TOKYO – For all the focus on Caeleb Dressel, Australia's Emma McKeon could leave the Tokyo Olympics with more swimming medals than anyone.
The 27-year-old from Brisbane added to her burgeoning collection Saturday, anchoring the Aussies to a bronze in the new 4x100-meter mixed medley relay.
Heading into the final day at the pool, McKeon has five medals overall and a real shot at becoming the first female swimmer to win seven at a single games.
“That’s amazing,” said Dressel, who has three golds in Tokyo and hopes to win two more Sunday.
McKeon produced the fastest leg on Australia's world record-setting performance in the 4x100 freestyle relay early it the meet, and then captured the first individual gold of her career in the 100 free Friday.
“I definitely had belief in myself, and that has built over the last two years," McKeon said. "But to actually pull it off is a totally different thing sometimes. To have finally done it, I am over the moon.”
She's also claimed three bronze medals in Tokyo: two on relays (including the 4x200 free) and a third-place showing in the 100 butterfly.
McKeon is one of the leaders of a loaded Aussie women's team that came into the games billed as the world's best — and has done nothing to diminish the hype.
They've accounted for six of their team's seven swimming golds, led by Ariarne Titmus and Kaylee McKeown with two victories apiece.
Overall, the Aussie women have accounted for 10 medals, plus their part in claiming the mixed relay bronze.
“I think the standards among everyone have just lifted," McKeon said. "Especially these last few years we have had so many people pushing each other. Racing amongst each other, we can just lift the standards and push each other. That has really helped.”
McKeon has a good chance to further inflate her medal haul. She's the favorite in Sunday's 50 free after setting Olympic records in both the preliminaries and semifinals.
With all that star power, Australia is also one of the leading contenders in the women's 4x100 medley relay along with the two-time defending champion Americans.
If McKeon makes it to the podium two more times, she'll join Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi as the only swimmers in the seven-medal club.
McKeon won four medals at the 2016 Rio Games and now has pushed her career total to nine, equaling retired swimming greats Ian Thorpe and Leisel Jones for the most of any Australian athlete.
Like Dressel, McKeon took part in the mixed medley relay final just minutes after the 50 freestyle semifinals, where she broke the Olympic record she set a night earlier in 24.00 seconds.
She handled the short turnaround just fine.
“We knew it was going to be quick,” McKeon told Australian media. ”I think on the timeline it was like a six-minute break, which sounds pretty quick, but we train for that and we do a lot more than that in training.
“I knew I could handle it and the fact that it’s a relay, that gets you (fired) up anyway.”
Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
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