U.S. Swimmers Dominate Rio Olympics In Exceptional Showing | KUOW News and Information

U.S. Swimmers Dominate Rio Olympics In Exceptional Showing

Aug 10, 2016
Originally published on August 10, 2016 11:40 pm

We've heard a lot about Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky in this opening week of the Rio Olympics.

For good reason.

Together, they've won seven medals so far, six of them gold. But they're only part of the story about American swimming.

The U.S. traditionally has dominated the sport in the Olympics. The performance in Rio is proving to be exceptional.

A Lot Of Momentum

Phelps won his first gold medal of the Rio games in a scintillating relay race this past Sunday. It was the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay. The atmosphere at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium was electric as Team U.S.A. held off rivals France and Australia to win the gold.

As Phelps finished talking to reporters and started to walk away, one person asked a last question – what will this victory do for the U.S. team's momentum?

Phelps looked back and said, "We have a lot of momentum right now."

And he was right. The relay gold that night was the eighth U.S. medal. And since his pronouncement, American swimmers have upped the total to 21. The most any other country has is seven.

Total Team

While Phelps and Ledecky have been grabbing the headlines, other American swimmers have been pushing up the medal count. Like Maya DiRado, who won a bronze medal in the 200 meter individual medley Tuesday night. Or Leah Smith, who took the bronze in the 400 meter freestyle.

Phelp's longtime coach Bob Bowman is also the men's head coach in Rio. This week Bowman couldn't stop interrupting himself as he gushed about the entire U.S. team's depth.

"It's the whole team," Bowman said. "I mean c'mon, Ledecky? It's there everywhere. Townley [Haas] 44.1 on that relay? [Haas's 1.44.14 was the fastest individual split, or segment, in the entire field for the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay.] I mean there's just a lot. [Ryan] Murphy last night? [Murphy set an Olympic record in his 100 meter backstroke victory.] There are tons of people. Lilly King [gold medalist in 100 meter breaststroke]. It just goes on and on and on."

Certainly Phelps and Ledecky are leading the way. 31-year-old Phelps in particular is serving a dual role – assassin in the pool and inspiration to his teammates.

Tuesday night Phelps swam the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay — he anchored the team to victory — after winning a thrilling 200 meter butterfly race.

His relay teammate Haas sure was thrilled.

"I know Michael's swim just got me pumped up," Haas said. "It was just awesome to watch that. It got me so ready to go. And I think we kind of feed off each other in that way."

The Plan Is Working

But there's more to the U.S. success. It goes back to the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., in late June and early July. A USA Swimming spokesman says having the trials then, roughly a month before the games rather than earlier in the spring, allows the athletes time to perform at trials, wind down and then back up, at two 10-day high-intensity training camps, in time for the Games.

In other words, the plan is to have the trials close to the Olympics, but not too close.

"We're swimming well," says coach Bob Bowman. "We're swimming a lot better than at trials, and that means our plan really worked and we spent a lot of time on that. So it's good."

A Record In Rio?

It's mostly been good for the U.S. through the years. It's won a third of all Olympic swimming medals ever awarded. Americans have won more swimming medals than any country in every Olympic games since 1988.

The record U.S. medal haul was 33 at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. With more than a dozen finals to go, and the chance to win multiple medals in those races, yet another American swimming record is in sight.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now a U.S. Olympic swimming story that isn't completely about Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. They're definitely living up to their reputations. Together, they have won six medals so far - five of them gold - but they're only part of the story. The U.S. has traditionally dominated Olympic swimming, and the performance this year in Rio is proving to be exceptional. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Michael Phelps won his first gold medal of the Rio games in a scintillating relay race this past Sunday. As he finished talking to reporters and walked away, one person asked what his victory would do for the momentum of the U.S. team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL PHELPS: We have a lot of momentum right now.

GOLDMAN: We have a lot of momentum right now, indeed. Phelps' goal that night was the eighth U.S. medal. And since his pronouncement, American swimmers have upped the total to 18, going into tonight's competition. The most any other country has won - four.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Unintelligible) score the bronze, and DiRado gets it.

GOLDMAN: Maya DiRado won a bronze medal in this 200-meter individual medley race last night, as heard on NBC. DiRado is one of those Americans not named Phelps or Ledecky pushing up the medal count. Phelps' longtime coach Bob Bowman, who's also the men's head coach here in Rio, kept interrupting himself last night as he talked about the entire team's depth.

BOB BOWMAN: Townley Haas - 44.1 on that relay. Murphy last night - there are tons of people, you know. Lilly King - it just goes on and on and on.

GOLDMAN: Certainly, Phelps and Ledecky are leading the way. Thirty-one-year-old Phelps, in particular, is serving a dual role - assassin in the pool and inspiration to his teammates. Last night, he swam the 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay after winning a thrilling 200-meter butterfly race. His relay teammate Townley Haas was sure thrilled.

TOWNLEY HAAS: Michael's swim just got me pumped up. I never - like, it was just awesome to watch that. It got me so ready to go, and we kind of feed off each other in that way.

GOLDMAN: But there's more to the U.S. success. It goes back to the Olympic trials in late June and early July. A U.S. swimming spokesman says having the trials then rather than earlier in the year allows the athletes the right amount of time to perform, then wind down and back up in time for the games. Essentially, the plan is to have the trials close to the Olympics, but not too close. Again, here's Bob Bowman.

BOWMAN: We're swimming well - swimming a lot better than at trials, and that means that our plan really worked. And it was - we spent a lot of time on that, so it's good.

GOLDMAN: It's mostly been good for the U.S. Americans have won more swimming medals than any country in every Olympic Games since 1988. The record U.S. medal haul was 33 at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. With more than a dozen finals to go and the chance to win multiple medals in those races, yet another American swimming record is in sight. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.