Kiwi medley specialist Lewis Clareburt has lived up to his billing as an Olympic medal chance, with a thrilling heat win over 400m at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Racing in the third of four heats, the Wellingtonian clocked 4m 09.49s - a national and Oceania record - finishing second fastest of the eight qualifiers for Sunday's final.
He was surpassed by Australian Brendon Smith's 4m 09.27s in the fourth heat, but now looms as a very real hope of breaking the 25-year Kiwi medal drought in the pool. The last Olympics success for NZ swimming was Danyon Loader's freestyle double at Atlanta 1996.
Clareburt drew an ideal lane next to former world champion and Rio 2016 silver medallist Chase Kalisz, and those two duelled throughout the journey, swapping the lead several times.
The Kiwi fell behind over the breastroke leg, but roared back over the final 100m of freestyle to finish 0.16s clear of his rival.
The next race began at world record pace, with Japanese world champion Daiya Seto leading the way, but Smith charged home over the final length of freestyle, as Seto faded to fifth and out of the final.
Clareburt's medal chance will come at 1:20pm NZ Sunday.
"I was happy with that," Claeburt said afterwards. "I thought I went out a bit slow, but I stuck to it in the breaststroke and then had enough to come back at those guys in the freestyle.
"It's nice to get the first race over and done with."
Countryman Zac Reid was well off the pace over 400m freestyle, clocking 3m 49.85s and finishing 23rd from a field of 36.
Meanwhile, the Football Ferns had little response for the world champion USA women, slumping to a 6-1 defeat that included two own goals and several other goals disallowed for offside.
The Kiwis did well to hold their much-vaunted opponents to one goal with halftime in sight, but conceded another seconds before the break and could not stem the tide in the second half.
Their only consolation came in the 73rd minute, when Paige Stachell pounced on a defensive error from the Americans, drew the keeper and delivered a pinpoint cross to Betsy Hassett, who slotted the Ferns' only goal.
That brought them to 3-1 down, but three more goals in the final moments provided USA with a morale-boosting margin, after a shock 3-0 loss to Sweden in their tournament opener.
Coming up Sunday...
Surfing makes its Olympic debut, with Kiwis Billy Stairmand and Ella Williams both contesting early rounds at Tsurigasaki Surf Beach.
Rio 2016 silver medallist Luuka Jones contests canoe slalom heats, the NZ rowing scullers can edge closer medal races, while sailor Sam Meech begins his Laser campaign.
The OlyWhites will seek to build on their historic opening football win over South Korea, and both Black Sticks men and women take to the turf.
Sunday, July 25
Women's K1 slalom heats - Luuka Jones 5:42pm & 7:50pm NZ
Men’s first round - OlyWhites v Honduras 8pm NZ
Women’s Pool B - Black Sticks v Argentina 3:15pm NZ
Men’s Pool A - Black Sticks v Spain 11:45pm NZ
Women's quad sculls repechage - Olivia Loe, Eve MacFarlane, Georgia Nugent-O'Leary & Ruby Tew 3:50pm NZ
Women's single sculls quarter-finals - Emma Twigg 2:30pm NZ
Men's single sculls quarter-finals - Jordan Parry 3:10pm NZ
Women's double sculls semi-finals - Brooke Donoghue & Hannah Osborne 3:20pm NZ
Men's doubles sculls semi-finals - Chris Harris & Jack Lopas 3:40pm NZ
Men’s Laser - Sam Meech 5:35pm NZ
Women’s skeet qualifying 1 - Chloe Tipple noon NZ
Men’s Round 1 & 2 - Billy Stairmand 10am & 4:40pm NZ
Women’s Round 1 & 2 - Ella Williams 1:20pm & 6pm NZ
Men's 400m individual medley final - Lewis Clareburt 1:30pm NZ
Women's 100m backstroke heats - Ali Galyer 10:04pm NZ
Women's 400m freestyle heats - Erika Fairweather 11:24pm NZ
Men’s -68kg Round of 16 - Tom Burns v Bradly Sinden (Great Britain) 3:34pm NZ
Men’s doubles first round - Marcus Daniell & Michael Venus v Gerasimov/Ivashka (Belarus) 2pm NZ
More to come