"I have relatives in Osaka right now who are cheering me on," Jay Litherland said after he raced, adding, "It feels great"

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In a normal year — the kind of year the world did not get — swimmer Jay Litherland would have raced to a silver medal on Sunday morning in the Tokyo Summer Olympics with many of his family cheering him on in the stands.

Instead, because of COVID-19, Litherland, 25, earned his podium spot in the men's 400m individual medley surrounded by mostly empty seats.

But he knew his relatives weren't too far away, either: both physically and spiritually.

"I felt their energy and power in that last 100 [meters]. It brought me home," Litherland, an Osaka native who grew up in Georgia and a citizen in both U.S. and Japan, told reporters after his race.

Jay Litherland
Team USA swimmer Jay Litherland holds his silver medal in the men's 400m individual relay in the Tokyo Summer Olympics on Sunday.
| Credit: Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Jay Litherland and Chase Kalisz
Team USA swimmers Jay Litherland (left) and Chase Kalisz celebrate after their 400m individual relay event in the Tokyo Summer Olympics on Sunday.
| Credit: Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

"It feels amazing," he said of his success in his birth country. "I have relatives in Osaka right now who are cheering me on. It feels great," adding, "It hasn't really sunk in yet. This is crazy. It's just super special to me."

And, Litherland added with a grin in his voice: "Since I got to Japan all I've been doing is just eating. Every Japanese food is so good. I swear, I think I've gained like 4 or 5 lbs. since I got here."

Even as Litherland has said that returning to Japan to compete in an Olympics darkened by a pandemic would be "kind of hard," he has also gushed about it.

"It's gonna be sweet," he said earlier this year.

"I just want to thank Tokyo for hosting the Olympics," he told reporters on Sunday. "It was a lot of controversy, but y'all killed it."

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.