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Adam Peaty won the men’s 100-metre breaststroke in a typically dominant performance at the Olympics Aquatics Center on Monday to capture Britain’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Games.
The swimmer was among a handful of global athletes who were considered a near certainty — by himself and observers — to land at the top of the Olympic podium.
The more pressing question was whether the 26-year-old, the world’s greatest-ever breaststroker, could also break his own world record of 56.88 seconds.
Peaty fell short, finishing with a time of 57.37. But that was still about half a second faster than his nearest rival in Monday’s final and the fifth-fastest time in history.
“It’s about who fucking wants it more. I’m so fucking relieved,” he told the BBC straight after the event, before apologising for swearing on air.
But the memorable reaction may not have breached the country’s broadcasting guidelines, as the event took place in the early hours of the UK morning, past the so-called watershed for explicit content.
Peaty was the overwhelming favourite to retain the Olympic title he won in Rio de Janeiro five years ago.
He has also pushed the boundaries of his event in recent years. No other man has come within a second of his best time, which in his event — the equivalent of a sprint through water — represents remarkable dominance.
To put his achievement in perspective, Peaty is proportionally faster than his rivals in the pool than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was to his peers on the track. That context helps explain why Dutch swimmer Arno Kamminga and Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi appeared so ecstatic at snatching silver and bronze, respectively.
Speaking to the Financial Times prior to the Games, Peaty described a goal that went beyond triumphing in Tokyo: he wanted to be the first man to complete the event in 56.5 seconds.
Peaty described the task as “project immortal” in the belief that it was a time that may prove impossible to beat by future generations of swimmers. His esoteric quest is likely to push him to compete at the Paris Games in 2024.
Later on Monday, Australia’s Ariarne Titmus beat US legend Katie Ledecky in the women’s 400-metre freestyle, winning the opening round of what is expected to be the biggest swimming battle of the Olympics.
The first of several probable finals featuring the pair did not disappoint. Titmus launched a stirring comeback after being close to a body length behind in the early stages, edging out Ledecky, the five-time gold medallist, in a time of 3:56.69.
The Australian clocked the second-fastest time ever, behind Ledecky’s world record of 3:56.46 set in Rio. “I wouldn’t be here without [Ledecky] setting the standard,” said Titmus. “I’ve just been trying to chase her . . . I can’t believe I actually pulled it off.”
Japanese athletes continued to excel in Tokyo. Momiji Nishiya, a 13-year-old skateboarder, became the first-ever female Olympic champion in the sport after winning the women’s street event. It was the fifth gold of games for the hosts. Naomi Osaka, who was given the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron, stormed into the third round of the women’s singles tennis tournament after easily beating Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2.
Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt took gold in the men’s triathlon after a bumbling false start ensnared roughly one-third of the field in the open water swim. He roared after crossing the finish line in 1 hour, 45 minutes and 4 seconds, 11 seconds ahead of Britain’s Alex Yee and 20 seconds before New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde, who placed third. Blummenfelt, ranked second in the world by the World Triathlon federation, gave Norway its first summer Olympic gold medal since London 2012. The beginning of the race was marred when a boat for media accidentally blocked the diving berth for about a third of the field, causing chaos and the rest of the swimmers to be recalled to start over.
The US men’s basketball team suffered its first loss in Olympic competition since the Athens Games in 2004, falling 83-76 to France in the first group stage game. Team USA has had a rocky summer, losing to Australia and Nigeria in pre-Olympics friendlies this month after several players were late to join the all-star squad because of a pandemic-delayed NBA season.
In other upsets, top-ranked women’s sabre fencer Olga Kharlan of Ukraine lost to Hengyu Yang of China. Kharlan, the two-time defending bronze medallist, was aiming for a gold in Tokyo.
On the podium
The Netherland’s Annemiek van Vleuten celebrated as she crossed the finish line in the women’s cycling road race on Sunday, believing she had won. But she hadn’t realised that Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer, the last member of an earlier breakaway group that the peloton had failed to catch, had already claimed the gold medal. Unlike in professional races, there were no team radios to inform the chasers of their error.
Ariarne Titmus’s titanic victory over the great Katie Ledecky in the pool on Monday drew a similarly epic celebration from her Australian coach Dean Boxall, who was roaming the otherwise sparsely populated stands. The moment quickly went viral on social media and is the stuff that gifs are made of (see below).
— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) July 26, 2021
Click here for the FT’s “alternative medals table”, which ranks nations not just on their medal haul, but against how they should be performing against economic and geopolitical factors.
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