London 2012 Olympics: Records for Vollmer and Van der Burgh on golden night
SO MUCH for all those dire predictions of records set during the high-tech bodysuit era standing for decades. They’re falling quickly at the Olympic Aquatics Centre in London.
American Dana Vollmer took down another record in the 100-metre butterfly last night, then Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa beat another in the 100m breaststroke – denying Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima an Olympic “threepeat”. After the second night of the London Games, three world records have already been set. And they’re just getting warmed up.
France upset favoured Australia and the United States to win the 4x100m freestyle relay in the last event of the night. The Americans led all the way until Yannick Agnel pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France clocked 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds, and the Americans settled for silver in 3:10.38. Russia took bronze in 3:11.41, with pre-race favourite Australia finishing fourth.
On a night expected to feature a relay duel between the Australians and the Americans, Vollmer got things started with a bang. She was third at the turn but powered to the wall for a time of 55.98, beating the record of 56.06 set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom at the 2009 world championships. Not bad for someone who didn’t even qualify for the last Olympics.
“I’m on top of the world right now.” she said. “I still know I can go faster.”
Vollmer, who made the Olympics as a 16-year-old in 2004, was a huge disappointment when she failed to make the team in Beijing. She was slowed by injuries and health problems, making her question whether she even wanted to continue competitive swimming.
But her injuries healed, and a change in diet gave her a new outlook. She came close to breaking Sjostrom’s record at the US Olympic trials last month, and set an Olympic record in the semi-finals to come in as the top qualifier. Now, she’s an Olympic champion.
“I kept telling myself that my strength is my second 50,” Vollmer said. “I kept really calm.”
Kitajima was trying to become the first male swimmer to win the same race at three straight Olympics. But, as with Michael Phelps the night before in the 400m individual medley, the Japanese star didn’t come close.
Van der Burgh made sure of that, dominating the race almost as soon as his head popped out of the water for the first time. He was comfortably ahead at the turn and blew away the field on the return lap to touch in 58.46, knocking off another of the marks set at the 2009 world championships.
Brendan Rickard’s time of 58.58 was among the astonishing 43 world records established at that meet in Rome, when rubberized suits took the sport to times that appeared to border on the absurd. The suits have since been banned, with some predicting that it might take decades to go faster in textile suits.
Only two records fell at last year’s world championships in Shanghai, but this Olympic meet has already beaten that number.
Australia’s Christian Sprenger took the silver in 58.93, and American Brendan Hansen claimed bronze in 59.49.
Kitajima didn’t find the speed he needed, struggling home in fifth in 59.79. The night before, Phelps failed in his bid to win three straight 400 IM titles, fading to fourth while fellow American Ryan Lochte took gold with a dominating performance.
Van der Burgh propped himself on the lane rope, breathing heavily and holding his hands on his head. He thought of his good friend, Alex Dale Oen, who was the world champion in this event but died suddenly in April from cardiac arrest.
“I just have to pay tribute to Alex Oen,” Van der Burgh said. “I know that he’s been with me this year and helped me to finish the race in such a strong manner. If there is such a thing as a perfect race for me, I definitely think that I submitted it tonight. I don’t even care about the world record. Once you become an Olympic champion, you join the club.”
Lu Ying gave China another medal, taking silver behind Vollmer in 56.87. Australia’s Alicia Coutts grabbed the bronze in 56.94. It was a tough night for Sjostrom, who not only lost her world record but didn’t even get a medal, finishing in fourth place in a time of 57.17.
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