (fourth-place finish) falls on anybody.”But Phelps was highly critical of Dressel being passed over.“It’s shocking,” Phelps, who is working as an analyst for NBC at these games, said in an interview with the American television network. “You know, in my opinion, he’s probably the best 200 freestyler in the world. He can probably put up one of the best times that we’ve seen.”The American coaches went with Kieran Smith, Drew Kibler, Zach Apple and Townley Haas in the final. They labored to a time of 7 minutes, 3.24, more than 4 1/2 seconds behind the gold medalists and also trailing Russia and Australia.Apple was heavily criticized on social media for swimming for one of the slowest legs of anybody in the field. His time of 1:47.31 was worst among any swimmers from the top five teams; only four of the 32 athletes in the entire field turned in a slower 200 time.“Really it was a race for second,” said Dressel, who turned in a time of 1:46.63 in his lone 200 free race at the U.S. Olympic trials last month. “I stand by the decision with the guys they put on the relay.”———AP Sports Writer Beth Harris contributed to this report.———Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry———More AP Olympic coverage: https://www.apnews.com/OlympicGames and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

South African sets world swim record; Aussies add 6th gold

South African sets world swim record; Aussies add 6th gold

TOKYO — South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker was the star of the day, setting the first individual swimming world record at the Tokyo Olympics.Others shined, too.Evgeny Rylov completed a backstroke double for Russia, Emma McKeon gave the Aussie women another gold, and China earned a return trip to the top of the medal podium.The mighty Americans? For the first time in the meet, they spent the entire session Friday watching others win gold.Schoenmaker, a 24-year-old South African, won the women’s 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2 minutes, 18.95 seconds, breaking the mark of 2:19.11 set by Denmark’s Rikke Moller Pedersen at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona.It was the third world record at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, with the first two coming in women’s relays.“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” said Schoenmaker, who added to her silver in the 100 breast. ”It couldn’t have been a better race. It still just doesn’t sink in, maybe one day.”Rylov thoroughly snuffed out America’s dominance in the backstroke, adding the 200 title to his victory in the 100 back.Rylov won with an Olympic-record time of 1:53.29, while American Ryan Murphy wound up with the silver (1:54.15).Murphy was a double-gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he extended an American winning streak that began at the 1996 Atlanta Games.The U.S. won 12 straight men’s backstroke events over six Olympics, but that streak ended with Rylov’s victory in the 100. He made it 2-for-2 in the longer race, while Murphy settled for bronze and silver in the two events.Britain’s Luke Greenbank grabbed the 200 bronze in 1:54.72.McKeon touched first in the 100 freestyle with an Olympic-record time of 51.96, becoming only the second woman to break 52 seconds in the sprint.Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey earned the silver in 52.27, while another Aussie, Cate Campbell, took the bronze in 52.52. American Abbey Weitzeil was last in the eight-woman field.The Australians have won four individual women’s events at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, in addition to setting a world record in a 4×100 free relay that included both McKeon and Campbell.The team from Down Under has six golds overall, tied with the Americans, though the U.S. has the lead in the overall medal count.The Americans won three medals Friday, also claiming the other two spots on the podium behind Schoenmaker.But it was the first time the U.S. team went through an entire sessions of finals in Tokyo without winning at least one gold.Lilly King set a blistering pace early in the 200 breast and held on for a silver in 2:19.92, adding to her bronze in the 100 event. Annie Lazor nabbed the bronze in 2:20.84.“I don’t come from behind, that’s for sure, so I just wanted to put it out there and see where it goes,” King said. “I thought I did great.”A day after winning its first two golds at the pool, China picked up another victory when Wang Shun touched first in the men’s 200 individual medley.Wang edged Britain’s Duncan Scott with a time of 1:55.00. Scott took the silver in 1:55.28, while the bronze went to Switzerland’s Jeremy Desplanches in 1:56.17.It was another disappointment for hometown star Daiya Seto, who didn’t even qualify for the final of his first two events. He got through in the 200 IM, but just missed out on a medal with a fourth-place finish — a mere five-hundredths of a second behind the Swiss bronze medalist.American Michael Andrew led after the third leg, powering to the top spot on the breaststroke. But he faded badly on the freestyle to wind up in fifth, more than 2 seconds behind the winner.“I think it hurt worse than it looked, and it looked pretty bad,” Andrew said. “I knew I had to be fast at the 150 and I was praying for some Holy Spirit power to get me home in that (final) 50, but it wasn’t all there.”But the U.S. has several good chances to claim gold over the last two days of the swimming competition.Caeleb Dressel has two individual finals remaining, and Katie Ledecky is a big favorite in the 800 free.Dressel set another Olympic record in the semifinals of the 100 butterfly.Minutes after Hungary’s Kristof Milak took down the mark in the first semifinal heat, Dressel went even faster with a time of 49.71 in the second heat.“I feel fine,” Dressel said. “I’m not worried about the schedule. I’ve had it written down for a couple weeks now. I know what’s coming. I know how to pace it correctly. I know how to take care of my body.”It was the third-fastest time in history and left Milak as the second-fastest qualifier at 50.31.In the preliminaries, Dressel tied the former Olympic record of 50.39 set by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling to win gold at the 2016 Rio Games.Dressel will be a big favorite in Saturday morning’s final, though he could get pushed by Milak. The Hungarian already won the 200 fly with a dominating victory.Dressel picked up the first individual gold medal of his career with a win in the 100 freestyle.———Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry———More AP Olympic coverage: https://www.apnews.com/OlympicGames and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Double gold: China's Zhang becomes a breakout star at pool

