RIO DE JANEIRO — Consider the baton passed. A heavy baton, at that.
For years and years, Michael Phelps dominated the 400-meter individual medley, often at the expense of his longtime rival Ryan Lochte, who then snatched gold in the event in London. But either way, the two names were nearly synonymous with swimming’s most grueling event over the past decade.
Phelps,31, abandoned the event during his latest comeback, and Lochte, 32, was hampered by a hamstring injury and failed to qualify for the Olympics in it.
And now the event belongs to Chase Kalisz — in America at least. Kalisz, the top qualifier heading into Saturday night’s final, became the U.S. swim team’s first medalist. He earned a silver medal in an exhilarating race in which he used a strong breaststroke leg to ultimately push the favorite, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino, to the brink. Hagino won gold in 4:06.05, and Kalisz finished 0.7 seconds behind him. Japan’s Daiya Seto won bronze.
Kalisz, 22, is a training partner of Phelps’ and considers him a surrogate big brother, even during times when big bro was particularly hard on him.
“It really pushed him and really got him out of his comfort zone,” said U.S. men’s coach Bob Bowman, the personal coach of both Phelps and Kalisz.
Bowman is one of the reasons Kalisz swims the 400 IM in the first place. Swimmers like to joke that they never choose this event — whose mastery easily exemplifies all-around greatness — but rather the event chooses them.
In Kalisz’s case, training with Bowman led the event to choose him. The training group has long focused on medley training, especially since it was such an integral part of Phelps’ program for much of the past decade.
And now, it’s an integral part of Kalisz’s. Alone.