TOKYO, July 29 - The rivalry of economic powerhouses China, Japan and the United States played out in an Olympic swimming pool on Thursday, where a world record in the women's freestyle relay put the Chinese ahead by one gold medal at the Tokyo Games.
American joy at their own double gold in the pool was tempered as pole vaulter Sam Kendricks was ruled out of the Games due to a positive COVID-19 test, prompting members of the Australian athletics team to briefly isolate in their rooms and highlighting the ever-present risk of infection at the Games.
China gained their first gold in the Tokyo pool with Zhang Yufei winning the women's 200 metre butterfly, and then she returned to the pool to help her team beat the fancied Americans and Australians to win the 4x200 freestyle relay, setting a world record along the way.
The relay victory put China ahead of the United States and Japan on the gold medal rankings and triggered cheers from Chinese journalists in the media centre.
It capped a morning of thrilling athleticism in the pool on the sixth day of the Games, so far dominated by Simone Biles pulling out of gymnastic events and the tennis exit of Naomi Osaka - moments that put the focus on athletes' mental health - and dogged by the shadow of a worsening pandemic in host city Tokyo.
China was leading the medal tally with 14 golds and 29 medals in total. The United States and Japan both have 13 golds with the Americans landing 36 medals in total compared to Japan's 22.
The surprise world record by the Chinese women's freestyle relay team provided a swift answer to the double gold for U.S. swimmers Caeleb Dressel in the 100 freestyle and Bobby Finke in the 800 freestyle.
"I wasn't worried about anything at all," Dressel said after pipping defending champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia by six hundredths of a second. "It means a lot, I knew the weight was on my shoulders."
But the American wins were overshadowed by Kendricks's exit. The double world champion pole vaulter had tested positive for COVID-19, the United States Olympic Committee said, confirming an earlier announcement by his father.
"In alignment with local rules and protocols he has been transferred to a hotel to be placed in isolation and is being supported," it said.
Another pole vaulter, German Chiaraviglio of Argentina was also ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19. He confirmed on Instagram he was out of the Games and was isolating in a hotel.
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