Adlington Fights Back: 4:04.55 Victory
Aug 15, 2010 - Craig Lord
European Championships, Budapest, day 7 finals:
Women 400m freestyle
Rebecca Adlington (GBR) had a hard time finishing 7th in the 800m here. She fought back after a few days rest from training with a tactically superb 4:04.55 win in the 400m ahead of Ophelie-Cyrielle Etienne (FRA), out in lane one and the leader by far up to 300m on her way to 4:05.40 for silver, and Lotte Friis (DEN), the 800m and 1,500m champion, on 4:07.10.
How the race unfolded:
The first-half pace decisive; the second-half pace sorting out the fitness ranking but also a measure of determination and matching ability to race.
With teammates winning medals all around her and Fran Halsall the first Brit to win five medals at one championship, one gold was enough for Adlington on the way to battle with Australians at the Commonwealth Games in October. Her victory, just three days after she suffered a punishing defeat in her favourite event, the 800m, marked her first return to the top of the podium since she won double Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008.
"I was so disappointed after the 800m. I'm unrested [from training] and that's really hard to deal with in this class of field," said Adlington - coached in Nottingham by Bill Furniss - with a nod to Britain's Commonwealth Games priority this year. "I let it get to me too much but I decided to relax and just enjoy it, no pressure."
Not until the race, at least, for although world champion Federica Pellegrini, of Italy, pulled out suffering from a fever, Adlington pulled ahead of the crowd in the middle of the pool just enough to catch a glimpse of Ophelie-Cyrielle Etienne, of France, cracking out a phenomenal pace over in lane 1. "I thought 'o my God!," said Adlington a body length back. Over the next 100m, the Olympic champion showed her quality with a spurt of speed that left 800m world and European champion Friis like a sailfish passing coral. "I just kept saying to myself ' come on, come on, dig in, dig in. Put your head down.' By the end it felt really great. In Rome last year it was pain from beginning to end. But not today. It felt controlled."
On the hunt every stroke of the way, Adlington had the lead for the first time, by 0.06sec, at the last turn. She then put in the only sub-30sec homecoming split for the gold 0.85sec ahead of her French rival and Friis, on 4:07.10. Joanne Jackson, who shared the Olympic and world-championship podium with Adlington in 2008 and 2009, finished fifth in 4:09.72, her presence in the final in doubt all day after she suffered an asthma attack in morning heats and needed medical attention.
While Adlington praised the bravery of her teammate - "It's terrible to see your best friend struggling like that - she needed a doctor on the poolside this morning, it was terrible, amazing she even raced" - Britain head coach Dennis Pursley pointed to the champion's bounce-back from seventh place in the 800m as evidence of the quality it takes to reach her status. "It is one of the things that you look for in a great athlete and indeed a great team," said the American. "The ability to bounce back from disappointment because they all have those no matter if its Michael Phelps or Becky Adlington. It splits the greats from the rest, athletes and teams."
"The gold is good to have but the time is what gives me the confidence to know we're doing the right things," said Adlington, who acknowledged Pellegrini's absence and said: "It was a great shame that she couldn't be there but it was the right decision for her. If you're poorly you shouldn't risk it. But the field was very strong without her."
Effect on race on all-time top 10:
From the archive: The first three crowns in history went to Dutchwomen Marie Braun (1927, 1931) and Rie Masterbroek (1934). Both were coached by Ma Braun, mother of Marie. In 1928, at a home Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Braun raced to gold in the 100m backstroke and took silver in the 400m freestyle. After retaining her European crown in 1931, Braun headed to the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles as a medal hope once more. But in the biggest scandal of the Games Braun was stabbed in the left leg on the eve of the 100m backstroke final while she was watching home hero Buster Crabbe win the 400m freestyle. The wound became infected and she was unable to race in the final. Braun suggested that she had been assaulted by gamblers who had bet against her. Organisers claimed that an insect had bitten Braun.
Shiny suit era
February 1 2008
*- Pellegrini, wearing a textile bodysuit in March 2008, clocked 4:01.53