League Of Olympic Swim Legends: Rebecca Soni Tops 200 Podium With Galina & Amanda

Rebecca Soni - Photo 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 Rebecca Soni, Galina Prozumenshchikova and Amanda Beard … 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 6, event 1 – The first woman to retain the crown…

Rebecca Soni Nationals 2009

Rebecca Soni – Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Women’s 200m Breaststroke

The Podium

  1. Rebecca Soni (USA)
  2. Galina Prozumenshchikova (URS)
  3. Amanda Beard (USA) 

The Other Finalists (Listed Alphabetically):

  • Penny Heyns (RSA)
  • Marina Koshevaya (URS)
  • Anita Lonsbrough (GBR)
  • Eva Szekely (HUN)
  • Agnes Kovacs (HUN)
  •  Our Lane 9* place goes, with a nod to Ada de Haan, who was World record holder at the time of the 1956 Olympics but could not compete after the Netherlands withdrew from the Games in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary, goes to the one Dutch winner of the title and a three-times World record holder:
  • Nel van Vliet (NED)

* – 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 Rebecca Soni


Galina Prozumenshikova


Amanda Beard

As the only woman to capture back-to-back gold medals in the 200 breaststroke, the United States’ Rebecca Soni had no difficulty adding a Legends gold to her collection. Soni earned her first title with an upset over Australian Leisel Jones at the 2008 Games, then repeated as champion in 2012. In London, Soni became the first woman to dip under the 2:20 barrier.

The Soviet Union’s Galina Prozumenshchikova was awarded the silver medal after winning the Olympic title in 1964 and backing it up with bronze medals in 1968 and 1972. Prozumenshchikova set four world records during her career and her 1964 title marked the first time a Soviet swimmer ascended to the top of the podium.

Amanda Beard gave the United States two athletes on the podium, thanks to a complete set of medals from the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Games. Beard was a 14-year-old phenom when she won silver at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and four years later, she added a surprise bronze. At the 2004 Games, she produced her best result by holding off Jones for the gold medal in Athens.

Jones’ silver medals from the 2004 and 2008 Games placed her fourth. The Aussie set three world records during her career, the last a 2:20.54 that was more than a second clear of her former mark and had Jones, for a time, in a stratosphere of her own.

Rebecca Soni – The Timing Of Speed & Success on Breaststroke

Rebecca Soni – The First Two Gold Medals & A 3-World-Record-2-Games Campaign


Rebecca Soni and Leisel Jones at the 2008 Beijing Olympics Photo Courtesy: Jerry Lai

2008 Beijing – Women’s 200m breaststroke – Athlete 41; Nations 34

  1. 2:20.22wr Rebecca Soni USA
  2. 2:22.05   Leisel Jones AUS
  3. 2:23.02er Sara Nordenstam NOR
  4. 2:23.24nr Mirna Jukić AUT
  5. 2:23.76nr Yuliya Efimova RUS
  6. 2:23.77nr Annamay Pierse CAN
  7. 2:25.14   Rie Kaneto JPN
  8. 2:25.23   Megumi Taneda JPN

Date of the final: August 15, 2008

Sometimes, defining moments are not difficult to pinpoint. There is something about certain moments which stand out and clearly reveal a career-altering path.

Going into the Beijing 2008 Games, the majority of the conversation revolving around the women’s 200 breaststroke focused on Australian Leisel Jones and whether she would be able to complete the breaststroke double, a feat she pulled off at the previous year’s World Championships in Melbourne. While the early portion of Jones’ career featured some nervous stumbling on the big stage, the Aussie was in a realm of her own during the middle of the 2000s, taking the breaststroke records to levels few others could contemplate.

Rebecca Soni, for one, believed she had the ability to run down Jones, even if the rest of the world was already draping a pair of gold medals around the Australian’s neck. Even as Soni finished 1.56 seconds back of Jones in the 100 breaststroke in Beijing, she still wasn’t fazed. The proof came in the final of the 200 breast, where Jones was the world-record holder.

The 200 breaststroke turned out to be Soni’s coronation, especially over the final two laps. With Jones trying to hold on over the last half of the race, Soni ratcheted up the pressure and pulled away from her foe for a world-record victory of 2:20.22. The triumph triggered a changing of the guard and the Soni era in 200m breaststroke, 2008-2012.

Over 100m, the pace of Olympic victory would not get past Leisel Jones until the Games advent of Lilly King (USA) at Rio 2016.

The Beijing 200m final:


Encore For Soni – Via Two More World Records


Rebecca Soni – Photo Courtesy: arena

2012 London – Women’s 200m breaststroke – Athletes 34; Nations 27

  1. 2:19.59wr   Rebecca Soni USA
  2. 2:20.72=AS  Satomi Suzuki JPN
  3. 2:20.92er   Yuliya Efimova RUS
  4. 2:21.65nr   Rikke Pedersen DEN
  5. 2:23.16     Martha McCabe CAN
  6. 2:23.27     Micah Lawrence USA
  7. 2:23.72     Suzaan van Biljon RSA
  8. 2:26.00    Sally Foster Australia
Date of the final: – August 2, 2012 

American Rebecca Soni became the first woman ever to retain the Olympic 200m title with a fabulously well-paced race that left her celebrating the another first, as a pioneer below 2:20, on a world record of 2:19.59.

