After being blanked on the first day of competition, Team USA won its first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics Saturday. It went to swimmer Chase Kalisz, the protegé and close friend of one of America’s greatest Olympians, Michael Phelps.
The two began training together when Kalisz was only 13. Phelps, already a star in the sport, realized his talents early and pushed the now 27-year-old to work harder and do better in practice, the LA Times said.
“He will give me a kick in the ass if I need it and sometimes I certainly need it,” Kalisz said after winning the 400-meter medley at the Olympic trials last month. “Michael really has been like an older brother figure to me in my life since a very, very young age.”
Phelps sent Kalisz a special message after he won gold Saturday.
The 400-meter medley is a grueling race that requires swimmers to use backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, but it’s been America’s to lose for decades. Kalisz earned a silver medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016. That ended an unbroken streak of gold medals for the US since the 1996 Olympics. Michael Phelps earned two of his 23 gold medals in the event in 2004 and 2008.
Kalisz said he was proud to return America to the top of the podium.
“It is my lifelong dream,” Kalisz said. “It is what everyone dreams of in the sport. I do feel like I let the U.S. down in 2016, even though I swam faster there. The U.S. has a proud legacy in the 400 individual medley. This was my redemption story.”
Kalisz is a University of Georgia alum and NCAA champion. His Bulldog teammate US swimmer Jay Litherman took silver in the event Saturday, giving America its second medal in the Tokyo Olympics.
USA Empty-Handed on Day 1 of Tokyo Olympics
For the first time in 49 years, the US Team went medal-less on the first day of the Olympics on Friday. According to Olympic historian Bill Mallon that hasn’t happened since the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany Games back in 1972. America has only done it twice since the Games began again in earnest in 1932.
Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherman quickly ended that losing streak, however, winning in the 400-meter medley swim. As of Sunday morning on the East Coast, the United States had won 11 medals (2 gold, 2 silver, 4 bronze), according to Sports Illustrated. China and host-country Japan were tied atop the leaderboard with 5 gold medals each.
Experts expect Team USA to surge later in the games as we have strong teams in swimming, gymnastics, basketball, and track and field. In fact, the US normally dominates in the Summer Olympics. In 2016, the US won 121 medals, almost double second-place Great Britain. America has earned the most medals at every summer Olympics since 1996. Many experts don’t expect that to change this year at the Tokyo Olympics.