Tokyo Olympic swimming in review: Legacies cemented for Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel

Tokyo Olympic swimming in review: Legacies cemented for Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel
Posted at 11:43 PM, Aug 02, 2021

From Chase Kalisz's dream-realizing 400m IM victory to Caeleb Dressel's history-making fifth gold medal in the men's 4x100m medley relay, the Tokyo Olympic swimming competition delivered from start to finish. 

There were can't-miss clashes like Katie Ledecky's thrilling trilogy with Australia's Ariarne Titmus and wild surprises like Bobby Finke coming from out of nowhere to steal the men's 800 free gold. 

Tears were shed, records were set, barriers were broken and goggles were dislodged. Relive and re-watch the best moments from nine memorable days at the Tokyo Aquatics Center with NBC Olympics' Tokyo 2020 swimming roundup below.

Chase Kalisz fulfills lifelong dream in first Tokyo final

Commentating his first Olympic race as a correspondent for NBC, Michael Phelps got to watch — and analyze — as his longtime friend and training partner Chase Kalisz experience the culmination of an entire swimming career in the men's 400m IM. 

The 27-year-old Maryland native entered Tokyo as an Olympic silver medalist from Rio 2016 and a two-time world champion, but was still chasing a first Olympic gold medal in one of the many races Phelps dominated for years. 

Kalisz produced the swim of his life to get it done, and to make things extra special, he got to share the moment with silver medalist and fellow Georgia Bulldog Jay Litherland, who took silver.

SEE MORE: Chase Kalisz wins 1st Tokyo swim gold, Litherland silver

Kate Ledecky goes three rounds against Ariarne Titmus

There was little doubt that Katie Ledecky would arrive in Tokyo ready to dominate. The question was whether 20-year-old Australian phenom Ariarne Titmus would live up to the hype and give Ledecky all she could handle.

As it turned out, Titmus was every bit as fast as advertised an then some. She and Ledecky engaged in a three-event trilogy across the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle finals. 

Although Titmus scored a pair of career-defining wins in the 200 and 400, Ledecky managed to hold off her rival in the 800 to secure a historic Olympic three-peat.

Along the way, the world was also introduced to Titmus' fireball coach Dean Boxall, who just about lost his mind when his swimmer won her first Olympic gold.

Caeleb Dressel dominates the pool

The U.S. did not have to wait long for its next male swimming superstar after Michael Phelps hung up his goggles in 2016. 

Caeleb Dressel, a self-proclaimed Florida Man from the Jacksonville area, arrived in Tokyo with huge expectations on his shoulders. The Rio relay swimmer had since become a 13-time world champion and had sights set on a perfect six-for-six gold medal performance in Tokyo across three individual and three relay events.

So, the mixed medley relay did not quite go as planned... for anyone on Team USA. Apart from that, Dressel flat out delivered. Gold in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay, gold in the 100 free, gold (and a world record) in the 100 fly, gold in the 50 free and gold in the men's medley relay.

Each of Dressel's five victories brought thrill and emotion, but it was the first of his individual gold medals — the 100 free — that meant the most. 

Already feeling the emotions of a livelong dream fulfilled, Dressel completely broke down when his family called in via video chat from Florida to congratulate him.

The result was one of the most tear-jerking moments of the Tokyo Games.

SEE MORE: Reunited: Dressel moved to tears by family after gold win

Lydia Jacoby brings Alaska to its feet

The women's 100m breaststroke was one of the most anticipated finals of the entire swimming competition. A tantalizing matchup between defending gold medalist Lilly King and South Africa's rising breaststroke star Tatjana Schoenmaker, with King's Rio rival Yulia Efimova still in the mix, had everyone's eyes locked onto the middle of the pool.

Everybody except the entire town of Seward, Alaska, that is. They were locked on Lane 3, where 17-year-old Seward native Lydia Jacoby was about to deliver the swim of her young life.

SEE MORE: Alaska's Lydia Jacoby wins shock 100 breast gold, beats King

Jacoby tuned out the noise, dismissed the Olympic pressure and stuck to her rhythm throughout the race. In the final 25 meters, she pulled ahead of her more experienced competitors and hit the wall first for a stunning gold medal.

Seward went crazy.

SEE MORE: Seward, Alaska goes ballistic for Lydia Jacoby's shock win

Bobby Finke steals the show in distance

Distance swimming events (the 800m and 1500m freestyles) can often turn into long parades through the pool with the medals decided long before the finish.

Or, sometimes, they can provided some of the biggest thrills of an entire swimming competition. Thanks to University of Florida distance man Bobby Finke, that was exactly the case in Tokyo.

Finke's personal best times coming into his first Olympics weren't anything special, at least not by Olympic medal contender standards. But he got himself into the final of the men's 800 free — the debut of the race as an Olympic event — and stayed within range of the leaders. At the final turn, he was in fourth, 1.52 seconds back of leader Florian Wellbrock

Then he flipped on the motor, swimming the final length of the pool in 26.39 — more than two seconds faster than any other 50 he swam.

Wellbrock and everyone else was left in the dust as Finke claimed an electrifying gold medal.

SEE MORE: Bobby Finke wins 1st Olympic men's 800 from out of nowhere

But Finke wasn't done there. In the men's 1500, on swimming's final day in Tokyo, he again stuck to his race plan and was primed to strike in the final 50 once more.

This time, even in a race nearly twice as long, he went even faster coming home. 25.78 in the last 50 for a remarkable distance double gold.

SEE MORE: Bobby Finke turns it on late to win men's 1500 free gold

Katie Ledecky does it for the distance legends

Gender equity finally arrived to distance swimming with the inclusion of the women's 1500m freestyle to the Olympic program beginning in Tokyo.

Its a race Katie Ledecky has dominated in her international career, but one her female distance predecessors never had the opportunity to compete on the biggest stage.

Ledecky won the race like she has so often before, securing her first Tokyo gold medal — and sixth overall — in the process. But the significance this time was different, and you could see it written on her face as emotion overtook her. Making things even sweeter, teammate Erica Sullivan closed late to swipe silver, to Ledecky's elation.

After the race, Ledecky acknowledged her distance swimming heroes, dedicating the gold medal to them.

SEE MORE: Katie Ledecky shines in first Olympic women's 1500 final