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LONDON, England, August 2. A day after posted an astonishing world record of 2:20.00 in the women's 200-meter breaststroke semifinals, USA's Rebecca Soni decided tonight was the night to break that 2:20 barrier at the 2012 London Olympics.
Soni defended her 2008 Olympic gold medal with a stunning time of 2:19.59 (32.49, 1:08.10, 1:43.95, 2:19.59). That performance bettered her world record from semis, which in turn lowered the 2009 global standard of 2:20.12 posted by Canada's Annamay Pierse in the semifinals of the 2009 World Championships. The win gave Soni her second gold medal, and her fifth Olympic medal overall. With the victory, she became the first swimmer to ever defend a women's 200 breast title, and broke a tie with Germany and the assorted Russian (Soviet Union, United Team, Russian) squads for the most gold medals in the event. The U.S. now has four with Soni's two, Beard's 2004 triumph and Sharon Wichman's win 1968.
“I'm so happy, I didn't try to focus on medals or records, I just wanted to swim one more race the way I knew I could,” Soni said. “It's my goal since I was a little kid to swim under 2:20. When my coach told me you're going to be the first woman to go under 2:20', I've been chasing it ever since and I'm so happy. I didn't want to look, I was watching last night's video and I was turning while touching the wall. Tonight I just wanted my hand on the wall, I was scared to look. I can't believe it yet.”
Japan's Satomi Suzuki finished with silver in a scorching 2:20.72, tying the Asian record previously held by Rie Kanetou with her time from Kinamoto in 2009. The time gave her a second Olympic medal this week, along with her bronze in the 100 breast.
“I'm so sorry I came second but I could get close to the swimmer I respected (Soni). I enjoyed that,” Suzuki said. “My coach (Tadahiko Kanda) said I could get gold medal but I couldn't. I performed as good as I could. I was surprised when I saw the [world record] time. I want to say congratulations. Last year I lost my weight and I got more stamina. This was good for me.”
Soni's Trojan Swim Club training partner Yuliya Efimova of Russia snatched the bronze medal in 2:20.92, making her just the sixth member of the 2:20 club. Her performance smashed the European record of 2:21.62 held by Serbia's Nadja Higl set during the 2009 World Championships. That's the first Olympic medal for Efimova, who finaled in both breaststrokes in 2008.
“I know I did in a good time and I have not really expected that,” Efimova said. “I was tired at the last few metres, if there were another 10m ahead, maybe the result could be different. I swam as I planned during training, not thinking about medals at all. [Soni] is my friend and she is a pretty small thing who swims really fast. She is a superwoman. She congratulated me after the race, praising my good work. Now there is time before the Games in Rio for me to match her results.”
Denmark's Rikke Pedersen (2:21.65), Canada's Martha McCabe (2:23.16), USA's Micah Lawrence (2:23.27), South Africa's Suzaan van Biljon (2:23.72) and Australia's Sally Foster (2:26.00) comprised the rest of the championship heat.
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