Dubai, world s/c championships, day 2 finals
Women's 800m Freestyle
Nothing like a home challenge to jolt the pride that preceded the relief and tears and drove Erika Villaecija and Mireia Belmonte to gold and silver in 8:11.61 to 8:12.48. Kate Ziegler (USA) took bronze in 8:12.84.
Villaecija, in lane 3, made her intentions known from the start and by the half-way mark planted herself at the shoulder of world l/c champion Lotte Friis (DEN), the Dane on 4:04.62, the lead Spaniard on 4:04.95, Belmonte back on 4:07.93 but heading for a big negative split.
By 600m, there was not much sign of that, Friis on 6:09.62, Villaecija on 6:09.65, Ziegler on 6:10.12 and closing, Belmonte still off the pace on 6:11.93. Two laps later, Villaecija had got a hand ahead, the three leaders in a line. How the race then changed - as Belmonte made her move like a woman possessed.
Over the next 50m, the winner of the 200m butterfly and 400m medley on day one came within half a second of catching Ziegler and Friis, while her teammate's advantage had been halved. Those up front sensed the charge and while Friis had no response, Ziegler and Villaecija refused to yield. As the medal hunters turned into the last 50m, Vilaecija had a 0.58sec lead. Belmonte made ready to capitalise on her momentum and started to sprint. A last 50m split of 29.32 was enough to keep Ziegler and a 29.17 homecoming split at bay but Villaecija had not come all this way down the distance years to cave in now. In 29.03, the veteran 26-year-old Spaniard denied her 20-year-old teammate for the crown in the fourth-best textile-suit effort ever.
As for Belmonte, silver was wrought from a big best time: 8:17.89 was her latest best, this month bnack home in Spain, while 8:20.15 in October had preceded that at the helm of her 800m speed. Before that, it was 8:29.60 from 2007. Today's negative split was something to behold: 4:07.93; 4:04.55.
"This gold means a lot to me," said the champion. "I have have lived through hard times of late and I was overwhelmed by everything." She had felt down on a camp in Palma on the way to Dubai but had managed to turn herself around and added: "I have worked very much so that a day as this one was coming". With a mod to her teammate, Vilaecija said: "With regard to Mireia, I hadn't noticed her out there on the edge (lane 7). When I touched and saw the screen, the two of us up there, It was fantastic. I was very moved."
History in the making:
World s/c Podiums
Most world titles in this event: 2
Records (TB = best ever in a textile suit)
Most world records in this event (since specific 25m records began in 1991): 2
All-time textile rankings top 5:
* - subsequently suspended for doping
From the archive:
In the pre-1957 days when world marks could be set in pools of any size, no distinction made between the long and short of it, the career of one of the most prolific world-record setters in history was unfolding against the backdrop of war. Between 1938 to 1945 Ragnhild Hveger (DEN) became the greatest swimmer never to have won an Olympic title. At 15, Hveger won a surprise silver over 400m freestyle at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Ironically dubbed “Denmark’s Golden Torpedo”, Hveger set 42 individual freestyle world records, including yard swims from 100 yards to 1 mile, and three on backstroke between 1936 and 1942. Those efforts included a global standard over 200m freestyle (2:21.7) that would survive 20 years from 1938 until the dawn of Dawn Fraser in 1956. Hveger broke the 400m record eight times from 5:14.2 to 5:00.1 (1937-1940), her last mark broken only 16 years later by Lorraine Crapp (AUS) The date of that 5mins swim, September 15, coincided with the dates of what would have been a 1940 Olympic Games. Over 800m, the second of Hveger’s world marks made her the first woman to race inside 11mins, while the last of three records over 1,500m made her the first woman inside 21mins. Beyond the speed of her best days, a mark of Hveger’s athletic prowess was her longevity: ten years after her last world record and seven years after retiring in 1945, she made a comeback and managed to finish fifth over 400m freestyle, just 4.8sec behind the champion Valeria Gyenge (HUN) at the 1952 Olympic Games. Hveger was 32. Her finest competitive tally was a three-gold-medal haul (100, 400 and 4x100m freestyle) at the 1938 European Championships in London: her victory by 18.7sec in 5:09.0 over 400m set a championship record that would survive three challenges before being broken in 1958, while her 100m championship record in 1:06.2, would survive two assault before being broken in 1954. She was a member if the two Danish 4x100m freestyle quartets that set two world records in 1938, their best effort lasting until 1952.