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Team USA wins 10 medals on Day 2 of Tokyo Olympics, but the specter of COVID-19 looms

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TOKYO – It took about 48 minutes for Team USA's fortunes at the Tokyo Games to change Sunday – less than one hour for Olympic famine to become feast.

American swimmers Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland won the USA's first two medals at around 10:38 a.m. local time – gold and silver, respectively, in the men's 400-meter individual medley. Then bronze for Kieran Smith in the men's 400 freestyle.

By the time Emma Weyant and Hali Flickinger climbed out of the pool after finishing second and third in the women's 400-meter individual medley, Team USA's zero medals had become five – a harbinger of the afternoon and evening to come.

After going without a medal on Day 1 of the Summer Olympics for the first time in nearly half a century, the United States came back and won a whopping 10 medals on Day 2. According to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee historian Bill Mallon, it is just the 73rd time in Olympic history that Team USA has earned double-digit medals in a single day of competition.

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Chase Kaliszshown with his gold medal during the ceremony for the 400m individual medley at the Tokyo Olympics.
Chase Kaliszshown with his gold medal during the ceremony for the 400m individual medley at the Tokyo Olympics.

"Yesterday, a little bit of a slow start for everyone," said U.S. shooter Will Shaner, a 20-year-old college student who won gold in the men's 10-meter air rifle event. "Today, to (help) finally get it moving, it’s amazing. It’s really an honor."

It has been a tremendously strange start to the Games for Team USA, to be sure – and not just because of the medal drought and subsequent flood.

The specter of COVID-19 continues to loom over everything in Tokyo, particularly as more events ramp up and athletes in second-week sports – including track and field – continue to arrive.

On Sunday, positive tests knocked out two of the biggest names in the men's golf field in Spain's Jon Rahm and American Bryson DeChambeau, each of whom withdrew before flying to Japan. The Olympic Committee separately announced that one unidentified member of its delegation also had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Then there was the bizarre sight of a less-than-invincible Simone Biles. She landed out of bounds on a vault and stumbled on a dismount off the balance beam, uncharacteristic mistakes as the U.S. finished second to Russia in women's gymnastics team qualifying.

Another traditional American powerhouse, the U.S. men's basketball team, also faltered Sunday, losing 83-76 in its opening matchup against France.

Mostly, though, Sunday brought pleasant surprises – like Shaner, who arrived in Tokyo ranked No. 24 in the world, setting an Olympic record. Or fellow Kentucky Wildcat Lee Kiefer and 18-year-old Anastasija Zolotic winning gold medals in a pair of events the U.S. had never won before: women's foil and women's taekwondo, respectively.

"What just happened?" Kiefer said, still in shock, moments after her win.

Bronzes in men's street skateboarding, courtesy of Jagger Eaton, and the women's 4x100 free relay in the pool rounded out the medals on Day 2.

The Americans will now hope that the early part of next week will bring more of the same – and they have plenty of reasons for optimism.

There will be four more swimming finals Monday at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, and Americans will be favored to win a medal in all of them. And three-medal showings are expected to follow on Tuesday and Wednesday, the latter of which could see Katie Ledecky win a pair of medals singlehandedly in a span of a little more than an hour.

Outside the pool, Team USA will have a realistic shot at medals in everything from fencing to skeet shooting on Monday. The U.S. women's softball team already has clinched a spot in the gold-medal game, which will be played Tuesday. And Wednesday will present medal opportunities in a pair of new sports in which the U.S. has been dominant: 3-on-3 basketball and surfing.

Five years ago, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Americans won 121 medals – 51 more than China, which finished second in the overall medal count. They have a long way to go, still, before matching or exceeding that total, even with the addition of new sports or disciplines. But as this weekend showed, fortunes at the Olympics can change quickly – from confidence to confusion, or worry to joy, sometimes just 48 minutes at a time.

Contributing: Christine Brennan, Chris Bumbaca and Josh Peter

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Team USA back on track after Day 2 of strange Tokyo Olympics