Double gold: China's Zhang becomes a breakout star at pool

Zhang Yufei had a much busier morning than she was expecting at the Tokyo Aquatics CentreBy PAUL NEWBERRY AP Sports WriterJuly 29, 2021, 7:13 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleTOKYO — Zhang Yufei had a much busier morning than she was expecting at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.It was worth the effort.She left with a pair of gold medals and a couple of records, too.Zhang started off Thursday with a dominating victory in the women’s 200-meter butterfly, finishing more than a body length ahead of two Americans in an Olympic-record time.“My coach told me I didn’t have to think too much,” Zhang said through an interpreter. “Just be myself. I really wanted this medal.”About an hour later, the 23-year-old returned to the deck to swim for China on the 4×200 freestyle relay.It was a race she hadn’t planned for. It was a race her teammates never expected to win.After all, the Australians had double-gold medalist Ariarne Titmus taking the opening leg. The Americans countered with freestyling star Katie Ledecky handling their anchor. The final was expected to be a duel between those two powerhouse teams.Instead, it was the Chinese touching first in a race where all three teams eclipsed the previous world record.China’s time of 7 minutes, 40.33 seconds is the one that will go into the record books, sending Zhang to the top of the medal podium at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre for the second time.“I didn’t know I was doing it until I’d finished the 200 butterfly and our coach told me, ‘You’re in the relay,’” she said. “I didn’t even know how to swim the 200 free, although I have the training qualities and levels for the 200 distances.”Clearly, she’s a quick study.Zhang will go down as one of the breakthrough swimming stars at the Tokyo Games. She also won a silver in the 100 butterfly.Not bad for someone who had never claimed a major international title before these Olympics.Zhang’s best showing in three appearances at the world championships is third. Her lone race at the 2016 Rio Games produced a sixth-place finish in the 200 fly.Now, she’s a double Olympic champion.“We knew Zhang would be swimming in the relay, but the coach told us not to tell her,” said Li Bingjie, who swam the anchor leg for China. “She was the last one to know.”Li conceded that her team went into the race merely hoping to get a bronze.“We didn’t expect to win the gold,” she said. “We just tried to finish third because Australia and the United States are very strong.”The Chinese led the entire race, holding off a hard charge by Ledecky at the end.Zhang, swimming the third leg, posted the slowest time among China’s four swimmers. But it was a gusty performance after her individual victory.“We were inspired by her 200 butterfly and we were excited,” Li said. “It made us determined to do our best at the relay.”———Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry———More AP Olympic coverage: https://www.apnews.com/OlympicGames and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Living up to the hype: Dressel wins 1st individual gold

