The operative word on the first day of swimming at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium was speed.
For the U.S. team, all the scorching times amounted to a double-edged sword. American swimmers were notably faster than they had been at Olympic Trials, five weeks earlier. But in final after final, they lost to sensational performances from international competitors.
Chase Kalisz of Bel Air set a personal best in his preliminary heat for the 400-meter individual medley, then swam even faster in the final. But he could not catch Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.
In the women’s 400 IM, Maya DiRado swam a personal best but lost by nearly five seconds to a world-record swim by the “Iron Lady,” Hungarian Katinka Hosszu.
In the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, the American women, led by Katie Ledecky and Abbey Weitzeil, set an American record but could not stay with the Australians and their sensational anchor, Cate Campbell.
British breaststroker Adam Peaty also set a world record on Day 1, in a prelim no less.
It was a good opening for the Americans in almost every respect, with an array of swimmers going as fast as anyone could have hoped. But it will be fascinating to see how the world reacts if this trend continues through the week and the U.S. does not snare as many gold medals as usual.
Katie Ledecky will be overwhelmingly favored to take gold in the 400 freestyle Sunday night. But otherwise, none of the Americans are clear first choices.
Michael Phelps will likely make his Rio debut in the 4x100 freestyle relay, but a U.S. victory in that race would be an upset.
The Americans seem likely to take home plenty of medals over the next week. It’s just not clear how many of them will be gold.