Year in Review: The Top 5 Moments of the Tokyo Olympic Games

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN) celebrates after winning the men's 400m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network
Ahmed Hafnaoui; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher -- USA Today Sports

The Top 5 Moments of the Tokyo Olympic Games

The Tokyo Olympics Games were, most everyone can agree, a different type of Games. With the diminished training time leading up to it, the uncertainty until the very moment the first prelims heat went off and the bubbled nature of the Games, an apples-to-apples comparison to past Games is unfair.

But for all its unique features, the Tokyo Olympics still thrilled. No matter the complicated preamble, the Games produced moments worthy of the Olympic pantheon.

Here are our top five from Tokyo:

Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui Wins Gold in the 400 Freestyle

Taken separately, any of the elements of Ahmed Hafnaoui’s tale – a young largely unknown star, from a country outside the traditional swimming power structure, a Lane 8 upset – would’ve put it on the list. But for them all to converge on the first finals session of the Tokyo Olympic Games offered an indelible Olympic moment.

The Tunisian teenager qualified eighth in prelims of the men’s 400 freestyle, an event that lacked any true favorite. That left open the possibility of a finals surprise, and Hafnaoui delivered the outside smoke. In a race where .71 seconds separated the top five finishers, Hafnaoui got his hand to the wall first in 3:43.36, a result that shocked the world.

Lydia Jacoby Stuns the 100 Breaststroke Field for Gold

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Lydia Jacoby (USA) celebrates after winning the women's 100m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Lydia Jacoby; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

All eyes in the women’s 100 breaststroke field were trained on the middle of the pool, and for good reason. Tatjana Schoenmaker of South African had set an Olympic record in prelims. Lilly King was the reigning Olympic champion. Surely they would fight it out for gold.

And then here came the teenager from Alaska rocketing off the wall to spoil the party.

Had Lydia Jacoby merely gone along for the ride in Tokyo, she already would’ve been one of Team USA’s top stories. The first Alaskan swimmer to represent the U.S. at the Olympics, the rising high school senior had blossomed in the year’s postponement of the Games to reach Tokyo. But that wasn’t enough, as Jacoby proved on the final 50 of the Olympic final. She got to the wall first in 1:04.95, relegating Schoenmaker to silver and King to bronze. Those final strokes, Jacoby picking up speed and the probability shifting – can she? Will she? Did she? – is the stuff of Olympic legend.

Bobby Finke Pulls Epic 800 Freestyle Comeback

Gregorio Paltrinieri had the field where he wanted it, leading by a half-second after 600 meters. The Italian would have to outfox a pair of European combatants, Mykhailo Romanchuk and Florian Wellbrock, in the final 200 meters. But if he did that, the first Olympic gold medal in the 800 free would be his.

Paltrinieri wasn’t counting on Bobby Finke.

Finke rallied from fifth place to first over the last 200 meters, roaring up in lane 3. He was still fourth at 750 meters, but he steamed to a 26.39 split in the final 50, gouging nearly two seconds out of his rivals to get to the wall first in 7:41.87, .24 up on Paltrinieri.

Better still, Finke managed to pull the same trick again in the 1,500 meters three days later, Romanchuk settling for silver this time.

Tatjana Schoenmaker Sets the First World Record

Day 6 of the Tokyo Olympic Games had arrived and still no individual world records had fallen. Given the training disruptions of the previous 16 months, that wasn’t a shock, but it still inspired wonder. Would a world record fall at these Games?

Tatjana Schoenmaker saw to it. She’d danced around the mark in dominant form in prelims and semis, setting the Olympic record. She’s already exceeded her expectations in the 100 breast by taking home silver in her weaker event and setting the Olympic mark, faster than Lydia Jacoby’s gold-winning time. So with just 200 meters of racing left, she let it rip.

The result was the first woman to break 2:19, the South African going 2:18.95 to down Rikke Molle Pedersen’s eight-year-old world record. She beat Lilly King by nearly a second, with Annie Lazor (another amazing story of the Games) taking bronze.

Great Britain Wins First Relay in 109 Years

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tom Dean (GBR) celebrates after winning the men's 200m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Dean; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

The 1912 Olympics were a very, very long time ago. Those games in Stockholm featured the last Great Britain swimming relay to win a gold medal.

If the history weighed on the team in Tokyo, they didn’t show it. The gauntlet was thrown down a day earlier when Tom Dean and Duncan Scott went 1-2 in the men’s 200 free. Absent a challenge from the Americans, the path to relay gold was open wide for them.

They made no mistake in the 800 free relay final, winning in 6:58.58, a European record, Dean and Scott joined by James Guy and Matthew Richards. The wait for a second relay gold lasted …. Three days, with quartet o

Kathleen Dawson, Adam Peaty, Guy and Anna Hopkin sailing to victory and a world record (3:37.58) in the inaugural mixed medley relay at the Olympics. It punctuated a historic showing by the Brits, finishing third in total medals (eight) and golds (four).