Living up to the hype: Dressel wins 1st individual gold

TOKYO — Caeleb Dressel climbed atop the lane rope, a look of wonder in his eyes. He gazed all around the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, eager to soak up every last moment of something he’s never done before.Win an individual gold medal at the Olympics.The most dominant swimmer of the post-Michael Phelps era filled in the last hole on his resume, winning a gold all by himself with two furious laps of the pool Thursday.Dressel, whose three previous golds were all on relays, lived up to the hype at an Olympics where several U.S. stars have faltered.“I knew that weight was on my shoulders,” he said after a nail-biting victory in the 100-meter freestyle over defending champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia.Katie Ledecky got another shot at Ariarne Titmus, but this time neither won gold. China knocked off both the Americans and the Australians with a world-record performance in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.All three teams went faster than the previous mark, but it was China that earned the second world record of the Tokyo Games despite a blistering anchor leg from Ledecky.“I wasn’t as nervous maybe and knew I was going to let it go and go for it each lap of that race,” said Ledecky, who went faster than anyone but couldn’t quite catch the Chinese, winding up with her second silver of the Games.Dressel was golden. As is his style, the 24-year-old Floridian dived into the pool and popped out of the water with the lead. He was still ahead at the lone flip, and grittily turned away Chalmers’ bid for a second straight gold.Dressel’s winning time was an Olympic record of 47.02 seconds — a mere six-hundredths ahead of Chalmers, who had to settle for a silver this time.“I wasn’t worried about anything,” Dressel said. “During the race there’s only so much you can do. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I stuck to my race plan so if it got me first, OK, if it got me second, OK.”The two have developed quite a rivalry. Chalmers won at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where Dressel was sixth, but the American won the last two world championships, with Chalmers finishing second in 2019.“We do enjoy racing against each other and we do bring the best out of each other,” Chalmers said. “It’s almost a relief to get it done with now.”The bronze was claimed by Russian swimmer Kliment Kolesnikov (47.44), who added to his silver in the 100 backstroke.The first three gold medals of Dressel’s career were all in the relays — two in Rio, another in the 4×100 free relay at the Tokyo Games.Now, he’s got one of his own.“It is a lot different. I guess I thought it would be, I just didn’t want to admit to it,” he said. “It’s a lot tougher. You have to rely on yourself, there’s no one to bail you out.”After Phelps retired, Dressel emerged as the world’s dominant swimmer. He turned in staggering performances at the last two world championships, earning seven gold medals at Budapest in 2017, followed by a six-gold, two-silver performance at Gwangju in 2019.As important as those meets were, they’re not the Olympics. Dressel knew he needed an individual gold to solidify his legacy.From his perch on the lane rope, he cherished the significance of his victory.“These moments are a lot different than worlds,” Dressel conceded.Dressel’s gold was the second of the morning for the Americans, who got a surprise victory from Bobby Finke in the Olympic debut of the men’s 800 free.Also winning golds: Australia’s Izaac Stubblety-Cook in the men’s 200 breaststroke and China’s Zhang Yufei in the women’s 200 butterfly.Zhang returned to swim a leg on the 4×200 free relay, joining Yang Junxuan, Tang Muhan and closer Li Bingjie for a winning time of 7:40.33.That broke the previous record of 7:41.50 set by Australia at the 2019 world championships.Ledecky took the final leg for the Americans, diving into the water in third place — nearly 2 seconds behind Li and also trailing Australia’s Leah Neale. She quickly zipped by Neale and closed the gap significantly on Li, but couldn’t quite catch her at the end.China’s surprising win denied both Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus another gold medal. After winning both the 200 and 400 free individual titles, the Terminator led off for Australia but was a bit sluggish; she was more than a second slower than her gold medal performance in the 200.Ledecky had finished second to Titmus in the 400 and didn’t even win a medal in the 200, finally claiming her first Tokyo gold in the debut of the women’s 1,500 free.She got another silver in the relay, but certainly had nothing to be ashamed of. Her split time of 1:53.76 was the fastest of the race. She simply ran out of time to catch Li as the Americans finished in 7:40.73. Australia took the bronze in 7:41.29.Finke pulled out his victory with a dazzling burst on the final lap.Making the final turn in fourth, he turned on the speed at the end of the 16-lap race, passing all three swimmers ahead of him to take the gold. Finke’s final 50 was 26.39 — nearly 2 seconds faster than anyone else.“I had no idea I was going to do that,” said Finke, whose winning time of 7:41.87 was just 0.24 ahead of Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri, with Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine (7:42.33) taking the bronze.Mirroring Finke’s finish, albeit over a much shorter distance, Stubblety-Cook rallied on the final lap to pass Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands, who went out fast but couldn’t quite hang on.The winning time was an Olympic-record 2:06.38, giving the team from Down Under its fifth gold of the swimming competition — and its first men’s breaststroke gold since Ian O’Brien at the 1964 Tokyo Games.Stubblety-Cook was surprised as anyone to be standing on the top step of podium.“I was happy enough just to be here,” he said. “Honestly, I’m just pretty lost for words at the moment. It’s still all sinking in.”Kamminga was under world-record pace through the first 150 meters, but he faded to the silver in 2:07.01. The bronze went to Finland’s Matti Mattsson in 2:07.24.Dressel’s victory pulled the Americans ahead of the Aussies with six golds in Tokyo. They also lead the overall medal tally with 21, nine ahead of their rivals.Zhang had a remarkable session.She turned in a dominating performance to win China’s first swimming gold of the Tokyo Games in the 200 butterfly. Her Olympic-record time of 2:03.86 put her more than a body length ahead of the pair of Americans, Regan Smith and Hali Flickinger.The U.S. swimmers dueled back and forth for the silver, with Smith pulling ahead at the end to touch in 2:05.30. Flickinger earned the bronze in 2:05.65.About an hour later, Zhang returned to the pool to win another gold in the freestyle relay.———Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

