Yui Ohashi and Alex Walsh were almost stroke for stroke with 25 meters to go. At the other end, dangling in front of them like a carrot on a stick, was an Olympic gold medal. All they had to do was hold off the other woman.
The pair of swimmers were virtually neck and neck until the very end, when Ohashi produced one last kick to push herself to the wall first in the women’s 200 individual medley and claim her second gold medal of the Tokyo Games on Wednesday at Tokyo Aquatics Center.
“I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to win in the last 15 meters,” Ohashi said. “I just wanted to give it my all. I wanted to feel like I did everything I could whether I won or not.”
Ohashi was not Japan’s only medalist on Day 4 of the swimming finals. Tomoru Honda grabbed silver in the men’s 200-meter butterfly earlier in the session.
“Honda won a medal today in the 200 and that gave me some momentum going into my race,” Ohashi said.
Ohashi won a thrilling duel that played out like a heavyweight fight over the final 50 meters to add the 200 IM title to the gold medal she won in the 400 IM on Sunday. She became the first Japanese woman to win multiple gold medals at the same Olympics and is more than doing her part to power Japan’s early gold rush at the Games.
“It doesn’t feel real, to be honest,” Ohashi said. “I sort of feel like, was it really me doing that?”
Ohashi finished in 2 minutes, 08.52 seconds, just ahead of Walsh of the U.S., who took silver in 2:08.65. Kate Douglass, another American, was the bronze medalist with a time of 2:09.04.
“I think we all knew it was going to come down to the last 50 (meters) in that race since all of our times were pretty close together,” Douglass said.
The race marked the seventh straight Games the 400 IM winner also won the 200 IM.
Ohashi pulled away from the field during the breaststroke section of the 400 IM on Sunday, while Wednesday’s race was tight throughout. Ohashi likes to envision how her races will play out and had thought she was going to have to expend a lot of energy catching up to the field at the 150-meter mark.
“Before the race, my assumption was that there would be more swimmers in front of me,” she said. “But when I made the turn at 150 meters, I was even with them, so I thought I was in a good position.”
Honda helped set the stage for Ohashi with his silver-medal swim in the 200 butterfly.
Hungarian Kristof Milak won the gold by a wide margin, clocking an Olympic record time of 1:51.25. Honda finished in 1:53.73 and Italy’s Federico Burdisso touched the wall in 1:54.45.
Honda was a ball of energy as he celebrated with his medal and was later asked where it all came from.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s just my style.”
Honda was in third place heading down the stretch and was able to make a late surge to push himself into second.
Honda ensured Japan won a medal in the event despite the absence of star Daiya Seto, who, surprisingly, did not qualify for the finals.
“I didn’t see Daiya today, but after last night’s semifinals, he told me that if I swam the way I’m able to swim, I could reach the podium,” Honda said.
Australian star Ariarne Titmus made another statement just before the men entered the pool, speeding to gold in the women’s 200 freestyle. Titmus set a new Olympic record with a time of 1:53.50.
She easily won her second showdown against American Kaite Ledecky, who finished fifth.
Siobhan Bernadette Haughey of Hong Kong was second ahead of Canadian Penny Oleksiak in third.
Like most, Titmus was surprised at where Ledecky placed.
“To be honest, a little bit,” Titmus said. “I knew coming into this race this was probably the field that had the most depth out of all of my events. I knew that Siobhan would definitely be there and I always think that Katie is going to be there.”
Her coach, Dean Boxall, who made waves for his exuberant celebration after Titmus’ first gold medal, was decidedly more restrained after her second victory of the games. The pair shared an emotional embrace after Titmus received her medal.
“Seeing him emotional makes me emotional,” she said. ”Because this is a great partnership. This isn’t just me winning, it’s him winning as well.”
Ledecky bounced back in the 1,500 meters later in the day. She was hardly challenged on her way to gold in the event, which is being contested by women for the first time in the Olympics. The gold was Ledecky’s first of these games and made her the fourth female swimmer with at least six overall.
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