Swimming day 2 - Two new WR; France takes revenge

London 2012 Swimming

altTwo new World Records and two gold medals for France were the highlights of the second day of competition at these Olympic Games in London. Dana Vollmer (USA) and Cameron van der Burgh (RSA) were the new fastest in the pool in their respective events, while Camille Muffat (FRA) brilliantly won the women's 400m free, being followed some minutes later by her compatriots in the men's 4x100m free relay. Phelps, member of the silver team of USA got his 17th Olympic medal, while Rebecca Adlington (GBR), the local hero and defending champion, had to content herself with the bronze in the 400m free. 

The first strong moment of the evening session happened in the women's 100m butterfly, where US Dana Vollmer clocked a new World Record in 55.98. Having established a new Olympic record of 56.25 during the heats and being also the fastest of the semis, Vollmer was the athlete to beat in the decisive race. She did not disappoint and improved the world best mark set at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome (ITA) when Sarah Sjoestroem had swum to victory in 56.06. It is the second gold medal for Vollmer at Olympic level, after her 800m free triumph at the 2004 Games in Athens (GRE). Additionally, the 24-year-old had been world champion at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai (CHN), winning last July in 56.87.

On what matters most - the gold or the world record - Vollmer said at the press conference: "Being an Olympic champion, the World record is like the icing on the cake. Seeing all the work that I have put in since Athens, my coach's dedication, my parents' support, it all paid off. To be the first woman to go under 56 seconds is absolutely an incredible feeling, winning that gold medal means so much to me.". On her lows and highs during the career, the US swimmer explained: "Now to finally be healthy and stronger as an individual, I take all these expectations as motivation and energy, if you are anxious and excited, that goes into a great performance."

The silver medal (56.87) went to China's Ying Li, world bronze medallist last year at home, but neophyte at Olympic level, while Alicia Coutts (AUS) got the bronze in 56.94. It was her second medal at these Olympics, after the gold on day 1 in the 4x100m free relay. Sjoestroem, the world record holder before the race, finished at the podium's door, ranking fourth in a time of 57.17.

Also in a World Record mood, Cameron van der Burgh, from South Africa, totally dominated the final of the men's 100m breaststroke, touching home on a new global best mark of 58.46 – the previous record (58.58) had been set by Brenton Rickard (AUS) at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome. Van der Burgh was bronze medallist at the Worlds in 2011 and his best Olympic performance was a seventh position in 2008 in the South African 4x100m medley relay. This Olympic crown is the first ever individual title for male swimmers of this country, the only other gold being the successful 4x100m free relay in Athens 2004. 

"Growing up as a young star and see these guys coming back with a gold medal in 2004 was so inspiring to me. Tonight I came in, I had the chance and I took it and I am definitely not giving it back," said Van der Burgh with a smile. Asked about the possible influence on his race of the recent loss of Alexander Dale Oen, from Norway, one of his most notable competitors in the pool, the South African star replied: "Alex and I were very close friends, we spent a lot of time together when I was growing up, from 2007, Alex took me under his wing and showed me the steps of international swimming. He helped me become the swimmer that I am today. When I touched the wall and saw that I won the gold medal, I led back on the lane and just looked up to the sky. I really think he helped me in these last couple of months because we were so close. Looking at my times since last year and the big change, I can definitely say that Alex had some influence on that."

The minor medals went to Christian Sprenger (AUS, silver in 58.93) and Brendan Hansen (USA, bronze in 59.49). The latter had been silver medallist in this event in 2004, while Sprenger's best results at Olympics was a silver at the 2008 4x100m medley relay.

The major surprise was the fifth place of two-time Olympic champion (2004 and 2008) in this event, Japan's Kosuke Kitajima. With already six medals at this level (he was also the winner of the 200m breaststroke in the last two editions of the Games, and he has two bronze medals in the 4x100m medley relay), Kitajima was looking for an unprecedented third title, but his 59.79 performance only gave him the fifth position. Rickard, the former WR holder, was sixth (59.87), while Daniel Gyurta (HUN), 2012 European champion in the 200m breaststroke, finished in fourth (59.53).

