Tokyo Flashback: Zhang Yufei Sets Olympic Record for 200 Fly Gold; Americans Go 2-3

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Zhang Yufei (CHN) leads Hali Flickinger (USA) in women's 200m butterfly final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

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Tokyo Flashback: Zhang Yufei Sets Olympic Record for 200 Fly Gold; Americans Go 2-3

One year has passed since the Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to COVID-19, unfolded in Tokyo. To celebrate what went down in the Japanese capital, Swimming World is revisiting the championship finals – each on their one-year anniversary – by once again running the stories that were posted after the medals were decided.

The mixed zone presented a pair of contrasts from the American medalists in the women’s 200 butterfly Thursday morning at the Tokyo Olympics.

On one side was an elated Regan Smith, ready to collect her silver medal. On the other was Hali Flickinger, disappointed to find a bronze medal waiting for her.

Such is the change of fortunes in an Olympics, where even a personal best can carry disappointment.

What was certain was the destination of the gold medal, with Zhang Yufei a no-doubt winner. She controlled the race from start to finish, winning in an Olympic record 2:03.68. That downs the time from her fellow Chinese swimmer Jiao Liuyang set in London. It’s the third-fastest of all time.

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Hali Flickinger (USA), left, and Regan Smith (USA) embrace after finishing third and second respectively in the women's 200m butterfly final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports

Hali Flickinger, left, and Regan Smith embrace after the 200 fly; Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports

“I tried to pace off of her and she swam a great race,” Flickinger said. “There is nothing I can control about that.”

The American chasers closed ground, but it was too little, too late. Smith got to the wall first in 2:05.35, adding a silver to her bronze in the 100 backstroke. Flickinger grabbed bronze in 2:05.65, augmenting her 400 IM bronze.

The two times, separated by three tenths, account for opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Smith was 2:06.99 at Olympic Trials, making the team in the event before the disappointment of missing out on the 200 backstroke, in which she holds the world record. To lop more than a second and a half off that had her beaming.

“It was a great race,” Smith said. “I was really pleased with my prelims and semis times but I knew I still had some stuff to clean up to get better. And I think I did just that. I’m super psyched.”

Flickinger was 2:05.85 at Trials. Only trimming two tenths off that, though still a personal best, is cause for disappointment, though she puts it into context that the medal is what matters most at the Olympics.

“I was able to stand up and swim for our country, and there’s nothing better than that,” said the 27-year-old, who won her first career Olympic medal in the 400 IM. “We’re coming home with medals, both silver and bronze, so that’s exciting. … It was nowhere close to a swim that I’m capable of doing. But I got to stand up on the podium and represent the U.S., and that’s all that matters here.”

Zhang Yufei was out by a bodylength from the first wall on. That gap held until the 150-meter wall, and the Americans started to close. But they ran out of real estate. The Americans weren’t seriously challenged for the medal stand, with Boglarka Kapas buzzing barely within a second of Flickinger. Yu Liyan of China was a further second back in fifth.

For Smith, who has two medals in her first Games with the medley relay still left, it’s a joy according to the watch and the podium.

“I was just super surprised,” she said. “That’s my best time by over a second and 2:05 is really, really good. I’m really excited and really happy.”

Women’s 200 Butterfly

  • World Record: Lui Zige, China, 2:01.81 (2009)
  • Olympic Record: Jiao Liuyang, China, 2:04.06 (2012)
  1. Zhang Yufei, China, 2:03.86
  2. Regan Smith, United States, 2:05.35
  3. Hali Flickinger, United States, 2:05.65
  4. Boglarka Kapas, Hungary, 2:06.53
  5. Yu Liyan, China, 2:07.85
  6. Svetlanta Chimrova, Russia, 2:07.70
  7. Alys Thomas, Great Britain, 2:07.90
  8. Brianna Throssell, Australia, 2:09.48
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