RIO DE JANEIRO – Four years after placing sixth at the London Games in the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle, American Connor Jaeger just needed a few thousand more laps in the pool – and a few million meters – to claim his first Olympic medal of any color.
That medal was silver Saturday night in Rio.
The 25-year-old two-time Olympian from Fair Haven, New Jersey, won that silver in the wake of a dazzling performance inside the pool by winner Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy, who went out in front early and never looked back in near world-record time, clocking a 14:34.57 to Jaeger's 14:39.48 while Paltrinieri's teammate, Gabriele Detti, won the bronze with a 14:40.86.
A former University of Michigan swimmer, Jaeger was seventh in the 400-meter freestyle final earlier this week in Rio and had focused his efforts on bringing home the U.S. a first medal of any color in this event since Larsen Jensen won the silver in Athens in 2004.
It was the leap Jaeger wanted to make and just when he wanted to make it in the 1,500 free: He was sixth at the 2012 London Games in the event and then took silver at last year’s world championships in Kazan, Russia.
He had qualified with the second-fastest time of the week, a full 1.23 seconds behind Paltrinieri. It was a career-best time for Jaeger, who broke his own American record set at worlds last year. Paltrinieri was not far off from Chinese swimmer Sun Yang’s 2012 Olympic title time, the world record at 14:31.02.
Jordan Wilimovsky of the U.S. finished fourth, a drop from his third-best qualifying time. Wilimovsky is a world champion open water swimmer, and will transition there for the open water 10K early next week. He is the first American swimmer to make the Olympics in both open water and the pool.