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By Simon Evans
TOKYO (Reuters) - No matter how many times Olympic athletes are told they should be proud of their silver medals, for many of them, second best can never be good enough.
American Chase Kalisz knew he could do better than his silver in the 400m medley at Rio but he had to wait five years for the chance to prove it.
On Sunday, he did just that.
The 27-year-old took the gold on the opening day of the medal events at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre with a swim of 4:09.42, leading an American one-two with Jay Litherland collecting silver.
And there was no attempt to disguise the fact he had been motivated by a desire to set right that loss to Japan's Kosuke Hagino in 2016.
"I do feel like I let the U.S. down in 2016," he said. “The U.S. has a proud legacy in the 400m individual medley. This was my redemption story."
The United States had won the event at the previous five Olympics, including two golds each for Tom Dolan and Michael Phelps before Ryan Lochte's victory in London in 2012.
The streak ended with Kalisz's loss in Rio and his coach Jack Bauerle had no doubt that it hurt.
"He wanted a gold there, I really do think that sometimes when you don’t get everything you want then that is the best motivator – it takes care of a lot of coaching, I think that’s the best way to put it” said Bauerle.
Kalisz had been preparing for a repeat battle with a Japanese swimmer but Daiya Seto, the pre-Games favourite for gold, had failed to qualify from Saturday's heats.
The American got in front on the first length of the backstroke after France's Leon Marchand had led after the butterfly leg and he never looked back.
He battled with New Zealand's Lewis Clareburt through the breaststroke but Kalisz powered through the freestyle leg to get to his goal.
"It means the world. This is the last thing that I really wanted to accomplish in my swimming career," said Kalisz.
"It was something that was a dream of mine for as long as I could remember. I can't believe it."
It was by no means a fast race, with Kalisz's time just under six seconds slower than Phelps's world record from Beijing in 2008.
But Kalisz said that the whole situation with COVID restrictions had changed the nature of the race.
"I had a feeling going in a few days prior that this wasn't going to be a race for time, it was going to be a battle of who prepared the most through prelims and finals with the world mixed up."
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Peter Rutherford)