Hough High graduate Erika Brown made her Olympic debut Saturday night in Tokyo, swimming the leadoff leg for the U.S. women’s 4x100 freestyle relay and winning a bronze medal.
Brown, who lived for two years in the Charlotte area as a junior and senior in high school, didn’t get exactly the result she wanted. But she did get her first-ever Olympic medal in her first-ever event, as the U.S. finished third. Australia, heavily favored in the relay, swam away from the field for a convincing victory, while Canada barely out-touched the U.S. for silver.
Brown, 22, swam for SwimMAC and Hough High while living in the Charlotte area and graduated from Hough, the high school in Cornelius, N.C., in 2016. She wasn’t among the top 20 high school recruited swimmers in the country that year, but went to Tennessee on scholarship and improved dramatically after nearly giving up the sport following her freshman season. Saturday night she became the first athlete with N.C. connections to win an Olympic medal in these Tokyo Olympics, partly by virtue of competing in one of the first finals.
While rediscovering the “joy” of swimming, she said in a recent interview, she became a two-time SEC female swimmer of the year. She now has graduated from college and still lives in Tennessee, planning to eventually become a mother and a real-estate agent when her swimming career concludes.
Brown spent two years in Charlotte, moving to the Queen City for athletic purposes to join the SwimMAC Carolina powerhouse. She was a solid national level age-group swimmer while in Charlotte, but wasn’t ranked among the top 20 female recruits in the country in her Class of 2016.
Brown didn’t swim in the 4x100 preliminaries Saturday morning in Tokyo, which is traditionally the case for the first- and second-place finishers in the Olympic Trials. Those top swimmers are held out until the final, with the idea that they will be fresher by doing so. Both also will compete later in the week in Tokyo, with Abbey Weitzeil (who was first in the U.S. Trials) and Brown both swimming the 100 freestyle as an individual event as well.
The U.S. only finished fifth in the preliminaries of the 4x100, however. After that disappointing result, the coaches decided on an almost totally different lineup for the final.
Brown led off in the relay Saturday night, followed by Weitzeil — no surprise there. Then came Hinds, who earned her spot by swimming the fastest leg in the prelims.
But the Team USA anchor leg was swum by Simone Manuel, a late addition to the relay. Manuel, a four-time Olympic medalist, didn’t even make the 100 freestyle final at Olympic Trials but was inserted into the lineup to provide some punch. Manuel won the 100 free at the Rio Olympics in 2016 but made the Tokyo team only in the 50 free, saying this summer she had been suffering from “overtraining” syndrome.
Of the four U.S. swimmers in the final, Brown’s time was the slowest, at 54.02 seconds for her 100. Weitzeil was the fastest, at 52.68. Manuel had a shot at obtaining the silver for the U.S. in that final leg, but lost by 3/100ths of a second to Canada’s Penny Oleksiak.
Australia won the event going away by more than three seconds, setting a world record with a time of 3:29.69, with Canada finishing in 3:32.78 and the U.S. in 3:32.81. The bronze medal was part of a fine haul for the Americans on the first day of the swimming competition, as the U.S. won six swimming medals in total (one gold, two silver and three bronze) to lead all countries competing in the sport.