TOKYO — A scintillating performance in the Olympic swimming preliminaries Saturday night by 19-year-old American Emma Weyant in her first international meet has put her in position to win the first gold medal of these Olympic Games for the United States, unless veteran Chase Kalisz beats her to it.
The two are America’s 400-meter individual medley stars, and while Kalisz is one of several contenders in a wide open final Sunday morning after gold-medal favorite Daiya Seto of Japan shockingly failed to qualify, Weyant swam faster than she did at last month’s Olympic trials in 4:33.55 to become the gold-medal favorite in her event.
Racing head to head with Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu in the final heat, Weyant dominated, beating the Rio triple gold medalist by nearly 2 1/2 seconds. Hosszu, 32, ended up qualifying seventh.
“I’ve looked up to her for a long time,” Weyant said. “The only other time I raced her was two years ago. I was nowhere close so this is cool.”
American Hali Flickinger also qualified for the final with the fifth fastest time.
Kalisz, 27, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, qualified third, but the big story in the men’s 400 IM was Seto’s flameout.
“At the Rio Olympics five years ago, I went too fast (in the preliminaries) and didn’t have my best in the final,” said the 27-year-old Seto, who won the bronze medal behind Kalisz in Rio.
So this time he held back, hoping to keep something in reserve, but “miscalculated and didn’t put everything into the race.”
Would he call it a huge mistake? He didn’t wait for the translator on that one, nodding several times.
Two young American record-holders started off well in their signature events. Torri Huske, 18, turned in the fourth-fastest time in morning preliminaries in a 100 butterfly field loaded with talent, while Michael Andrew, 22, was third-fastest in the prelims of the 100 breaststroke. Both will have their semifinals Sunday morning.
“It felt not easy but it felt relaxed,” Huske said. “The whole thing felt really good. So I’m very excited for (Sunday’s) semis.”
Said Andrew, “I think the whole time we’ve been preparing for this, thinking it’s the biggest thing, it’s the pinnacle, which it is, but after that swim, it felt like any other 100 breast I’ve ever swum, felt like any other pool I’ve ever raced in — granted it’s a beautiful one.
“So it’s one of those things where I realize we can make it into something bigger than it is in our minds, and I don’t want to crumble under that nerves and that pressure so I’m just approaching it like any other swim meet. Just there’s millions of people watching.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympic swimmer Emma Weyant could win USA's first gold medal in Tokyo