London 2012 Olympics: Hannah Miley trails behind starlet Ye
A TORTUOUS night in the pool. Hannah Miley was as brave as a lion in the hottest 400m women’s medley of all-time but, ultimately, has nothing to show for it. No gold, no silver, no bronze.
Not even the agony of the “nearly girl” tag of fourth. She finished fifth, close to six seconds behind the winner, Ye Shiwen of China, who not only won but also set a new world record. Ye is 16 years old and delivered a performance that was remarkable to the point of indecent.
Miley, a veteran by comparison of 22 going on 23, was never better than fifth throughout the race and never really looked threatening at any stage. At the British swimming championships, Miley swam 4:32.67, a time that would have been good enough for bronze if it had been repeated in the rarefied air of the Olympic final. Easy to say, extraordinarily hard to do.
In defeat, she was class – apologetic and defiant at the same. “Apologies for anyone who had high expectations for me,” she said. “I gave it absolutely everything I had. It was a real job getting in the final and it was who could recover quickest. I’m disappointed I couldn’t get a medal but I couldn’t have given it any more. That was absolutely everything I had. Most people will expect me to be depressed, down and in tears. I know it isn’t the result people wanted, but they [the public] put that expectation on me. Nobody should think that Team GB are dejected. There’s still another 14 days to go. There’s a lot more events and races.”
Miley sounded like she was already galvanising herself for the next challenge, the 200m medley. What else could she do but move on? What scenes there were here, though. As Miley struggled, Ye put in a stunning last 100m to go from second to almost three seconds ahead of everybody’s favourite, the world champion American, Elizabeth Beisel. And so Stephanie Rice’s record fell. The great Australian toiled home in sixth, broken, just like Miley, by the explosiveness of the youngster in their midst. The new record stands at an eye-watering 4:28.43. Beat that, world.
It is said that Ye took up swimming when her kindergarten teacher in her native Zhejiang noticed her inordinately large hands. There’s another thing that is noticeable about her now – the unmistakable glimmer of gold around her neck. Ye didn’t just win some precious metal last night, she won the adulation of her nation, instant fame, wealth and immortality.
Was this such a shock? No, frankly. Ye was only 15 when she won gold at last year’s world championships, albeit in the 200m medley. What’s an extra 200m, right? She signalled her intent during the morning heats, a murderously competitive session that Miley referred to after last night’s final. She pointed to the ages of the medallists – 16, 19 and 18 – and said the heats were so physically taxing that the final was owned by the youngest swimmers. Even Rice puffed up her cheeks as a way of illustrating how devilishly quick the elite were in qualifying.
Beisel was quickest but Ye was right behind her and clearly an enormous threat. Miley made the final as sixth fastest and the hope was that she managed to reserve some of her energy for the final. She hadn’t. She couldn’t. To make a final of this quality she had to pour all of herself into the heat.
“It was probably just down to the heats,” she said. “They were the fastest that have ever been recorded in the history of the 400m IM, and I think the challenge was who can recover the fastest to be able to put out again – and the young ones won.
“I feel really privileged that I could be in the same water as a world record holder, and I said from the start I can only control myself and I’m afraid I can’t control what anyone else does. For me, it was an honest effort and I apologise to anyone who feels disappointed in me, but I feel really proud and happy to have been able to represent Britain and the crowd were absolutely awesome.”
Miley’s father and coach, Patrick, had spoken beforehand about his near-obsession with Beisel, believing her to be the one his daughter and prodigy must watch more than any other. “I’ve been stalking Elizabeth Beisel for the past four years,” he remarked. Turns out he was obsessing about the wrong swimmer, not that a fixation on Ye’s progression over the last period of time would have done anything to assist Miley. This was swimming of a different order.
Everybody knew that Miley would struggle her way through the first leg, the butterfly and, indeed, after 100m she was in seventh position, improving to sixth after 200m and fifth after 300m. The feeling was that to stand a chance of a medal she needed to be in amongst the leaders with 100m to go, but she wasn’t. She was roared on the magnificent home crowd but that notion of her getting back in the hunt was a triumph of hope over expectation.
Ahead of her Ye and Beisel and, in the bronze medal spot, another Chinese, Li Xuanxu, eighth in this final four years ago in Beijing and sixth to Miley’s second in the world championships last year. Li had qualified in fourth position and had seemed downcast when speaking about it afterwards. “I don’t really expect any medals tonight,” she said. She got one anyway.
China ruled, with Miley left to try and rationalise what went on here – and rebuild for the days ahead.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
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