TOKYO, July 26 — The U.S. men's swimming team produced a thrilling display to win the 4x100m freestyle relay at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday to underline their dominance in the event.

Caeleb Dressel, Blake Pieroni, Bowen Becker and Zach Apple came in with a time of 3:08.97 to finish 1.14 seconds ahead of second placed Italy. Australia's hopes of challenging for the top prize never really materialized as they trailed in 1.25 seconds adrift of the champions to claim bronze. Russia faded away early to finish seventh.

Since the 4x100m freestyle relay was introduced at the 1964 Tokyo Games, the U.S. have won a medal in the event at every Games, including 10 golds.

The Australians had been expected to put in a strong showing but the Americans led from the start with a fast-paced opening leg from Dressel and did not look back as Apple showed he is now a core member of the team with a brilliant swim in the last leg.

"We know there's a target on our backs. It is tough, but if you make it you deserve to be up here," Dressel, who was also part of the line-up that won the event in Rio, said.

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The gold in the relay for the Americans followed Chase Kalisz's victory in the men's 400m individual medley on Sunday.

Aussie rival upstages Ledecky

Australia's Ariarne Titmus drew first blood in her Olympic showdown with American Katie Ledecky on Monday after her brilliantly timed swim secured a famous victory in the 400m freestyle at the Tokyo Games.

Olympic swimming has, of late, lacked the excitement of hyped-up, top tier big rivals going head-to-head but this encounter certainly lived up to its billing.

The rivalry between the pair caught fire at the 2019 World Championships when Titmus stunned an unwell Ledecky to win the 400 freestyle title.

Monday's thrilling race has set the swimming competition alight and there is much more to come with the pair set to clash again in the 200 freestyle on Wednesday and then again in the 800 on Saturday.

Ariarne Titmus of Australia swims the 400m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 26, 2021. Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
Ariarne Titmus of Australia swims the 400m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 26, 2021. Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Ledecky, a five-times Olympic gold medal winner, grabbed an early lead and held it until the 350m mark when the 20-year-old Titmus edged ahead and never looked back.

"She definitely swam a really smart race. She was really controlled up front,” the American said.

“I felt smooth and strong. I looked up at 300 meters and she was right there, so I knew it would be a battle to the end. I didn’t feel like I died or really fell off. She just had a faster final 50m or 75m and got her hand to the wall first."

USA tops Japan in softball final warm-up

The United States beat Japan 2-1 to end round-robin play on Monday but their failure to record a hit against a third-string pitcher until the sixth inning highlights the challenge they face when the sides meet again in the gold-medal match-up.

U.S. batters did finally get a run against Yamato Fujita in the sixth, and Kelsey Stewart's tie-breaking homer won the game an inning later.

But, as the United States' 3-1 loss to Japan in the Beijing 2008 final showed, counting on lucky hits late in the game delivers inconsistent returns.

Failing to hit in key moments foiled the United States against Yukiko Ueno of Japan in 2008 during softball's last Olympics appearance.

Ueno, 39, will be back in Tuesday's final, as will U.S. hurlers Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott. Monday's win means the United States will bat after Japan in the final.

"Get 'em on, get 'em over and get 'em in. That's they way we've played and won games. Timely hitting," U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. "I wish we could have 18 runs, but we're playing against great pitching."

Overall, the United States finished round-robin play scoring nine runs on 27 hits with Stewart's blast their lone home run. They stranded 35 runners.

By contrast, Japan had double the runs on 26 hits, including six homers, and left 34 on base.

The rivals went unbeaten against their other four competitors at Tokyo 2020 to set up the 2008 rematch, when Japan became the only team other than the U.S. to capture gold. They have also met for the last seven world championships, with the U.S. taking five of them.

Water polo bends, but doesn't break vs. China

The U.S. women's water polo team won a battle of attrition with China 12-7 to inch closer to the knockout stages of the Olympic event on Monday, in a match in which their captain Maggie Steffens suffered a cut that left blood streaming from her nose.

After crushing Japan in their Group B opener at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre on Saturday, the world and Olympic champions were put to the test by China, but came through with flying colors.

For the second game in a row, the U.S. made a sluggish start that had their coach Adam Krikorian venting his frustration on the sidelines as the first half ended with the teams deadlocked at 6-6.

"We struggled," Krikorian said. "But I can't tell you how proud I am for us to be able to find the courage, the heart, the determination to finish that off.

"It may not have looked the prettiest, but that may be our best win of the year. Today we showed what we're made of. We didn't necessarily show our talent and our ability, but we showed our heart and character."

U.S. goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, arguably the world's best in her position, failed to make a single save in the first quarter as China, who have never finished on the podium, took a shock two-goal lead and briefly threatened an upset.

Rachel Fattal snuffed out that threat when she drew the U.S. level at 4-4 in the first, but it was only in the third quarter, with one minute, 46 seconds left on the clock, that the Americans finally gained a decisive advantage.

Tropical storm forces schedule changes

Tokyo Olympic organizers on Monday moved the medal events in the surfing competition a day earlier than scheduled, marking the latest change to the program caused by tropical storm Nepartak as it churned toward Japan's main island.

The storm is expected to head over Japan's northeast coast on Tuesday and could dump heavy rain on the capital just days after the start of the Games.

The medal heats for surfing, making its Olympic debut in Tokyo, were due to be held on Wednesday, but the strong swell provided by the Nepartak is expected to abate by then and impact the waves, prompting organizers to move them forward by a day.

The rain also threatens Tuesday's two medal games for softball. Postponement would give athletes recovery time after five games in six steaming days, but Canada pitcher Danielle Lawrie said she could do without.

"When you're in the last four teams standing, you're running on some adrenaline," she said.

Rowing and archery events have been moved, with Tuesday's rowing races rescheduled for later in the week.

A spokesman for Tokyo 2020 said earlier on Monday that there were no immediate plans to change the schedule for other events.

The storm is forecast to pass to the north of Tokyo, according to the website of the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The likely wind and rain will follow intense heat, which has caused one Olympic archer to collapse and had skateboarders complaining of unbearable conditions by 9 a.m.