A crawl to the wall and one of swimming's greats is out

A crawl to the wall and one of swimming's greats is out
Posted at 8:44 AM, Jul 24, 2021

TOKYO — Marathoners and race walkers have a word for what happened Saturday night to the Japanese champion Seto Daiya, a thing that virtually no one saw coming, a "wow wow wow," because everyone pretty much expected him to not only challenge for gold in the men’s 400-meter individual medley at these Tokyo 2020 Games but probably win.

Instead, he’s out.

He bonked.

Not just leading his heat but dominating it after 350 meters, one lap of the pool to go, the final freestyle stretch, Seto, the 2019 world champion in this event, the Rio 2016 bronze medalist, the guy with the fastest time in the world in 2021 in the 400 IM, just — didn’t have it.

He crawled to the wall in 30.97 seconds, the kind of time the guys in the slow heats go but not the best in the world. He finished fifth in that heat. His time, 4:10.52, put him ninth overall, 32-hundredths out of the final. The few people at the pool — journalists, other swimmers — sat in stunned silence. Like, what?

Would it have made a difference if there were home fans? Dr. Jill Biden was in the crowd. But surely she was not rooting for Seto. 

Seto, out? One of the sport's leading personalities? OK, he’d admitted last year to an extramarital affair. His sponsors dropped him. He stepped down as national captain. But he said he was back. So back that, as he boasted to Kyodo News in a story posted Saturday, “I am my own rival. I can get a gold medal, 99%."

That 1%. Bonk. Out.

There weren’t supposed to be these sorts of surprises on this first night of swimming’s Olympic run at the Tokyo Aquatics Center. These were prelim swims only. The first finals come Sunday morning. 

But this is the Olympics. Anything can — does — happen. After Day One of the Tokyo 2020 Games, overall, Israel has one medal (in taekwondo) and the United States, for the first time since 1972, excluding a boycotted Games, um, none. 


At the pool:

Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu is known in swim circles as the “Iron Lady.” In the 400 IM, she is all these things: world champion in 2019 and 2017 and Rio 2016 gold medalist and, as well, world and Olympic record holder, 4:26.36. On Saturday, she looked old and tired, every bit of 32.

Hosszu finished fourth in the last of three heats. Fourth, in 4:36.01. Almost unthinkable. She snuck into Sunday’s final, seventh. Saturday’s fastest swimmer: 19-year-old American Emma Weyant, 4:33.55.

Emma Weyant torches legends Hosszu, Belmonte in 400 IM heat
NBC Olympics

In the men’s 400 free, American Jake Mitchell, who notably qualified for the U.S. team only by grinding out a solo swim at the U.S. Trials in Omaha, qualified seventh of eight to make Sunday’s final, in 3:45.38. The top American at Trials, Kieran Smith, also is in, sixth, 3:45.25. To medal, both would have to step it up significantly; Italy’s Gabriele Detti was third Saturday in 3:44.67.

In that men's 400 IM, Brendon Smith of Australia finished with the top time Saturday, 4:09.27; New Zealand's Lewis Clareburt touched in 4:09.49; The two Americans: Chase Kalisz, the Rio 2016 silver medalist, third in 4:09.65; Jay Litherland, fifth in Rio, tied for fifth Saturday in 4:09.91.

Some things Saturday did go to script. 

Adam Peaty, the British 100-meter breaststroke beast, world record holder in 56.88, predictably won his heat to emerge as the No. 1 seed for Sunday’s semifinals, 57.56. That was eighth-fastest in history. Only he has ever gone faster. And he swam Saturday with — a mustache. It's blonde, if you're keeping score at home.

The Americans: Michael Andrew’s 58.62 put him third, Andrew Wilson’s 59.03 seventh.

Michael Andrew wins debut Olympics heat, advances to semis
NBC Olympics

In the women’s 100 butterfly prelims, China’s Zhang Yufei and Australia’s Emma McKeon, matched against each other in one heat, tied, at 55.82. They will be Sunday’s top semifinal seeds. In the prior heat, 18-year-old American Torri Huske flirted with the world record — 55.48 — for about 70 meters, then struggled to close. Who closed? The world record-holder, Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström, who touched in 56.18. Huske came next, in 56.29.

The other American in the women’s 100 fly, 17-year-old Clare Curzan, in heat three, touched in 57.49. She qualified in 10th place.

The Australian women’s 4x100 freestyle relay team threw down a serious marker, winning the second of the two prelims in 3:31.73. No one in either of the two races was within 1.8 seconds. Yes, the lineups will change for Sunday’s final. But consider: the Australians won this event in Rio in 2016, the Americans taking second; the U.S. women scraped into fifth Saturday, and then only behind a strong closing 50 from Natalie Hinds

Seto Daiya, out. Just — improbable. Wow, wow, wow.