Swimming day 3 - Agnel grabs third gold for France and Meilutyte first medal ever for Lithuania

London 2012 Swimming

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Another memorable session was lived at the Aquatics Centre on the third day of the Swimming programme. France got their third gold, Missy Franklin and Matt Grevers offered USA two more titles while the biggest revelation of the Games, Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte, was the strongest in the women's 100m breaststroke. The surprise of the day was Ryan Lochte's (USA) fourth place in the men's 200m free.

Over the years, this has become one of the most interesting events of the Swimming programme. The old rivalry between Pieter van den Hoogenband and Ian Thorpe, then Phelps and Biedermann has created a solid expectation surrounding this race at every major international rendezvous. The Games in London were no exception. Displaying a very strong field (only Phelps was missing), the athletes to watch were naturally Lochte, Tae-Hwan Park (KOR), Sun Yang (CHN), Yannick Agnel (FRA) and Paul Biedermann (GER). The fastest of the semis had been Sun, world record holder in the 1500m free and winner of the 400m free in London. The Chinese star had, however, a bad start and was only sixth at the 50m mark, while Agnel departed fast from the blocks and managed to control his lead during the entire race. In the end, the successful member of the French quartet that had already grabbed gold in the 4x100m free relay on day 2, touched home in 1:43.14, much faster than Park and Sun, who shared the silver (and make their second podium appearance here in London) in 1:44.93. It was the first victory ever for France in this event in Olympic history and the third title for the country so far at the Aquatics Centre (besides Agnel's 200m free triumph and the above-mentioned relay, Camille Muffat won the 400m free). 

"I was indeed surprised with my time, I did not expect that as I had set 1:43.80 or 1:43.90 for myself; at the end of the race, I looked twice on the scoreboard to be sure it was it. I would have to get back younger to beat Biedermann's time, it seems unreachable for now," declared Agnel. Michael Phelps, who had decided not to swim this race in London also praised the French's performance: "I thought it was going to be .43 high. That was an incredible swim. I said to Ryan yesterday that he really needed to use underwaters, a lot of guys don't have underwaters, a race like that is tough to come off, Ryan is a very good racer and he is going to be able to build on from that."

After the race, China's Sun Yang said: "I'm really glad about today's result, it is true that swimming all these freestyle events is physically tough but it is not a problem for me. I feel really good and still have two days before my next race so I really feel relaxed about it. This is the first time that the Chinese are competing in the 200m free so we never dreamed to be on the podium."

Ryan Lochte, fourth in 1:45.04, missed on the chance to collect a third medal in London. "That last lap hurt, especially when you are racing at that kind of level, I put everything into and I guess it was not there. This is one of the deepest competition fields, from first to eighth there is a second difference so it's definitely really hard," admitted Lochte. Finally, the world record holder, Germany's Paul Biedermann touched fifth in 1:45.53.

Even more thrilling was the final of the women's 100m backstroke, where Missy Franklin (USA), the successful rookie revealed at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai (CHN), had to battle to get the victory in 58.33, against the fastest swimmer until the decisive race, Australia's Emily Seebohm. Strong from an Olympic record of 58.23 on the previous day, Seebohm (58.68) was still first at half race, but a second faster leg from the 17-year-old North American dictated the final outcome. Aya Terakawa, from Japan, completed the podium thanks to her 58.83 effort. For Franklin it is the second medal in London after the third place finish in the 4x100m free relay, while Seebohm collects her third Olympic award (gold in 2008 in the 4x100m medley relay and gold in 2012 in the 4x100m free relay). 

"When you dream about something your whole life and you achieve it, you don't really understand what you just did and I definitely don't think I did, I could not be happier right now. I knew that Emily Seebohm would be checking out, that whole heat had such a great first 50, I knew that I had to be out there, I am known for being a little bit slower, I knew I needed to give everything I had coming home," said Franklin. 

Anastasia Zueva from Russia, European record holder in this event, was fourth in 59.00, while local hero Gemma Spofforth and world record holder (58.12) concluded in fifth. The 2011 world champion Jing Zhao, from China, was also under her best performance, touching home for sixth place in 59.23.

The second gold of the day for USA came shortly after with the "comfortable" win of Matt Grevers in the men's 100m backstroke. Getting the gold in a new Olympic record of 52.16 – the former best mark (52.54) at the Games had been established by compatriot Aaron Peirsol in 2008 -, Grevers collected his fifth Olympic medal after two relay gold in 2008, a silver in the 100m back and the 4x100m free relay gold in London. He was followed by the second US swimmer in the final, Nick Thoman (52.92). Ryosuke Irie from Japan got the bronze in 52.97. Camille Lacourt (FRA), the 2011 world champion in Shanghai (CHN) made an excellent start and was first at the 50m mark but a less successful finish jeopardised his chances of medalling here in London. Liam Tancock (GBR), another hope for a medal at home, could not do better than Spofforth, touching fifth in 53.35.

Appearing at the highest level in the heats and semis of the women's 100m breaststroke (where she was the fastest), 15-year-old Ruta Meilutyte, from Lithuania, confirmed her status of biggest revelation of these Games by getting the gold in 1:05.47. It was the first ever swimming medal for this country at Olympic level. Studying and training in Plymouth (GBR), there were not many records on Meilutyte before the 2012 Games, but a very solid final dictated this unexpected success. In tears at the medal ceremony, the Lithuanian teenager was followed by 2008 Olympic silver medallist Rebecca Soni (USA), who despite a final effort, had to settle for the silver once more (1:05.55). The podium was completed with the bronze of Japan's Satomi Suzuki in 1:06.46. Alia Atkinson, from Jamaica, got an excellent fourth place (1:06.93) while Leisel Jones (AUS), the 2008 Olympic champion, finished fifth in 1:06.95.  

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credit: Giorgio Scala

"I just gave all my strength into that race and did not feel anything really, I just felt that Rebecca Soni was trailing me but I tried to do my best. I still can't believe it, it's a dream, and I'm really shocked in a good way. I had many thoughts in my head while on the podium, my legs were shaking, I thought I was going to fall from it… This gold medal is good for Lithuanian swimming; maybe after that, the sport will become more popular," said an ecstatic Meilutyte.   

In the semi-finals of this third day, Bronte Barratt (USA) was the first in the women's 200m free with 1:56.08 while the world record holder and 2008 Olympic champion Federica Pellegrini was the fourth fastest in 1:56.67. In the men's 200m butterfly, Takeshi Matsuda (JPN) was the fastest in 1:54.25 – Michael Phelps got the fourth best time, 1:54.53 -, and closing the session Shiwen Ye from China and winner of the 400m IM in London, with a new World Record, set an Olympic record in the 200m IM, qualifying first for the final race in 2:08.39.