Having set the world record at 2:20.00 in the semi-final, Soni, coached by Dave Salo in California, said that she had gold in mind more than time but in focussing on doing what it took to deliver gold, the global standard in the sub-2:20 she had long craved, followed.

Suzaan van Biljon (RSA) turned first at 50m in 32.22, Soni 0.27sec away in second and ready to pounce. Some 7m off the wall she was level, 10m into the second lap she had the race in control.

At the half-way turn on 1:08.10 she was just down on the 1:07.82 that took her to the world record yesterday, and, the spearhead taking good shape across the pool, she ploughed on to clock 1:43.95 at the last turn, just 0.11sec off her day-old pace.

Passion to keep the crown on her head, Soni, in bright pink suit, sizzled to a stunning 2:19.59 conclusion. The silver went to Suzuki Satomi (JPN) in 2:20.72, bronze to Yuliya Efimova (RUS) in 2:20.92, Rikke Moeller Pedersen (DEN) locked out by 0.73sec and Canada’s Martha McCabe fifth in 2:23.16.

Said an elated Soni:

“It’s been my goal since I was a little kid to go under 2:20. That’s when my coach told me you’re going to be the first woman to go under 2:19. I’ve been chasing it ever since. I’m just so happy.”

A years after the final, Efimova, also coached by Salo, would test positive for a banned substance. She received a 16-month suspension, the timing of which allowed her to return to racing just in time to make the Russian team for a home World Championships in Kazan, 2015.

The London 2012 WR splits Rebecca Soni: 

  • 32.39; 1:07.82 (35.43); 1:43.83(36.01); 2:20.00 WR (36.17) Soni semi
  • 32.49; 1:08.10 (35.61); 1:43.95 (35.85); 2:19.59 WR (35.64) Soni final

In victory, Soni took the USA one gold medal clear of the Soviet Union at the helm of the all-time medals table in the 200m since the event was introduced in 1924.

Beijing remained the fastest 200m field in history, by a touch, the shiny suits having seen more national records fall in the rounds of events than at any time in Games history.

Comparison fields:

  • London 2012: 2:19.59wr – 2:26.00
  • Beijing 2008: 2:20.22 – 2:25.23
  • Athens 2004: 2:23.37 – 2:26.39


Galina Prozumenshikova – Gold At The Start Of A Five-Olympic-Podiums Career


Galina Prozumenshikova

1964 Tokyo – Women 200m Breaststroke – Athletes: 26 Nations: 15

  1. 2:46.4or Galina Prozumenshikova URS
  2. 2:47.6 Claudia Kolb USA
  3. 2:48.6 Svetlana Babanina URS
    2:49.0 Stella Mitchell GBR
    2:49.6 Jill Slattery GBR
    2:51.0 Barbel Grimmer GDR
    2:51.3 Klenie Bimolt NED
    2:53.9 Ursula Kuper GDR

Date of final: October 12, 1964

Galina Prozumenshikova (URS) was just 14 when she set the first of her five world records. The 200m standard fell to her in 2:47.7 at the Derby Baths in Blackpool, England, on April 11, 1964, six months before the Olympic Games in Tokyo. A month after her international debut in Blackpool, she improved the global mark to 2:45.4 in East Berlin.

The final in Tokyo unfolded without the top two finishers from Rome, 1960. The champion, Anita Lonsbrough (GBR), was no longer racing breaststroke but competed in the inaugural 400m medley, while Wiltrud Urselmann (GER) was 10th in the 200m breaststroke heats and did not progress.

Lonsbrough’s Olympic record fell to Barbara Grimmel (GDR), in 2:48.6 in heats in Tokyo, and then passed to Svetlana Babanina (URS), in 2:48.3.

In the final, Prozumenshikova, from Sevatopol and now 15, played cat to the mice in other lanes for the first 150m chasing at just enough distance to know when to pounce. Grimmer led on 1:19.3 at halfway) ahead of Claudia Kolb (USA), a 14-year-old who in 1968 would win both medley titles, Babanina and the two British contenders, Jill Slattery and Stella Mitchell.

On the way home, Grimmer paid the price for her early speed and faded to sixth, while Prozumenshikova pressed on to become the first Soviet swimmer ever to win an Olympic swimming title. Her 2:46.4 (Olympic record) victory by 1.2sec over Kolb, was followed by bronze medals in 1968 and 1972 in the 200m (the latter under her married name of Stepanova and racing as a mother). Over 100m, there were silvers in 1968, when the two-length event first joined the program, and 1972.

Prozumenshikova was the first breaststroke specialist to reach the podium at three Games and remained the only one until Leisel Jones joined her in then club with gold and silver at Beijing 2008.