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By John Lohn
LONDON, August 2. LET'S flip the coin. Which woman is more dominant in her best event? Is it Allison Schmitt in the 200 freestyle? Or, is it Rebecca Soni in the 200 breaststroke? Heads means Schmitt. Tails means Soni. All right, we're not really using a coin to make the call, which is really hard to figure. If nothing else, Soni made her case on Thursday night.
For the second consecutive day, Soni took down the world record in the 200 breast, the event in which she was the defending champion. This time, however, she made sure it was a barrier-breaking performance. Obliterating the field by more than a second, Soni looked incredibly powerful throughout the race, but especially on the final lap. The result was a clocking of 2:19.65, marking the first time a woman has been under 2:20. In the semifinals, Soni flirted with history, going 2:20.00.
Soni gained a measure of redemption from the 100 breast, where she won the silver medal behind 15-year-old Lithuanian upstart Ruta Meilutyte. In the 200 breast, there was going to be no upset from a field that was exquisite behind Soni. It just didn't matter. The New Jersey native, who trains under Dave Salo at Trojan Swim Club, is another world in the longer event.
From the 2008 Olympics until now, Soni has had just one hiccup in the 200 breast, when she faltered on the final lap at the 2009 World Championships and finished out of the medals. Otherwise, she has been untouchable. Not only does she own impressive speed, her endurance is equally stellar. Put those traits together and it forms the perfect combination.
How badly did Soni want to go into charted territory? The normally reserved swimmer looked up at the scoreboard and pumped her fist multiple times to celebrate the victory. She even pushed up onto the lane line for a brief moment. It was sheer joy for Soni, who has been chasing that kind of time for a couple of years.
“I'm so happy,” Soni said. “I didn't try to focus on medals or records. I just wanted to swim one more race the way I knew I could. 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.”
**In the leadup to the Olympics, Tyler Clary made headlines for questioning the work ethic of Michael Phelps. Maybe now, he'll be known for being an Olympic champion, and for knocking off the reigning Olympic and world champion, Ryan Lochte, in the process. Closing strong, Clary took top honors in the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:53.41.
Clary has been in a tough position in the United States, overshadowed by the efforts of Phelps and Lochte, men who contest similar events. For Clary, this was his way of emerging into the bright lights. By taking down one of the big names of the sport, Clary officially revealed himself to be one of the top guns in the sport, a distinction which should further take off as he moves in to pick up where Phelps will leave off by heading into retirement.
“It's complete redemption,” Clary said. “The fact that Trials didn't go the way I wanted and everything that's been going on leading up to this. It's a testament to me more than anything that I can handle anything that gets thrown at me.”
**How fast were the semifinals of the 50 freestyle? For a pair of athletes, going sub-22 didn't even lan a berth to the championship final. Ten swimmers cracked the 22-second barrier, with defending champion Cesar Cielo of Brazil and American Cullen Jones sharing the top spot with efforts of 21.54. The tough-luck spots went to South Africa's Gideon Louw and Russia's Andrey Grechin, who had respective efforts of 21.92 and 21.98.
**When Nathan Adrian won the 100 freestyle on Wednesday night, he ended a 24-year drought in the event for the United States. Still, that wasn't the longest the U.S. has gone with a gold medal in a men's discipline. On the men's side, the United States hasn't prevailed in the 400 free or 1500 since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
For the women, the United States hasn't won the 200 backstroke since Melissa Belote bested the field at the 1972 Games in Munich. But that futility should come to an end tomorrow when Missy Franklin hops in the water for her signature event. The reigning world champion, Franklin is the heavy favorite and widely expected to break the world record.
**The only members of Team USA who have not competed yet will get their chance tomorrow morning in the preliminaries of the 1500 freestyle and women's 50 free. Andrew Gemmell and Connor Jaeger have bided their time while cheering on their teammates, and finally get their Olympic opportunity. Gemmell and Jaeger are fourth and fifth, respectively, in the world rankings. Additionally, Kara Lynn Joyce will race in the 50 free.
**The updated regional medal count has the Pacific Rim staying on top with 28 medals, to the 25 collected by the Americas. The Europeans moved their total to 17 and Africa stayed at two.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn