ritain’s Duncan Scott and Tom Dean safely navigated the heats of the men’s 200m freestyle on a night when the foundations were laid for another epic instalment of the Olympic rivalry between Australia’s women and the USA.
After the first swimming medals of the Games had been awarded on Sunday morning, some of the biggest names in the sport began their campaigns on the second night of action at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
They included the great Katie Ledecky, already a five-time Olympic champion, who drew first blood in her tussle with Australia’s Ariarne Titmus in what could become one of the great rivalries of the Games as she qualified fastest for the final of the women’s 400m freestyle.
Adam Peaty aside, Scott came to Tokyo as one of Britain’s biggest medal hopes in the pool and cruised through in the men’s 200m freestyle but was outperformed on the night by teammate Dean, who qualified third-fastest. The pair have set the two fastest times in the world this year when finishing one and two at the British Trials and both look to have genuine medal chances later in the week, with the semi-finals to come tomorrow morning.
Canada’s Kylie Masse had gotten the evening off to a storming start by setting a new Olympic record on the 100m backstroke, but she was barely out of the water before it was bettered, first by America’s Regan Smith and then again, for the third heat in succession, by Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, leaving Tuesday’s final looking like a blockbuster, presuming all three come through the semis.
It was America’s Lilly King who had ruffled a few Aussie feathers in the build-up with the bold claim that this US team is so strong that they could win every women’s individual event at these Games, but the 100m breaststroke world record-holder will have no simple task in keeping her own end of that bargain, after watching her Olympic record fall to South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker. The defending champion was then made to work hard to win her heat and only qualified third-fastest for the semi-finals, behind teenage teammate Lydia Jacoby.
That left it up to Ledecky to strike a blow for America’s most established stars and the defending champion, still somehow only 24 after making her Olympic bow as a 15-year-old in London, did just that, easing down through the last 100m to win her heat in just outside four minutes.
Australia’s new sensation Titmus had stunned Ledecky over the distance at the World Championships in 2019 and set the second-fastest time in history – behind only Ledecky’s world record – at her country’s trials earlier this year, but with the final to come tomorrow morning was never likely to produce that kind of performance. Her 4:01.66 to win the final heat was positively pedestrian by those standards but we can expect fireworks when the pair clash for the first time at these Games in fewer than 16 hours’ time.
Earlier on, in the same 100m breaststroke heat as King, Britain’s Sarah Vasey could only finish sixth but that proved good enough for a semi-final spot with the 11th fastest time overall.
There was no such joy for Luke Greenback, who missed out on a semi-final spot on the 100m backstroke by just two-hundredths-of-a-second, but the 23-year-old still has his strongest event, the 200m – where he is a world bronze medalist – to look forward to, as well as the men’s 4x100m medley, where he will join Peaty and Scott in trying to convert their surprise World Championship success of two years ago into Olympic glory.
There will be no relay medal for Britain’s men in the 4x100m, though, as they finished ninth-fastest and missed out on a place in tomorrow’s final.