China stunned Australia and the USA to win gold in an epic women’s 4x200m freestyle final as all three countries dipped under the previous world record.
Australia had come into the race as the red-hot favourites, having broken the world record when taking gold at the 2019 World Championships and qualified fastest for the final despite resting their star quartet - including double individual gold medallist Ariarne Titmus - for the heats.
Instead, they were locked in a thrilling tussle with China over the first 600m, a battle which looked set to decide gold until American great Katie Ledecky swam an outrageous 1:53.76 final leg - the fastest of the race by half-a-second - to split them and take the silver.
Caeleb Dressel had been slated as the potential star of these Games in the pool, but the programme has forced the American to bide his time over the first half of the meet. However, he made up for lost time, breaking the Olympic record in the men’s 100m freestyle to win the fourth gold of his career but first in an individual event.
He will have plenty of opportunity for more over the coming days, with the 50m freestyle, 100m butterfly and medley relays still to come.
Great Britain, meanwhile, are enjoying they most successful Olympics in the pool since 1908, following gold medals from Adam Peaty, Tom Dean and the men’s 4x200m quartet of Dean, Matt Richards, James Guy and Duncan Scott - who has also won individual silver - and there were hopes that James Wilby could add to the haul in the men’s 200m breaststroke but he could only finish sixth.
The 27-year-old had qualified second-fastest after an aggressive swim in his semi, in which he was almost a second under world record pace at the halfway stage.
That pace looked positively pedestrian pace compared to the tempo set by Arno Kamminga, who was more than two seconds inside world record pace after 100m and still a full body length up with 50m to go, only to be sniped by Australia’s Izaac Stubbelty-Cook on the final length, with Wilby more than a second outside the medals.
Luke Greenbank will instead hope to pick up the medal mantle tomorrow morning after the world bronze medalist won his 200m backstroke semi-final, while Scott will be on the hunt for more silverware after doing likewise in the men’s 200m individual medley.
There was also good news for Anna Hopkin in the women’s 100m freestyle though, after she followed up her new national record in last night’s heats by reaching her first Olympic final, while teammates Molly Renshaw and Abbie Wood both qualified for the final of the 200m breaststroke.
Earlier, America’s Robert Finke timed his finish to perfection to win the first ever men’s 800m freestyle gold medal. Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri had led the race until the final turned but was edged out over the last 50metres, with Ukraine’s Mykhalio Romanchuk taking bronze and Germany’s Florian Wellbrock just missing out as less than a second split the first four swimmers after almost eight minutes of racing.
There was more disappointment, though, for America’s women as Regan Smith and Hali Flickinger had to settle for silver and bronze behind China’s Zhang Yufei as the 23-year-old broke the Olympic record with the third-fastest swim in history to win gold in the 200m butterfly.