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LONDON, England, July 30. IT took a wide-eyed youngster to do it, but Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte edged favorite Rebecca Soni at the wall for the women's 100-meter breaststroke victory at the 2012 London Olympics.
Meilutyte picked off Soni, 1:05.47 to 1:05.55, for the win. With the victory, she became the first Olympic swimming medalist for Lithuania while swimming under the Lithuanian flag. Previously, three Lithuanians had won medals, but it was under the Soviet Union banner. Robertas Zulpa won the men's 200 breast in 1980, while Lina Kaciusyte topped the women's 200 breast that year as well. Arvydas Juozaitis took bronze in the men's 100 breast in 1976.
Meilutyte set the European record earlier in qualifying with a 1:05.21, but had enough in the tank to hold off a hard-charging Soni. Meilutyte turned first, while Soni turned fourth.
“I can't believe it,” Meilutyte said. “It's too much for me. I really can't say anything. It was hard and difficult. At the moment I can't speak too much. But it means a lot to me and I'm so proud.”
At 15 years old, Meilutyte is not the youngest swimming Olympic champion in history. That still belongs to Kyoko Iwasaki, who was 14 years old when she won the 200 breast in 1992.
Soni, meanwhile, had been a huge favorite in the event after sweeping the breaststroke titles last summer at the World Championships in Shanghai. But, this year, she wound up defending her silver medal from Beijing. She will look to defend her Olympic gold medal in the 200 breaststroke later this week. The silver is Soni's fourth career Olympic medal.
“It felt good. I'm a little disappointed,” Soni said. “It was pretty fast (the race). I've learned something now along the way. It's been great. I've been really pushed ever since I saw the other medals [for Team USA] and I wanted to get one.”
Japan's Satomi Suzuki raced to bronze in 1:06.46, giving Japan its first medal in the event's history. She also won her first career Olympic title with the swim. Jamaica's Alia Atkinson just missed the podium with a fourth-place 1:06.93, while Australia's Leisel Jones took fifth in 1:06.95. Jones had been shooting to become a medalist for the fourth straight Olympics. She took silver in 200, bronze in 2004 and won last year.
“I'm very, very happy. I was swimming in lane one so I could concentrate on (the) race,” Suzuki said. “If I smile I'm happy but I'm very nervous in my heart. I wanted any medal, I was thinking half and half to get a medal and personal best.”
USA's Breeja Larson placed sixth in 1:06.96 after initially causing a stir by jumping into the pool before the start. As the issue came with a faulty starting system in which the swimmers did not hear the “Take your mark” command but heard the starting beep, officials judged that it was not a false start, and she had the chance to put in an official swim.
“I took my mark. The bip went. It was just a swimmer's reaction. You dive and go,” Larson said. “Jumping in early kind of messed me a little bit mentally. You appreciate good things when bad things happen. You have to make mistakes before getting them right. Next time I race this I will think 'you made this mistake at the Olympics but you have to move on'.”
Russia's Yuliya Efimova (1:06.98) and Denmark's Rikke Pedersen (1:07.55) finished seventh and eighth in the finale.
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