What a day: Ledecky experiences defeat, victory, perspective

What a day: Ledecky experiences defeat, victory, perspective

TOKYO — Katie Ledecky will be the first to concede that her standards are almost impossible to meet, especially at this stage of her stellar swimming career.She always wants to go faster, faster, faster — a singular vision that has carried her to the pinnacle of her sport. Yet it’s not really a reasonable goal when you’ve already done it so many times before.“It’s a real blessing — and a curse,” she said, managing a bit of a chuckle.In the space of a little more than an hour Wednesday at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Ledecky gained the sort of perspective that could serve other Olympians dealing with increasingly weighty expectations that come along once every four years (or five years, in the case of these pandemic-delayed games).First, she experienced a crushing letdown.Then, she rallied for an exhilarating triumph.Neither of which, in the grander scheme of things, define what’s really important in life, she was quick to point out.“I’d much rather people be concerned about people who are really truly struggling,” Ledecky said. “It’s true privilege to be at an Olympics — let alone an Olympics in the middle of a pandemic. So many people around the world are going through a lot of hard things. I’m just so lucky to be here.”At an Olympics where mental health has surged to the forefront, where stars such as Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have been worn down by the almost unfathomable burden of being better than the last time, Ledecky talked about getting through the most challenging day of her swimming life.She had already come up short of gold in her opening race — the first time that’s happened in her three Olympics. To those on the outside, a silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle seemed like a failure.Ledecky returned to the pool for a rematch in the 200 free with the swimmer who beat her the first time, the Australian star known as the Terminator, Ariarne Titmus.Titmus pulled away at the end for another gold, just as she did the first time, only it wasn’t Ledecky she had to worry about. The 24-year-old American was seventh at the first flip and never climbed any higher than fifth, which is where she touched at the end.It was a stunning result for a swimmer hailed as perhaps the greatest female freestyler ever to grace a pool.But all the disappointment Ledecky was surely feeling had to be cast aside, and quickly. There was another race to come, the longest on her program, the 1,500 free. She has long dominated the metric mile, but if there was ever a moment where she looked beatable, this was it.Ledecky ran into her coach, Greg Meehan, on the way to warm down.“He did a lot to help me get my mind right, to help me move on from that 200,” Ledecky said. “He just told me to kind of let it sit for a second, be angry about it if you want, let it fuel you for the 1,500. Whatever he said, it helped.”It also helped to think of her grandparents. As she glided from one end of the practice pool to the other, hidden a bit from the world, her thoughts turned to four people — two of them still living — who have been a guiding force in her life.“I was trying to find some positive things to get me moving forward,” Ledecky said. “I really love them all and it makes me really happy to think about them. They’re four of the toughest people I know. I knew if I was thinking about them during the race, I wasn’t going to die” — swimming slang for tiring out at the end — “and I wasn’t going to have a bad race.”It wasn’t Ledecky’s best performance. Her time — 15 minutes, 37.34 seconds — was nearly 17 seconds off the world record she set three summers ago.But she touched ahead of everyone else to claim the gold, about 4 seconds better than hard-charging teammate Erica Sullivan.When Ledecky saw the “1” beside her name, she wasn’t so concerned about the time that went along with it. Maybe for the first time in her entire career, she wasn’t consumed with being better than she was the last time.She could see the value of being good enough.“I’m always striving to be my best, to be better than I have been,” Ledecky said. “But it’s not easy when your times are world records in some events. You can’t just keep dropping time every single swim.”Ledecky let out an uncharacteristic scream toward the American cheering section in the mostly empty arena. She bounded over the lane rope to hug the silver medalist. And then, with her lips quivering and the tears welling up, she pulled the goggles back down over her eyes.“She’s such a bad chick, such a cool human being,” Sullivan gushed. “She’s a legend and she’ll forever be a legend.”Ledecky had earned the sixth gold medal of her career.It’s probably fair to say none meant more than this one.“I’ve really learned a lot over the years,” she said. “The times might not be my best times, but I’m still really happy that I have a gold medal around my neck right now.”She thought of those she’s met along the way. The children hospitalized with grave illnesses. The soldiers who’ve suffered horrific injuries in battle.That word came up again.Perspective.“How their eyes light up when they see the gold medal,” she said, her voice choked with emotion. “That means more to me than anything, that ability to put a smile on their faces. I just really wanted to get a gold medal to have that opportunity again.”———Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry———More AP Olympic coverage: https://www.apnews.com/OlympicGames and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

