The Olympic swim meet has reached the point where it’s safe to begin drawing some broad conclusions about what has gone on in the world’s strongest swimming countries the past five years.
Any conversation on the subject has to begin with the United States, which has dominated swimming for decades and during Michael Phelps’s career widened the gap with Australia, the world’s other force in international swimming.
The Americans’ great meet continued on Friday morning. They had captured 23 medals overall heading into the final three days of competition, compared with only 12 for swimming-mad Australia, which, it should be noted, has about one-tenth the population of the United States. The United States most likely match its high-water mark of 2016, when the team won 34 medals, 16 of the gold, but it should get within spitting distance of that total.
Friday morning’s finals brought opportunities for more.
In the 200-meter breaststroke Friday morning Tatjana Schoenmaker lived up to expectations, topping Lilly King and Annie Lazor of the U.S. and setting a world record in the process. King came out blazing and had the lead until the final 50 meters of the race, but Schoenmaker came off the turn flying and with 25 meters to go nudged ahead of King on the strength of a relentless kick, beating her to the wall by nearly a second.
Lazor, who lost her father earlier this year, took the bronze by just four one-hundeths of a second. After the race, she and King swam to congratulate Schoenmaker, who did not initially realize she had broken the world record. When she did, she gasped, and Lazor raised her rival’s arm in triumph.
In the 200-meter backstroke, Evgeny Rylov of Russia won a two-man duel with Ryan Murphy of the United States. Rylov set an Olympic record of 1 minute 53.27 seconds. Murphy was the defending Olympic champion in the event, and Americans have historically been reliably strong in the backstroke. But Rylov took control of the race on the second turn, stretching his lead to half-second at the halfway mark and finishing about a half-body ahead of Murphy. He won by .88 of a second.
Australia could have another bright morning Friday, too. Cate Campbell and Emma McKeon will swim next to each other in the 100-meter freestyle. McKeon is the favorite.
Australia will not catch the U.S. in overall medals, but the country has already achieved a massive improvement over 2016, when it won only three gold medals and 10 overall.
In the 100-meter butterfly, Dressel and Kristof Milak of Hungary set themselves up for showdown in Saturday’s final. Dressel holds the world record in the event and set the Olympic record in a preliminary heat. Milak then broke it in the semifinal and held it for about three minutes, until Dressel broke it in his heat, clocking in at 49.71 seconds, just 21 hundredths of a second off his world record.