Olympics, Swimming: Flash Return to Sender…Stephanie Rice Blasts Women’s 400 IM World Record

By John Lohn

BEIJING, China, August 10. A month ago, Stephanie Rice watched from Australia as Katie Hoff broke her world record in the 400 individual medley at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In the Olympic final, Rice reclaimed one of her treasures in the sport, and she needed every last bit of her new standard to capture gold.

Setting a blistering rate from the opening butterfly leg, Rice was well under world-record pace for a majority of the race. She headed into the final turn with nearly a second lead on Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry, who she held off at the wall, 4:29.45 to 4:29.89. Both women dipped under Hoff’s world mark of 4:31.12. Hoff was the bronze medalist in 4:31.71.

The bronze medalist in the 400 IM at last year’s World Championships, Rice had her breakout meet at the Aussie Trials, where she set world records in both medley events. The long wait from that point to Beijing was obviously worth it. Rice will now look to make it a sweep of the medley disciplines when she lines up for the 200 distance.

“I turned around and thought I saw a 4:31,” she said. “I thought that really hurt for a 4:31. I was stoked when it turned over. It’s an amazing achievement. It hasn’t kicked in yet.”

Coventry narrowly qualified for the final, finishing seventh in the preliminaries. But she laid it out during the final, also blasting away the former world record. For Coventry, her effort bodes well for the 100 and 200 backstroke races, along with the 200 medley. As for Hoff, she grabbed her first Olympic medal with a time not far off her best.

Elizabeth Beisel, the rising American teenager, finished fourth in 4:34.24, slightly quicker than the 4:34.34 of Italy’s Alessia Filippi. There was a big dropoff from that point forward with Great Britain’s Hannah Miley taking sixth in 4:39.44, ahead of Russia’s Yana Martynova (4:40.04) and China’s Li Xuanxu (4:42.13).