Challenge for new-look US team

Sports | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 22 Jul 2021

Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky headline a new-look American swim team in Tokyo bursting with young talent in the post-Michael Phelps era as they look to shore up their dominance over arch-rivals Australia.

The USA have long owned the Olympic pool, collecting 33 medals, including 16 golds, to sweep the table in Rio. Australia came a distant second with 10. But with Phelps now retired and some stalwarts failing to qualify they could struggle to match that haul at the Tokyo Aquatics Center starting on Saturday.

Finals take place in mornings and heats in evenings to satisfy US broadcasters.

The Americans also have a cohort untested on the biggest stage with 35 newcomers including 11 teenagers - the most since 1996.

"We're going to have to pick up the pace," said multi-event star Dressel.

He won two relay golds in Rio but no individual title. Still, he has since become a giant, winning 13 crowns in the past two world championships.

Dressel will swim the 50-meter freestyle and also go for gold in the 100m butterfly and 100m free - three events in which he is the defending world champion - with four relays also on the cards.

Rio gold medalists Ryan Murphy (100, 200m backstroke) and Lilly King (100m breaststroke) also return, as does Simone Manuel but in the 50m free, not the 100m free she won in Rio.

Ledecky, who won four gold and a silver in Rio, has a hard program with the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle, the latter added to the Olympics for women this year.

Her showdowns with Australian Ariarne Titmus, who upset her over 400m at the 2019 world championships, are among the most anticipated.

Australian Kaylee McKeown could also dazzle, having smashed American Regan Smith's 100m backstroke world record in June and boasting quickest times this year in the 200m backstroke and 200m medley.

Hungary, third on the Rio medals table, should impress with Kristof Milak, who shocked the world by shattering Phelps' 200m backstroke record in 2019.

But whether versatile compatriot Katinka "Iron Lady" Hosszu can defend her Rio golds - she swims the medleys but has dropped the 100m backstroke - at her fifth Olympics remains to be seen.

Daiya Seto leads the Japanese charge and looms large in the medleys.

And world record holder Adam Peaty is seeking to become the first Briton to defend an Olympic title in the 100m breaststroke.

China will also be in contention, but without three-time Olympic champion Sun Yang - banned for refusing to give a sample to doping inspectors - their hopes rest with butterfly queen Zhang Yufei.

Along with the women's 1,500m freestyle, the men's 800m features at the Olympics for the first time since 1904. And a new mixed 4x100 medley relay, with teams of two men and two women, add a novelty factor.

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