"I am disappointed that I couldn't do my best. I am disappointed not to have given all in the best (swimming) competition. But I think this was the best that I could do. I was thinking a lot of things in the last three days and started having doubts while swimming. This was very disappointing. I didn't have any technique I could be confident in, something I could think 'Yes, I can go with this'. When my legs are moving OK, then my arms get bad," confessed a frustrated Kitajima. "But I still have a chance in the 200m. It is going to be a high-level race. I have to think about the 200m more seriously."

In one of the most thrilling races of the session, the duel between Camille Muffat (FRA) and Allison Schmitt (USA) in the women's 400m free was won by the European swimmer in a new Olympic record of 4:01.45 (the previous best mark at the Games had been set by Federica Pellegrini, from Italy, in Beijing, in a time of 4:02.19). Muffat (first Olympic medal), the fastest of the semi-finals (4:03.29) controlled the race but was closely followed by Schmitt, who got the silver in 4:01.77. 

"I knew that in the 400 free, if I did what I knew to do, unless there was a surprise, I could not be beaten. I did an ideal race tonight. It is not the time, I won, that is what counts at the Olympics," declared Muffat. 

Rebecca Adlington (GBR), the Olympic champion in 2008, was one of the strongest local hopes to make a gold medal, but in the end she could not do better than getting the bronze in 4:03.01 (still better than her winning time four years ago in the "Water Cube", 4:03.22). The reigning World champion and world record holder, Italy's Pellegrini was also far from her best, concluding in fifth (4:04.50, her WR being 3:59.15 established in Rome 2009).

Asked on why the 2008 champions are experiencing difficulty in revalidating their titles, Adlington considered: "Beijing 2008 was an unbelievable experience to me but coming to this meet, it is completely different: I'm a totally different person, different swimmer, I'm older. Going into that, I did not expect ever to get a gold medal; I am so pleased that at the end of the day, I gave my best and that is all I can ask for." And she concluded: "People have said to me 'are you going to get a gold?' like 'Are you going to get a drink for me?' whereas swimming is one of the hardest sports to medal at. We can only do our best, that's why I am pleased with the bronze, I'm happy to be third in the world, that's unbelievable."

In what had been one of the most unforgettable races in Beijing, the men's 4x100m free relay, USA had obtained a dramatic victory by only 0.08 over France, thus decisively contributing to the unprecedented 8-gold medal success of Michael Phelps. Today, in London, the French (in a team composed by Amaury Leveaux, Fabien Gilot, Clement Lefert and Yannick Agnel, who concluded in a "supersonic" 46.74) were looking for a sweet revenge and they had it: winning in a time of 3:09.93, they beat the North Americans by a clear margin – Phelps and his teammates (Nathan Adrian, Cullen Jones and Ryan Lochte) touched home in 3:10.38. It was the 17th Olympic medal for the best swimmer in history, who finished fourth on day 1 in the 400m IM. Russia got the bronze medal in 3:11.41, while Australia took a disappointing fourth in 3:11.63. 

In the semi-finals of this second day, Sun Yang (CHN, winner of the 400m free on day 1) was the fastest in the men's 200m free (1:45.61), while the 15-year-old sensation in the women's 100m breaststroke, Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte confirmed her fastest time of the heats – in the morning, she clocked 1:05.56 and in the semis she was again the best in 1:05.21. In the men's 100m backstroke, Matthew Grevers (USA) took first in 52.66, and in the women's 100m backstroke Emily Seebohm (AUS) confirmed her Olympic record (58.23) of the heats, finishing also first in the semis, in a time of 58.39. Kirsty Coventry (ZIM), two-time silver medallist in the event (2004 and 2008) will not swim the decisive race after the 12th place in the semis; however, she made better than France's Laure Manaudou, only 22nd of the heats.