Swimming day 5 – Gyurta and Soni set new WR in 200m breast

London 2012 Swimming

Two new World Records highlighted day 5 at the Aquatics Centre in London. The new global marks were established in the same event (200m breaststroke): in the men's final by Daniel Gyurta (HUN) and the women's semi finals by Rebecca Soni (USA). This brings the total of WR set in London to five. The evening was also marked by a thrilling race in the men's 100m free and by the unsuccessful attempt of Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) to obtain a third consecutive title in the men's 200m breaststroke. If needed, this session also proved that the "changing of the guard" is a reality in London and that to re-validate an Olympic title is a real challenge for the swimming stars so far. Last but not least, Spain obtained their second-ever medal for a female swimmer while the Games host enjoyed the second podium presence for a swimmer.

Considered by many the main event of the Swimming programme, the men's 100m free featured a superb race at the London Aquatics Centre. James Magnussen from Australia, the 2011 world champion in Shanghai, fastest performer in 2012 (47.10) and the first in the semis (47.63), was the man to beat and constituted a solid hope for an Australian gold. But many big names of freestyle swimming were in the final's line-up: on lane 2, world record holder Cesar Cielo from Brazil; on lane 1, the youngest of the field Yannick Agnel (FRA, and already three medals in London); on lane 5, Nathan Adrian, winner at the US Trials; and on lane 7, Canada's Brent Hayden, world champion in 2007 and silver medallist at Shanghai Worlds.

Cielo, Brazil's first Olympic swimming gold medallist (in 2008 in the 50m free) and world champion in this event in 2009, was in a good position at half race (first in 22.60), but by the 75m, it was evident that the duel for the gold played out between Magnussen and Adrian. The US swimmer was stronger in the end, winning by a minimal difference of 0.01 (47.52 against the Australian's 47.53). It is the third Olympic medal for Adrian, who picked up gold in the 4x100m free relay in 2008 and silver in London for the same relay. Magnussen, despite his frustration at the end of the race, obtains his first Olympic success, after three medals at last year's Worlds. 

After the race, Nathan Adrian said: "Going into tonight, it was more of a matter of swimming my own race. I came back fast, were able to conserve that energy and finish strong this time. I knew it was going to take a lot more than I had ever done before to win that race." On the rivalry between USA and Australia, he admitted: "We are two strong swimming nations, I think in general the entire world is getting faster, there are people that are going incredibly fast everywhere."

Magnussen also gave his vision of the race: "I had a fair idea I was second, going into the last stroke, I gave everything I had and it was not enough." On Australia men's performances so far: "It's been a roller coaster of emotions this week. It's been a long time since I had not been upset like after the men's relay. To have lost that one was shattering. When I reached the semi finals last night, I was just happy to be back in again. Tonight, I was fourth until the last stroke and to get knocked out again, it's tough."

For Hayden, this first Olympic presence on the podium (London 2012 are his third Games) comes after a bronze medal in 2011 in Shanghai in this event. Agnel, in 47.84, took fourth while Cielo finished in a disappointing sixth position (47.92). Finally, Hanser Garcia from Cuba could not make history (the Caribbean country has only two Olympic swimming medallists from the 1996 Atlanta Games) and finished in seventh.

Also looking to write a new page in Olympic history books, Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) lost his second opportunity to take gold for a third straight time in an individual event. On day 2, he had finished fifth in the 100m breaststroke, and on this August 1, he missed again the podium (fourth) in the 200m breaststroke. He was Olympic champion in the two events, both in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Kitajima still turned first at half race (under WR pace) but an inspired Daniel Gyurta (HUN) then started to accelerate for an electric win in a new World Record of 2:07.28. The previous best global mark (2:07.31) had been established by Australia's Christian Sprenger at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome (ITA).

After the race, Kitajima analysed his performance: "I didn't have any problems. I just tried to swim 200m as I always do. I have no regrets. I have done good training and I really wanted to enjoy the Olympics. Since I made the Japanese team, I tried to enjoy swimming despite the expectation to win the gold medal." 

Gyurta, world champion in 2009 and 2011 and European gold medallist in 2010 and 2012, was second in this event at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Four years ago in the "Water Cube", he missed the podium (fifth) so he was naturally expecting the 2012 Games in London to confirm his world and European credentials. His gold medal was the first podium presence for Hungary at the Aquatics Centre.

"To win an Olympic medal is totally different from winning a World or European title. My training has been successful these last four years. It is the biggest achievement in my life," confessed Gyurta. "It was a strong final, I had a strong start and kept my momentum to the finish. I saw Jamieson going after me in the last 50m but hopefully I managed to keep the pace and touch first," concluded the Magyar champion.