British swimmers make relay history; US doesn't even medal

British swimmers make relay history; US doesn't even medal

TOKYO — For the first time in more than a century, Britain claimed a relay gold at the Olympic pool.The United States, shockingly, didn’t even make the podium.A dynamic quartet carried the British to a dominating victory in the men’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay Wednesday.Tom Dean, the 200 free gold medalist led off and 200 silver medalist Duncan Scott swam the anchor leg. James Guy — now a three-time Olympic medalist — and 18-year-old Matthew Richards took the middle legs.“This has been years in the making,” Dean said. “We’ve been getting stronger and stronger.”The British just missed the world record with a winning time of 6 minutes, 58.58 seconds.The Americans set the record at 6:58.55 in rubberized suits at the 2009 world championships in Rome.“We were so close to the world record in the end,” Scott said. “If anything, I’m a bit gutted.”Imagine how the Americans must’ve been feeling.For the first time in its proud swimming history, the U.S. failed to win a relay medal when entering an event.Kieran Smith, Drew Kibler, Zach Apple and Townley Haas finished in 7:03.24, not only far behind Britain but also trailing Russia and Australia, which claimed the silver and bronze respectively.The result outraged Michael Phelps, who was part of so many winning relay teams during his career and is now at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre as a television commentator.Phelps criticized the American coaches for not including Caeleb Dressel on the relay, even though it’s not clear if he had any desire to add another event to his already busy schedule.“It’s shocking,” Phelps said in an interview on NBC. “You know, in my opinion, he’s probably the best 200 freestyler in the world. He can probably put up one of the best times that we’ve seen. Leaving him off that relay, to me, I think makes it a lot harder to win the gold medal.”Dressel swam a single 200 free race at the U.S. Olympic trials, then withdrew from the event. His Tokyo program includes three individual events — including the semifinals of the 100 free Wednesday — and three other relays.While known primarily as a sprinter, Dressel has turned in plenty of fast times over 200 meters.Without him, the American not only didn’t win gold, they were shut out altogether.The only other times that happened were at 1912 Stockholm Games, when the Americans didn’t enter a team in the women’s 4×100 free relay, and the 1980 Moscow Games, when they didn’t show up at all because the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.Otherwise, the U.S. had been 94 of 94 in the relays — not all of them wins, of course, but medals at least.Make it 94 of 95.The British made their own bit of history.It was their first relay gold since that aforementioned women’s 4×100 free in 1912, with their only victory coming in the men’s 4×200 free relay at the first London Games in 1908.But they hardly came out of nowhere.They had the Americans in their sights ever since taking silver in the 4×200 at the Rio Games five years ago.Now, with Phelps retired, longtime stalwart Ryan Lochte failing to make the Olympic team and Dressel focusing on other events, the British finally made it to the top.“These four lads here, we’re the best freestylers in the world,” Guy said. “It’s just amazing the way things have progressed. Racing Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte in Rio, and now we are the Olympic champions.”———Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry———More AP Olympic coverage: https://www.apnews.com/OlympicGames and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Doing It For The A: Alaska's first Olympic swimmer wins gold

