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OLYMPICS: Americans Phelps, Ledecky shine in pool

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • Michael Phelps earned his 19th Olympic gold medal on Sunday.
  • Phelps was part of the American 4x-100-meter freestyle swim team.
  • Katie Ledecky captured gold by crushing her own world record in the 400 freestyle.

Michael Phelps has to clear out more space in his medal case.

Time to make room for gold No. 19.

With yet another dazzling performance, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history added to his staggering haul Sunday night in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, giving the United States a lead it never relinquished.

Defending Olympic champion France was leading when Phelps dove into the water on the second leg, taking over for leadoff swimmer Caeleb Dressel. Even though the 100 free isn't one of his specialties — he's never swam it at the Olympics — he blazed down and back in a stunning 47.12 seconds, a time that was faster than all but the three anchors on the medal-winning teams, three of the best in the world at that distance.

Ryan Held protected the lead before giving way for Nathan Adrian, America's best sprinter.

At that point, it wasn't really in doubt.

But Phelps wasn't taking any chances, pounding the starting block and shouting toward Adrian as the anchor made the turn for home.

When Adrian touched the wall first, posting a winning time of 3 minutes, 9.92 seconds, Phelps thrust his right arm in the air and looked toward his infant son Boomer, nuzzling in the arms of his mother Nicole Johnson, the roaring crowd blocked out by noise-canceling headphones.

Little Boomer won't remember what his daddy did this night.

But that gold medal will never let him forget.

France took the silver in 3:10.53, while Australia claimed the bronze in 3:11.37, holding off a Russian team that was booed during the introductions — a reminder of the drug scandal that has rocked the nation. Vladimir Morozov, initially banned from the Olympics, was one of Russia's relay swimmers.

Ledecky also shines: It was quite a night for the Americans, who were shut out on the golds on the opening night of swimming.

Racing nothing but the clock, Katie Ledecky gave the U.S. its first victory by crushing her own world record in the 400 freestyle.

The result was totally expected. The unassuming teenager from suburban Washington has dominated the longer freestyle events since winning gold in the 800 free at the London Olympics as a 15-year-old.

The only drama was whether she'd take the world record even lower.

Her powerful stroke quickly made that a moot point, too.

Ledecky kicked off the first wall with a lead of nearly a body length and steadily pulled away from the overmatched field — as well as the world-record line superimposed on the video screen.

Her arms churning effortlessly through the water, Ledecky touched nearly 5 seconds ahead of her closest pursuer and quickly whipped around to look at the scoreboard.

When Ledecky saw the time — 3:56.46 — she let out an uncharacteristic scream and shook her right fist. She crushed the mark of 3:58.37 that she set nearly two years ago on the Gold Coast of Australia, and had been chasing ever since.

"I was pumped," Ledecky said. "That's what I wanted and I had been so close to breaking that all year, the past two years. I knew I was due for a breakthrough."

She's just getting warmed up.

Ledecky, who added gold to the silver she won in the women's 4x100 free relay, is also favored in other two individual events: the 200 and 800 free. In addition, she could pick up another gold in the 4x200 free relay.

American gold medal winner Katie Ledecky celebrates with the U.S. flag after the medal ceremony for the women's 400-meter freestyle final.
American Michael Phelps encourages his teammates in the final of the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay on Sunday. The Americans won the gold medal.

OTHER

OLYMPIC NOTES:

Serena Williams wins Rio singles opener, loses in doubles: Perhaps it was the 25 mph winds. Or the slower-than-expected hard courts. Or maybe simply that Serena Williams hadn’t played a match in a month.

Whatever the cause, Williams opened defense of her Olympic singles gold medal with a patchy-at-times 6-4, 6-2 victory over Australia’s Daria Gavrilova on Sunday, gesturing or yelling at herself as she often does when not all goes her way. Williams had not competed since collecting her Open-era record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. She’s now won 19 of her past 20 matches.

Later Sunday, Williams and her older sister Venus lost an Olympic doubles match for the first time. They are three-time gold medalists as a team, and entered this match with a 15-0 record at the Olympics, but were beaten 6-3, 6-4 by the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova.

Venus Williams reacts after losing a point in a doubles match with her sister Serena against Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova, of the Czech Republic, at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday. The Williams sisters lost the match.

Rafael Nadal was back in action Sunday, playing his first match in 2½ months. And he was back at an Olympics for the first time in eight years.

Nadal captured a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Argentina’s Federico Delbonis.

Gabby Douglas won’t get a chance to defend all-around gymnastics title: Gabby Douglas watched Aly Raisman stick the dismount on the beam, then rose from her seat and gave her American teammate a big hug.

Never mind that Raisman’s success in Olympic qualifying Sunday ensured that Douglas couldn’t defend the all-around title she won in London four years ago. Douglas had shaken off a sub-par performance in Olympic trials and quieted critics who were convinced she didn’t deserve to make this team. For her, that was enough.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” she said. “I have no regrets.”

Douglas finished third behind Simone Biles and Raisman. Only two gymnasts per country can compete in Thursday’s final, leaving Douglas out of luck. The divide between Douglas and Raisman was slim. She was edged by less than a half a point.

With an eye-popping score, U.S. gymnasts put world on notice: The nerves were there. Unmistakable. Unavoidable. Standing in the darkened tunnel before entering Rio Olympic Arena on Sunday night, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team felt the pressure that comes not from outside expectations but those held within.

Then the lights came on. And just like that, the young women in the glittery red-and-blue leotards national team coordinator Martha Karolyi has molded into a global force relaxed.

And dominated.

On bars. On beam. On vault and floor too. Their not-a-typo score of 185.238 was nearly 10 points better than second-place China through four of the five subdivisions, a preposterous gap in a sport where the difference between first and second is measured in fractions.

“It’s never 100 percent perfect but I think we showed that our gymnastics is of the highest level,” Karolyi said.

U.S. women hoops team routs Senegal in record fashion: Diana Taurasi and the U.S. women’s basketball team opened their Olympics with a record rout.

The Americans were not expected to be challenged on Sunday by Senegal, and the only real suspense was how many records they would set. When it ended, they had set three Olympic marks: Points scored in a game, margin of victory and assists.

The players and the US coaching staff were happy with how the team set the records. With a team of WNBA MVPs and All-Stars, the Americans constantly made the extra pass on offense that led to open shots or layups in the 121-56 victory. Sue Bird had eight of the team’s US record 36 assists.

“When we move the ball like that and the ball doesn’t get stuck and the defense has to guard us at all five spots on the floor, that’s just a tough task for anybody,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. “Especially in the first half we shot the lights out, we shot great. … It was really fun.”

Well, maybe not for everyone.

The Brazilian fans tried to spur on the African country, cheering loudly every time they scored and booing the U.S. when the Americans had the ball. The fans even shouted down a brief U.S. chant with a Senegal one.

Whipping winds affect second day: The whipping gusts that disrupted athletes and spectators alike on Sunday.

The gusts ripped apart a large decorative panel on the swimming venue and even shut down shopping at the megastore — essentially an enormous tent — inside the Olympic Park.

China won yet another medal in air rifle on a day nasty winds sent the clay targets in the trap event bobbing and bouncing through the air, forced delays on the tennis courts and whipped up treacherous waves in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.

Sunday’s rowing regatta was called off after a two-hour delay when the choppy seas didn’t let up. Race officials said winds gusting up to 34 mph (15 meters per second) pushed buoys into the lanes and capsized two boats during morning practice.