League of Olympic Swim Legends: Inge De Bruijn Tops Podium With Steffen & Kromowidjojo

Inge de Bruijn
Inge De Bruijn - Image Courtesy: SwimSketch

What would have unfolded had Tokyo 2020 gone ahead as planned this week – and where would it all have fit in the thread of Olympic swim legends and pioneers like Inge De Bruijn, Britta Steffen and Ranomi Kromowidjojo? To mark the eight days over which the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would have unfolded had the coronavirus pandemic not forced postponement, the team at Swimming World is filling the void with a Virtual Vision Form Guide and League of Olympic Swimming Legends.

Day 8, event 2 – Double Dutch … 

Inge De Bruijn – Photo Courtesy – Swimming World Magazine

Women’s 50m Freestyle

The Podium

  • Inge de Bruijn (NED)
  • Britta Steffen (GER)
  • Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED)

The Other Finalists (Listed Alphabetically):

  • Pernille Blume (DEN)
  • Tamara Costache (ROM)
  • Amy Van Dyken (USA)
  • Jill Sterkel (USA)
  • Dara Torres (USA)

Our Lane 9* place goes to a Frenchwoman who finished fourth in the 1992 final behind three swimmers who, for different reasons linked to the history of anti-doping (including coaches who took off where the GDR left off, the systematic abuse of the 1990s and a positive test and suspension in the case of one of them), are disqualified from our League of Legends.

  • Catherine Plewinski (FRA)

* – in our series, we will use Lane 9 to add an athlete whose story reflects extraordinary situations of different kinds, including being deprived by those who fell foul of anti-doping rules or by political decisions or, indeed the Olympic program, as well as simple facts such as “he/she was the only other title winner who claimed gold in a WR but didn’t make out top 8 on points”

All-Time Battle Of Olympic Swim Legends Goes To Inge De Bruijn

Britten Steffen two gold medals

Britta Steffen – Photo Courtesy: ISHOF

Ranomi Kromowidjojo

Ranomi Kromowidjojo – Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

The 50 freestyle for women has only been an event for eight Olympiads. As such, the data and competition isn’t as extensive as is the case with other events. Nonetheless, only one woman has repeated as champion over one lap, which means the Netherlands’ Inge de Bruijn is the simple choice as the Lgends gold medalist.

De Bruijn enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2000. During the first six months of the year, she set three world records in the 50 freestyle, efforts that set herself up for a run at gold at the Sydney Olympics. Down Under, the Dutchwoman was untouchable, as she clocked a world record of 24.13 in the semifinals and followed by winning the final in 24.32, .19 clear of Sweden’s Therese Alshammar. De Bruijn’s world record endured for almost eight years.

Germany’s Britta Steffen appeared on the Legends podium for the second time, her Olympic crown in 2008 carrying the most momentum. That gold medal was earned by the slimmest of margins, as Steffen topped American Dara Torres by .01. A year later, Steffen set a world record (during shiny suits) that lasted for just under eight years.

Another Dutchwoman, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, grabbed the bronze medal over Americans Amy Van Dyken and Torres. Kromowidjojo managed a convincing victory at the 2012 Olympics in London, winning by .23, a sizable margin in the one-lap sprint. She was also a finalist in the 50 free at the 2016 Games in Rio and will race at her third Games should Tokyo 2020 unfold win 2021, depending on the progress on and of a pandemic.

Behind The Lights On the Way To Sydney

Sydney 2000 – 50m freestyle gold:

2000 Sydney – Women 50m Freestyle – Athletes: 74 Nations: 66

  1. 24.32 Inge de Bruijn NED
  2. 24.51 Therese Alshammar SWE 
  3. 24.63 Dara Torres  USA
    25.00 Amy Van Dyken  USA
    25.24 Martina Moravcova SVK
    25.27 Sandra Volker  GER
    25.45 Alison Sheppard GER
    25.65 Sumika Minamoto JPN

Inge de Bruijn – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer Archive ©

Date of final: September 23, 2000

On May 20, 2000, in Monte Carlo, Inge de Bruijn, of Barendrecht, Holland, clocked 25.83 in the 50m butterfly, the first of six world records she would set in 14 days. In Sheffield six days later, she lowered the mark to 25.64 and, half an hour later, equalled the 50m freestyle record of Le Jingji (CHN) at 24.51.

A day later, she shattered the 100m butterfly world record in 56.59. Shockwaves rippled around the world of swimming: not only was the average time of the fastest ten women over 59sec at the time but De Bruijn had wiped 1.19sec off the world record that had stood to Jenny Thompson (USA) and improved from personal bests of 58.49 in 1999, and 59.28 in 1998. Only the 57.93 of Mary T Meagher (USA) in 1981 had made such an impact in the history of the event.

De Bruijn then consigned to history the 100m freestyle standard that had stood to Le since 1994 with the first sub-54sec effort: her 53.80 – faster than the time in which the men’s Olympic title was won in 1960 – came just nine months after she had claimed what was then the biggest medal of her career, a silver in 55.24sec behind Susan Rolph at the European Championships in Istanbul in 1999. De Bruijn’s bull run ended back home in Drachten on June 4, 2000, with a 24.48 effort over 50m freestyle.

Aged 26, De Bruijn, coached at the time by Paul Bergen* (accused by swimmers of sexual abuse and named in a Safe Sport advocacy campaign to challenge historic abuse in sport) in Oregon, had transformed herself from a woman whose career had been marked by relative also-swam performance on big occasions to Olympic gold-medal favourite in three events for Sydney 2000.

On September 17, she won the 100m butterfly in a world record of 56.61 (which was still the global standard at the dawn of 2008) and on September 20, she set a world record of 53.77 to qualify well ahead of rivals for the 100m freestyle final and then won the crown the next day in 53.83 ahead of Therese Alshammar.

She concluded her campaign by setting a world record of 24.13 in the semi-final of the 50m freestyle on September 22 before defeating Alshammar once more, in 24.32 a day later.

De Bruijn retained the crown in 24.58 four years later in Athens but lost both of the 100m titles and in the semi-final of the 100m freestyle saw her world record fall to champion-in-the making Jodie Henry (AUS) in 53.66.

In March 2008, she lost the world record in the 50m freestyle to fellow Dutchwoman Marleen Veldhuis, in 24.09, that standard surviving just five days before Libby Trickett, nee Lenton, (AUS) clocked 23.97 in the first season of shiny suits.

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