The 5 best swimming performances of the Tokyo Olympics

(Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

With the Tokyo Olympics officially concluded, a new clock starts, counting down the minutes until Paris 2024. That doesn’t mean we can’t look back at some of our favorite moments from the past few weeks.

This year’s Olympics had no shortage of memorable events, from Naomi Osaka lighting the cauldron on Day 1 to Canada winning their first gold medal in soccer on the final weekend. Here are five that stood out to us from the pool.

17-year-old Lydia Jacoby wins gold in the 100-meter breaststroke

Five years after Lilly King rose to stardom with her 100-meter breaststroke win in Rio, U.S. teammate Lydia Jacoby was relatively unknown heading into these Games. She was a surprise qualifier in Omaha, becoming the first Alaskan Olympian in swimming.

Then, in Tokyo, Jacoby shocked the world. King wasn’t considered a lock to defend her Olympic title in the 100m breaststroke. Most were looking to South African Tatjana Schoenmaker as her main competition after she’d won both the preliminary and semifinal rounds. In the final, Schoenmaker took the lead early and held onto it with 15 meters to go. Jacoby turned it on from there, using a late kick to overtake both King and Schoenmaker and win gold.

Bonus: Jacoby’s high school classmates and parents back in Alaska also had gold-medal reactions to her race.

Katie Ledecky anchors the U.S. to silver in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay

Ledecky had no shortage of memorable swims at these Olympics, but the most exciting may very well have been the one that earned her a silver medal in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.

All three medal-winning teams finished under the world record in this race. China beat out both the United States and Australia, the gold-medal favorites, to claim gold. Meanwhile, Ledecky swam a 1:53.7 split as Team USA’s anchor — a time that would have won silver in the individual race — to overcome Australia and help the U.S. place second.

Bonus: Ledecky’s week was one for the history books. She became the first woman to win gold in the inaugural 1500-meter freestyle at the Olympics and she won her third-straight gold in the 800-meter freestyle.

Ariarne Titmus’ rise to mid-distance stardom

There were rumblings back in 2019 that Titmus could be the next star in mid-distance freestyle after she dethroned Ledecky in the 400-meter freestyle at the World Championships. Many had marked that win with an asterisk, however, because Ledecky had been dealing with an illness at the time.

This time, there was no asterisk. Titmus defeated Ledecky on the world’s biggest stage, swimming the second-fastest 400m freestyle (just behind Ledecky’s world record) and becoming the first swimmer to defeat the American in an individual Olympic event. Later on in the week, Titmus also won gold in the 200-meter freestyle, adding to her heroics in Tokyo.

Bonus: Titmus’ coach, Dean Boxall, had one of the greatest celebrations of the Games after she won gold.

Emma McKeon makes Olympic history

What an Olympics it was for Team Australia, with Emma McKeon’s performance standing out above the rest.

McKeon won four gold medals and three bronze medals in Tokyo, making her the first female swimmer to earn seven medals in a single Olympics. The feat also tied her with Soviet gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya for the most medals earned by a woman at a single Olympics. McKeon is now the most decorated Australian Olympian of all time, having surpassed Ian Thorpe.

Her record-breaking moment came on the final day of competition, with McKeon winning gold in the 50-meter freestyle and then setting up Australia to win gold in the 4×100-meter medley relay.

Tatjana Schoenmaker breaks the Olympics’ first individual world record in swimming

After placing second in the 100-meter breaststroke, Schoenmaker was not done. The South African then dominated the 200-meter breaststroke, winning gold and breaking the world record with a time of 2:18.95. It was the first time a woman has ever gone under 2:19 in the event.

Not bad for someone who swam the same race in 2:27 five years ago and failed to qualify for Rio. Schoenmaker’s reaction was also one of the best of the Games. Her opponents, including Americans Annie Lazor and Lilly King, celebrated the achievement with her.