Doing It For The A: Alaska's first Olympic swimmer wins gold

TOKYO — bubbaWhen you’re a swimmer from Alaska, there are some misguided stereotypes that must be laughed off.Lydia Jacoby has surely heard them all before.“She practically swims in iced-over lakes,” teammate Gunnar Bentz said.Uhh, no.Jacoby does her swimming at a pool, though even that has been a bit of a challenge during the coronavirus era.No matter.She’s an Olympic champion.Jacoby, a 17-year-old who hails from tiny town of Seward, Alaska (population: 2,773), pulled off a stunning upset in the 100-meter breaststroke Tuesday, knocking off defending champion and fellow American Lilly King.Jacoby had already distinguished herself as the first swimmer from the 49th state to make the U.S. Olympic swimming team.She capped her remarkable journey with the biggest prize of all — before she even starts her senior year of high school.“A lot of big-name swimmers come from big, powerhouse clubs,” Jacoby said. “Me coming from a small club, in a state with such a small population, really shows everyone that you can do it no matter where you’re from.”Other athletes chimed in on Jacoby’s accomplishment.“Thinking this is why we watch sports,” two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson tweeted. “To see a 17 year old from Alaska take the gold. Amazing stuff!!”Jacoby grew up around the water.Her parents are both boat captains, taking tourists on whale-watching tours off the stunning Alaskan coast. The family also has a sailboat, so their daughter joined a local swim team at age 6.“They just wanted me to be safe in the water,” she said.Before long, she was swimming faster that everyone else her age.“When I was about 12, I broke my first state record,” Jacoby recalled. “That was kind of when I realized it was something that I excelled at.”Not that she’s a one-hit wonder.Jacoby also plays several musical instruments and sang in a bluegrass group, the Snow River String Band.“In my town we used to have a bluegrass camp for kids every summer,” she said. “We eventually formed a band and played together five or six years at different festivals in Alaska.”Jacoby is one of those who benefitted from the Olympics being pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, though it didn’t always seem that way. Her local pool closed as COVID-19 spread around the world, forcing her train at a pool about 2 1/2 hours away in the state’s biggest city, Anchorage.She had qualified to swim at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2020, though she didn’t have much shot of making the team.In fact, her family had already made plans to visit Tokyo as spectators, planning to soak up the atmosphere and give Jacoby an idea of what she’d be chasing in 2024.Of course, the pandemic changed everything. Jacoby kept training and knocking off time at a dizzying rate, greatly improving her chances by the time the trials were finally held last month. She qualified in the 100 breast, claiming the second spot on the team behind King.“I definitely knew she was a threat and saw a lot of myself in her,” King said.Jacoby believed she had a shot at a medal in Tokyo, but she never thought it would be gold. King was still considered the swimmer to beat, and South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker posted the fastest qualifying time in the semifinals.Schoenmaker jumped ahead on the first trip down the pool, with King in frenzied pursuit. Jacoby was third as they made the turn, but the teenager — her head bobbing furiously in the water — zipped past King and glided to the wall just ahead of the South African.“I just wanted to help her out as much as I could, and unfortunately, I helped her out a little too much,” King joked.Back in Alaska, where Jacoby’s friends and family were holding a watch party in the late afternoon, the place went nuts when the “1” popped up beside her name.Jacoby whipped around to check out the scoreboard, looking a bit stunned at what she saw. It didn’t really seem to sink in until Schoenmaker reached across the lane rope to give her a hug.King quickly joined them, bounding over two lanes to congratulate her young protégé.“I was definitely racing for a medal. I knew I had it in me,” Jacoby said. “I wasn’t really expecting a gold medal, so when I looked up and saw the scoreboard, it was insane.”After being home schooled last year during the pandemic, Jacoby will return to Seward High School this fall for her senior year. After that, she head to the Lower 48 to attend the University of Texas, where she’ll fit right in on the Longhorns’ powerhouse program.She’ll never forget her Alaskan roots, though.“I have been representing my state for a long time, since I was really little,” Jacoby said. “It just means a lot to have them continuing to back me.”———Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry———More AP Olympic coverage: https://www.apnews.com/OlympicGames and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

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