2012 London Olympics: Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte Sets European Record to Top 100 Breast Semis; Soni and Larson Advance

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LONDON, England, July 29. BREAKOUT teenage star Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania continued her remarkable day with a European record in the women's 100-meter breaststroke semifinals at the 2012 London Olympics.

Meilutyte, just 15, blazed to a near Olympic record in semifinal two of the event with a scorching 1:05.21. Not only did that swim best her lifetime best of 1:05.56 from prelims, it shot her to fourth all time in the event's history. She surpassed Yuliya Efimova's European record of 1:05.41 from the 2009 World Championships in the process. Meilutyte finished just off Leisel Jones' Olympic record of 1:05.17 set during the 2008 Beijing Games. Only three swimmers have been faster than Meilutyte in history, Jessica Hardy (1:04.45), Rebecca Soni (1:04.84) and Jones (1:05.09).

With a podium in finals, Meilutyte could become Lithuania's first Olympic swimming medalist while swimming under the Lithuanian flag. Three previous Lithuanians have won medals, but were swimming for the Soviet Union.

“I just did the same as I did this morning in the heats and it worked,” Meilutyte said. “Now I feel more confident about the final. The Olympic Games are full of surprises and I can't tell you what will happen next but I am going to do my best and win the race.”

In second is USA's Rebecca Soni, who had looked unstoppable in both breaststroke events until teammate Breeja Larson made the team in front of her in this event at the U.S. Olympic Trials, won the first semifinal round with a 1:05.98. She is the defending silver medalist, and would like to add a gold in the event to her 200 breaststroke gold from 2008.

Efimova, who witnessed her European record fall, took third in 1:06.57 and will be gunning to reclaim that mark as well as earn her first Olympic medal after taking fourth in this event in 2008. Larson snared fourth in 1:06.70 as she continues her meteoric rise from Texas A&M walk on to potential Olympic medalist.

“I competely didn't expect [Meilutyte's time], it happened very fast,” Efimova said. “She's young and she's got nothing to lose but we will fight tomorrow anyway (in the final). I realize the mistakes I made in Beijing and I've been haunted by that. I don't want to make the same mistakes in London but I do realise that it's the Olympics, anything can happen. But I'm a perfectionist. Even if I get the bronze I wouldn't be happy with it.”

Jones, the defending gold medalist, qualified fifth with a 1:06.81 and is looking for a medal in her fourth Olympics. She took silver in 2000, bronze in 2004 and won in 2008. Denmark's Rikke Pedersen (1:06.82) and Japan's Satomi Suzuki (1:07.10) finished sixth and seventh, while Tera Van Beilen of Canada and Alia Atkinson of Jamaica setup a swimoff with matching 1:07.48s for eighth. Atkinson won the swimoff 1:06.79 to 1:07.73.

“The warm-up wasn't great,” Jones said. “My lane was empty and I got worried because I need someone to abuse a little bit to get fired up. You never know who is going to crack under pressure so I am glad I made it.”

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