The pressure was already on 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby to perform well when she was chosen to compete for the U.S. in the first-ever 4×100-meter mixed medley relay.
Her leg of the race, the 100-meter breaststroke, became all the more difficult when, as soon as she dove in the water, her goggles slipped down her face. It left her eyes exposed, and to make matters worse, they fell down and were stuck on her mouth for the duration of the race.
Despite the malfunction, Jacoby still impressively swam a 1:05.09 split on the breaststroke. It was just 0.14 seconds off her gold-medal-winning time in the 100m breaststroke — and would have still won the individual event — on Monday.
There could be worse events to lose your goggles on than the breaststroke. The race has the swimmer spending a considerable amount of time with their head above water and facing the walls, which allows them to get a gauge for how close they are to it before they have to dip back under the water. Had her goggles fallen off during the freestyle, Jacoby likely would have had to keep her eyes open underwater for most of the race or risk guessing wrong on how close she was to the wall.
Just on face value, it might have been easy to point at that moment as the reason the U.S. wound up finishing fifth overall in the relay. However, Jacoby was the only woman swimming on that discipline and the men all posted times under a minute. Had any other nation also picked a woman swimmer for that split of the relay, Jacoby would have almost certainly finished with a faster time.
The four countries that finished ahead of the United States either opted to have the order for the relay go female, male, male, female (Great Britain and Australia) or male, male, female, female (China, Italy). The U.S. was the only relay unit that went male, female, female, male and the only group with a male anchoring the relay, meaning it was counting on Caeleb Dressel, who had already competed in two events on Friday, to catch up with the entire field.
And, he nearly did, taking the U.S. from eighth to fifth. But he ran out of water and could not get the team on the podium.