Staff USA again on monitor after Day 2 of the unusual Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO – It took about 48 minutes for Team USA’s fortunes to change at the Tokyo Games on Sunday – less than an hour for the Olympic famine to become a festival.

The American swimmers Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland won the first two medals around 10:38 local time – gold and silver in the men’s 400-meter individual medley. Then bronze for Kieran Smith in the men’s 400 freestyle.

When Emma Weyant and Hali Flickinger climbed out of the pool after finishing second and third in the women’s 400-meter individual medal, Team USA’s zero medals had turned into five – a harbinger of the afternoon and evening to come.

After renouncing a medal for the first time in nearly half a century on day one of the Summer Olympics, the United States returned and won a whopping 10 medals on day two. According to USOPC historian Bill Mallon, it is only the 73rd time in Olympic history that Team USA has won double-digit medals in a single day of competition.

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“Yesterday a little slow for everyone,” said US shooter Will Shaner, a 20-year-old college student who won gold in the men’s 10-meter air rifle. “To finally get moving today (to help) is great. It really is an honor.”

For Team USA it was of course an incredibly strange start to the games – and not just because of the medal drought and the flood that followed.

The specter of COVID-19 continues to hover over everything in Tokyo, especially as more events take place and athletes in the second week sports – including track and field – continue to arrive.

On Sunday, positive tests knocked out two of the biggest names in the men’s golf field, Spaniard Jon Rahm and American Bryson DeChambeau, who each retired before flying to Japan. The USOPC separately announced that an unidentified member of its delegation also tested positive.

Then there was the bizarre sight of a less than invincible Simone Biles. She landed on a jump out of bounds and stumbled on the descent from the balance beam, an atypical mistake when the American finished second behind Russia in qualifying for the women’s gymnastics team.

Another traditional American powerhouse, the men’s US basketball team, also stalled on Sunday, losing 83:76 in the opening game against France.

Most of the time, however, Sunday brought pleasant surprises – like Shaner, who came in 24th in the world in Tokyo and set an Olympic record. Or her compatriot Lee Kiefer from Kentucky Wildcat and 18-year-old Anastasija Zolotic won gold medals in two events the US had never won before – women’s foil and women’s taekwondo.

“What just happened?” said Kiefer, still shocked, shortly after her victory.

Bronzes in men’s street skateboarding, courtesy of Jagger Eaton, and the women’s free 4×100 relay in the pool rounded out the medals on Day 2.

Americans are now hoping more of this will come early next week – and they have many reasons to be optimistic.

Four more swimming finals will be held at Tokyo Aquatics Center on Monday, and Americans will be preferred to win a medal in all of them. Three medal screenings are expected to follow on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Katie Ledecky single-handedly winning a pair of medals in just over an hour.

Outside the pool, Team USA will have a realistic chance of winning medals in everything from fencing to clay pigeon shooting on Monday. The US women’s softball team has already secured a spot in the gold medal game that will be played on Tuesday. And Wednesday offers medal opportunities in two new sports that the US dominates: 3-on-3 basketball and surfing.

Five years ago, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Americans won 121 medals – 51 more than China, which took second place in the overall medal count. They still have a long way to go before they match or exceed this total, even as new sports or disciplines are added. But as this weekend has shown, fate at the Olympics can change quickly – from confidence to confusion or from worry to joy, sometimes just 48 minutes at a time.

Featuring: Christine Brennan, Chris Bumbaca, and Josh Peter

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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