The minor medals went to less known swimmers: Michael Jamieson (GBR) got the silver in 2:07.43 and Ryo Tateishi (JPN) earned the bronze in 2:08.29. Jamieson, whose best references were a fifth place at the 2011 FINA World Championships and the second place at the British Olympic Trials, won in front of the home crowd the second medal in the pool after Rebecca Adlington's bronze. Ryo Tateishi was also second at his national trials, clocking the second fastest time of the year (2:08.17) ahead of London. Brenton Rickard (AUS), silver medallist in Beijing and at the 2007 FINA World Championships in Melbourne, couldn't do better than seventh (2:09.28).

Jamieson was obviously happy after his medal: "That result tonight is what I have prepared for, it is really in the last 18 months that it has become a target, and I think that is partly why I was quite calm before the race; I had prepared in any way I could really." Commenting on the pressure of the fans to perform well at these Olympic Games, he declared: "Coming into this meet, as a British team we all knew it would have a positive impact. It was pretty special tonight, we have all been overwhelmed by the support we've had this week, and the noise the crowd was making tonight was totally unbelievable, I can only thank them for bringing me home in that last 50m."

In the women's 200m butterfly, the 2011 world champion and 2008 Olympic silver medallist Liuyang Jiao (CHN) was not very fast in the beginning of the race (fifth at the 50m and 100m mark) but saving her energy for the end, she could overcome her main challengers and win the gold in a new Olympic record of 2:04.06 – the previous best Olympic mark (2:04.18) had been set by her compatriot Liu Zige, winner four years ago in Beijing. Zige was also in the final here in London but a very disappointing effort only allowed the eighth and last position in the final race.

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credit: Giorgio Scala 

"I'm really happy. I have waited for this gold for four years. I thought about giving up, the most difficult time for me was in 2009 when I was not in my best shape, I went through a phase where I had to change my technique and that was quite difficult," Jiao said. "Four years ago, I tried to catch up Liu Zige but I failed. Tonight, I managed to win and it is a dream to stand on the highest march of the podium."

Mireia Belmonte from Spain picked up silver in 2:05.25 while Natsumi Hoshi (JPN) earned the bronze in a time of 2:05.48. The fastest of the semis, US Kathleen Hersey, missed the podium, finishing fourth (2:05.78). Silver medallist at the 2010 and 2012 European championships, Hungary's Zsuzsanna Jakabos stayed also far from the podium area, touching seventh in 2:07.33. Until now, Belmonte was especially known for her superb performances in short course events, where she obtained several medals in the 2008 and 2010 editions, respectively in Manchester (GBR) and Dubai (UAE). Her success in London - she is only the second Spanish female medallist in Olympic swimming - comes 12 years after the bronze medal of Nina Zhivanevskaya in the 100m backstroke in Sydney. Perhaps more importantly, she is the first Spanish medallist in these Games (including all sports): "It is the first but I hope it will not be the last, we are all in good shape and let's hope we will get more Olympic medals." For Hoshi, her best reference so far was a first place at the Japanese Olympic Trials, where she set a new national record and best performance of 2012 (2:04.69).

In the last final of the day, the women's 4x200m free relay, the usual fight between USA and Australia (2008 Olympic champions), ended up with an American victory in a new Olympic record (7:42.92), the previous mark had been set by Australia four years ago, 7:44.31. With a quartet formed by Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer, Shannon Vreeland and Allison Schmitt, the USA re-confirmed the titles won in 1996, 2000 and 2004. For France, this was the first Olympic podium ever in this event China took sixth, a modest performance given their silver medal finishes in Athens and Beijing in the same event.

In the semi-finals of this session, Rebecca Soni (USA), 2008 Olympic champion, broke the World Record in the women's 200m breaststroke, stopping the clock at 2:20.00 – the former WR was owned by Canada's Annamay Pierse (2:20.12). 

"I was very surprised. I am really happy with it. I wish I could have been about a hundredth faster. It's been four years since I swam close to that fast so it is amazing to be back on top like that. I am ecstatic about the time but I am trying not to focus on it. There is more in the tank. I am really happy but not over-excited and I am not ready to celebrate yet," declared Soni.

Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) established a new Olympic record to qualify first for the decisive race of the women's 100m free (53.05 – the previous best Olympic standard had been set by Germany's Britta Steffen in 2008, in a time of 53.12). Speaking on Steffen, the reigning Olympic champion confirmed the poor shape of the German delegation at these Games, taking only 12th in the semis (54.18). In the men's 200m backstroke, Team USA finished 1-2 with Tyler Clary first in 1:54.71 and followed by Ryan Lochte (1:55.40). Lochte would again be in evidence, clocking the fastest time going to the final of the men's 200m IM (1:56.13). Racing next to Michael Phelps in the first semi-final, he was clearly stronger than the best Olympian in history, who arrived second in 1:57.11. In the second semi-final of this event, Laszlo Cseh (HUN) touched home in 1:56.74, completing the trio of the fastest qualifiers for the final.