Swimmer Jay Litherland Won a Silver Medal in Tokyo — and a DM from Olivia Munn: She Was 'So Proud'
Swimmer Jay Litherland returned home to Laguna Niguel, California, with his first Olympic medal and a slew of congratulatory messages on social media.
In a podium-worthy debut at the Tokyo Games, Litherland placed second in the men's 400m individual medley, 0.86 seconds behind fellow swimmer and Georgia Bulldog Chase Kalisz, who won gold.
Litherland, 25, became the first Asian-American athlete to win a medal with his silver on the second official day of competition of the Olympics. "It feels incredible," he tells PEOPLE.
"I'm super proud to represent the community that way. I've gotten DMs from so many different people and it's amazing," says Litherland, who was born in Osaka to a Japanese mother and a father from New Zealand.
Among the many DMs were some celebrities, including actress Olivia Munn, which Litherland says was a highlight as he pulls out his phone.
"She said, 'So proud of you. Excited for you,' " he says, looking through his messages. Of his initial reaction to seeing Munn's verified account, the swimmer recalls saying, "No way."
"Just to get a response from [Munn] too. No fan page or anything, the real thing," shares Litherland, who was also starstruck when he met champion U.S. skateboarder Nyjah Huston in the athlete village while Huston "was doing tailslides on the benches outside of our building."
Reflecting on his medal-winning race, Litherland says it was extra special being in second with Kalisz. "Once you're on the podium and you hear the national anthem going, it's something that you can't really explain," he says. "It's such a mood and to see two U.S. flags up there as well, it just meant the world."
"I'm still, kind of, replaying it back. It's pretty nuts getting on the podium. Everything is such a blessing, so grateful," he says.
What made it extra "crazy" is having his Japanese relatives watch his race in real time. Litherland was among the few Team USA stars to have loved ones living in the host country, though they weren't able to cheer him on in person due to COVID-19.
"I called my family in Japan. That was amazing because they had this whole watch party at their house. They bought a big TV just to watch the race. It was super sweet," he tells PEOPLE.
"After I won, I think as soon as I finished the award ceremony, I called my grandparents and it was so sweet," he says. "They actually had a TV crew come to their house and even before the race, they didn't want to tell me because they knew I was going to be nervous about it. They had the whole crew there and they were just so happy. But they couldn't really express it yet, because they were on camera. So I called them later that night and it was a deep moment."
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Meanwhile, back in the states, Litherland's parents and two brothers were at a Team USA-organized watch party in Orlando, Florida.
"Being a triplet is pretty awesome. I'm the youngest guy and Kevin, he's the oldest, and there's Mick," Litherland raves. "It's nothing but love that I get from them and it's more like if one of us succeeds, we're all succeeding."
"Whenever one of my brothers is succeeding, we get the same feeling and we support each other no matter what," he continues. "I'm just super grateful to have them and I wouldn't even be here in this position without them. They're the ones that help me every single day in practice to get to this level."
Further thanking his family, the Olympian adds, "Everyone has supported me nonstop and this wouldn't be here without their help. I'm just so grateful for that."
And he says he's more than happy to allow his family and friends to wear his medals: "I'm not going to be the one to lock this up and not share with anyone. This is a community thing."
Expect to see and hear more from Litherland, too. "I ain't stopping. There's a lot more to come," he says. "I love to swim and there are no plans of stopping."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.
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