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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Tatjana Schoenmaker Breaks a World Swimming Record, U.S. Wins Three More Medals

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TOKYO — American dominance in the Olympic pool is an old story at this point, a snowball forever rolling downhill, even if the pitch of the slope varies slightly from year to year.

The United States team’s grinding success continued Friday, with American swimmers adding two silvers and a bronze to their growing haul at the Tokyo Games. The medals widened the U.S. advantage on its rivals in the pool but fell short of the golds they covet most of all, a development that had one American claiming his race was tainted by doping.

Ryan Murphy won a silver in the men’s 200-meter backstroke and then caused some fireworks in his news conference when he questioned whether his race, won by a Russian, was drug-free, given Russia’s history of doping in sports.

“I don’t know if it was 100 percent clean,” Murphy said, “and that’s because of things that have happened in the past.”

Earlier, Lilly King and Annie Lazor earned silver and bronze in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke, beaten to the wall by a South African, Tatjana Schoenmaker, who set a world record in the event and then burst into tears.

Americans now have captured 24 swimming medals overall heading into the final two days of competition, compared with 14 for their biggest rival, swimming-mad Australia. The United States most likely will not match its high-water mark of 2016, when the team won 34 medals, 16 of them gold, but it should get within spitting distance of that total.

Friday morning’s finals brought three more.

In the 200-meter breaststroke, Schoenmaker, racing as the favorite, lived up to expectations by beating King and Lazor and claiming both a world record (2 minutes 18.95 seconds) but also South Africa’s first gold of the Games.

Schoenmaker, the silver medalist in the 100-meter event, methodically reeled in King in the final, coming off the turn flying and nudging ahead of King on the strength of a relentless kick. She beat King to the wall by nearly a second.

Lazor, whose father died earlier this year, took the bronze by four-hundredths of a second. After the race, she and King swam over 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 Murphy of the United States and won in an Olympic record of 1 minute 53.27 seconds. Rylov took control of the race on the second turn, stretching his lead to a half-second at the halfway mark and finishing about a half-body ahead of Murphy, who was the defending Olympic champion in the event.

Rylov won by 0.88 of a second, but after the race, Murphy dove into the fray of whether Russian athletes should be allowed to compete at the Games, given the country’s history of state-sponsored doping. Russia’s athletes are competing as representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee in Tokyo, and all who were cleared to race had to go through a rigorous clearing process before being allowed to participate.

Still, Murphy directly questioned whether his race was free of doping. He took care not to directly accuse Rylov, who was seated four feet to his left, of cheating, but referred more generally to Russia’s doping history.

Rylov chose not to address Murphy’s comments, saying only that he was a supporter of clean sports and that he had followed all the procedures that were required for him to swim at the Olympics. Murphy then clarified that he was not making a direct accusation but did not back away from his statements.

“I do believe there is doping in swimming,” he said. “It is what it is.”

Earlier, Australia had its own chance to shine in the 100 freestyle final. With Cate Campbell and Emma McKeon swimming next to one another in lanes 3 and 4, and a crowd of their green-and-yellow-clad teammates and coaches packing one section of the empty arena, the race quickly turned into an Aussie celebration.

McKeon won easily, setting an Olympic record of 51.96 seconds and becoming only the second woman ever to break 52 seconds in the event. She finished more than a quarter of a second faster than Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong. Campbell took the bronze, just ahead of Canada’s Penny Oleksiak.

The last final of the morning was the men’s 200-meter individual medley, which gave the Americans yet another medal chance in the form of Michael Andrew.

Andrew, 22, turned professional at 14 and was home-schooled, in part, to maximize his training opportunities, and he was right on the pace for the first three-quarters of the race.

He led after the butterfly leg, gave up the lead to Shun Wang of China on the backstroke leg, then reclaimed it by the end of the breaststroke. But Andrew appeared to run out of gas coming out of the final turn, and Wang proved too much, steaming past him with a water-churning freestyle leg. So did Duncan Scott of Britain, who took the silver, and Jeremy Desplanches of Switzerland, who captured the bronze. Andrew finished fifth, behind Daiya Seto of Japan.

Andrew said he missed the roar of the crowd he had experienced at the U.S. trials last month, a cacophony that he said had powered him through the final push. His meet is not over, though. He has another chance to win a medal on Sunday, when he is expected to swim in both an individual final and a relay.

“I’ve got the 50 and the relay, and I’m feeling fast,” Andrew said.

King, too, predicted more American medals were on the way. She had said before the Games that the U.S. had a chance to sweep the women’s individual swim races, and on Friday she struck a positive tone about the team’s performances so far, which have included double-medalists in multiple events.

Australia will not catch the U.S. in overall medals, but the country has already achieved a big improvement over 2016, when it won only three gold medals and 10 overall. McKeon’s gold was Australia’s sixth in swimming in Tokyo — the same number won by American swimmers — and the weekend holds the promise of more for both countries.

McKeon said Australian women had raised the standard for one another, helping to produce the improvement. “We’ve got so many of the girls lifting each other, racing from month to month,” she said. “That has really helped us.”

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