Swimming takes centre stage at Olympics

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USA’s Kathleen Ledecky competes to take silver in the final of the women’s 400m freestyle swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo on July 26. AFP

US stars Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel are in action on Monday as swimming takes centre stage at the Tokyo Olympics while judo’s Shohei Ono aims to keep the golds rolling in for Japan.

American great Ledecky goes head to head with Australia’s Ariarne Titmus in the women’s 400m freestyle final while Dressel launches his bid for a Michael Phelps-style medal haul.

Britain’s Adam Peaty is the hot favourite to win the first gold medal for his nation, which has started slowly in Tokyo after finishing an impressive second in the medals table at Rio 2016.

China top the early medals table with six golds but Japan are just one behind and the United States have four.

Ledecky edged arch-rival Titmus, who stunned the Olympic champion at the 2019 world championships, in the 400m freestyle heats, setting the scene for an epic battle for gold at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

Dressel sat out Sunday’s 4x100m heats but the United States still qualified second fastest behind Italy, and they will be favourites for the morning final.

It could be the start of a seven-title spree for Dressel, 24, whose 13 world titles have prompted inevitable comparisons with Phelps – winner of eight golds in 2008 and 23 in total.

The pressure is on the US team to emulate the golden generation of the retired Phelps along with Ryan Lochte, Nathan Adrian and Tony Ervin, who failed to qualify.

“I think everyone who is on the team, we’re going to have to pick up the pace because what they left behind is huge,” Dressel said.

In the men’s 100m breaststroke final, Peaty is the clear favourite as he attempts to become the first British swimmer to successfully defend an Olympic title.

Peaty, who has lowered the world record five times, won his semi in 57.63 seconds to lead the timings into the final ahead of Dutchman Arno Kamminga with 58.19.

Triathlon chaos

In early action in Tokyo, Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway won the men’s triathlon in a race marred by a bizarre false start.

The 27-year-old crossed the line in a time of 1hr 45min 04sec before raising the winning line tape above his head and then throwing himself to the ground in celebration.

But the main talking point after the race was the chaotic start, which saw around two-thirds of the 56 competitors dive into the water and set off on the swimming leg only to be hauled back.

The farcical scenes were caused by a media boat filming the competitors lined up before diving into the water for the 1.5km swimming leg.

Elsewhere on day three of the action, Olympic judo champion Ono is expecting a “life-or-death” battle in the Nippon Budokan, the sport’s spiritual home.

“The Olympics is not a place for enjoyment,” he told public broadcaster NHK. “For me, it’s a life-or-death battlefield.”

After an exceptionally rocky build-up to the Games, with a year’s delay and fans banned over the coronavirus pandemic, Japan have enjoyed a strong start with five golds in the first two days.

As skateboarding continues its Olympic debut, women’s street world champion Aori Nishimura will hope to emulate Japanese teammate Yuto Horigome, who won the men’s competition on Sunday.

Serbia’s tennis world number one Novak Djokovic takes on Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany in round two as he pursues his bid for a first Olympic title.

The 2008 bronze medallist has won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year, giving him a shot at the Golden Slam – winning all four majors and the Olympics in the same season.