TOKYO – The coaches of the US men’s team looked at their swimmers’ times leading up to Sunday and knew a world record in the 4×100 medley relay was just around the corner.
And then Ryan Murphy, Michael Andrew, Caeleb Dressel and Zach Apple delivered, swimming in 3: 26.78 at the Tokyo Olympics to break the 12-year-old record of 0.50 seconds.
The victory maintained the Americans’ dominance in the event, having never lost the men’s medley relay at the Olympics. The only time they didn’t win gold was in 1980, when the whole team boycotted the Moscow Games.
And it also capped remarkable Games for Dressel who won his fifth gold medal. He won gold in the 50-meter freestyle earlier today.
“I’m proud of myself,” Dressel said. “I feel like I have reached my potential here at these Games.”
The relay team almost didn’t even make it to Sunday’s race. A group of four other swimmers narrowly escaped the preliminaries, finishing in seventh place, 0.33 seconds ahead of the ninth place team who did not advance to the finals.
It made the coaches reflect and rethink what was the right lineup for Sunday.
“We had a good discussion with the men’s coaching staff yesterday to make sure we put the right four in,” said head coach Dave Durden. “We watched the world record spreads and as we stopped for a second and thought about our guys on that stint, we kind of looked at each other and said… we can do it.”
The relay opened with Murphy leading the back, however, the Americans fell to third after Andrew’s breaststroke. Dressel then regained the lead, passing James Guy of Great Britain by 1.24 seconds. Apple finished swimming the pack’s fastest free leg in 46.95 seconds.
“I trusted Caeleb that he was going to give me a lead,” Apple said. “I didn’t know how fast he was going, but I knew he was doing his best and that’s what I was going to do too. And it worked.”
Great Britain won the silver medal, finishing 0.73 behind the Americans. Italy won bronze.
“We sat down with our four guys and all we wanted them to do was swim at their level, and we knew that would produce a performance that had very good potential to break the world record,” said Durden. “And if we were going faster than anyone has ever been, we would feel good about it.”
The United States finishes the swim program with more medals than any other country, including 30 overall and 11 gold medals. Australia won 20 in total and nine gold medals. Five years ago at the Rio Games, the United States returned home with 33 total medals, including 16 gold.
Pressure was on the entire US swim team to live up to the success of previous teams, but the men’s medley group may have felt an even greater sense of urgency given decades of domination of this ordeal. In fact, some swimmers hadn’t even left the pool after Saturday’s mixed swim, and they were already talking about Sunday.
“Right after the mixed medley, it’s like, ‘OK, which means it’s done and finished, we have a stacked male medley coming up and we have to go, get ready for that.” Murphy said before was interrupted by Dressel.
“That’s the first thing (Murphy) said to me after the race: ‘We’ve got some business to do.’ I was still in the water, I wasn’t even out of the water and he’s already talking about the medley, that’s how we work here and we knew we had a chance to do something special . ”
Contributor: Alex Ptachick