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TOKYO — In the glorious history of U.S. Olympic swimming, there have been some great opening days, but none better than the spectacular two hours that transpired Sunday morning at the Olympic swimming venue.
The U.S. Olympic team — the entire team, every sport — had zero medals as of 10:30 a.m. Japan time Sunday.
Less than 50 minutes later, Team USA had won five medals — one gold, two silvers and two bronze. And it added one more, another bronze, before noon.
That’s six medals in all, six in less than two hours, better than a medal every 20 minutes — the first time that has ever happened for Team USA on the first day of swimming at any Olympic Games, ever.
There was a time when nations could send three swimmers to the Olympics in each event, not two as is the rule now, and there have been boycotted Olympics. In both cases, that made it easier to win medals in some events.
But even then, the Americans never won six medals on the opening day of the swimming competition until Sunday at the postponed 2020 Games in Tokyo.
In an extraordinary performance by the Americans at a most competitive time worldwide in the sport, five of the six swimmers in the three finals won medals, while the U.S. women’s 4x100 freestyle relay team ended the day by taking the bronze.
The American morning began with 2016 Olympic silver medalist Chase Kalisz storming to victory in the men’s 400 individual medley in 4:09.42. That wasn’t a huge surprise.
But look who touched the wall second: fellow American Jay Litherland, .86 of a second behind his countryman and just a fingertip — .10 of a second — ahead of Australia’s Brendon Smith.
If that had been it, if the day had ended there, it would have been a complete success. Not even the glory days of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte produced a result this good in the 400 IM for the United States. The best those two could muster at the same Olympics was Phelps’ gold and Lochte’s bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But the day wasn’t over, not even close.
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Less than 30 minutes later, Team USA had another medal, with Kieran Smith winning a bronze in the men’s 400 freestyle as the Australian favorites faded and Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui, swimming on the outside of the pack in Lane 8, won a stunning gold.
But the day still wasn’t over. Just 15 minutes later, and 45 minutes after the competition began, American newcomer Emma Weyant and veteran Hali Flickinger went 2-3 in the women’s 400 IM, won by Japan’s Ohashi Yui.
That still wasn’t it. There was one more final and one more medal for Team USA, this one entirely expected and perhaps a bit of a disappointment.
The women’s 4x100 freestyle relay was last on the program for the first day of swimming. Australia, the strong favorite, set the world record to win gold, while Canada and the United States dueled to the end, with Penny Oleksiak just touching out Simone Manuel by 3/100ths of a second. The sixth U.S. medal of the morning was its third bronze.
The time was 11:52 a.m. It hadn’t even been an hour and a half since the start of the competition. The swimming day was finally over.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Olympic swimming has best day ever, taking 6 medals at Tokyo Games