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Meilutyte, 15, Sinks Soni & The Rest

Jul 30, 2012

Olympic Games, London: Day 3 Finals

Women's 100 breaststroke final

Ruta Meilutyte, a 15-year-old Lithuanian based at Plymouth College and the Leander swimming club, produced the biggest upset of the Games so far with a 1:05.47 stunner of a victory 0.08sec ahead of world champion Rebecca Soni (USA), the bronze going to Satomi Suzuki (JPN), on 1:06.46. 

The school girl, coached by John Rudd in Britain, arrived at the Games with a best time of 1:07.20 and a chance of making the final. She goes to bed this night an Olympic champion, a trail of experience left wondering in her wake.

Beyond Alia Atkinson (JAM), the swim-off entry in the final and on 1:06.93, came defending champion Leisel Jones, on 1:06.95, the last two inside 1:07, US trials winner Breeja Larson, 1:06.96, and Yuliya Efimova (RUS), on 1:06.98.

The splits:

  • 30.56; 34.91; 1:05.47 Meilutyte
  • 31.28; 34.27; 1:05.55 Soni
  • 31.39; 35.07; 1:06.46 Suzuki

In victory, Meilutyte is the first Lithuania first Olympic swimming champion and medallist. She is also the youngest winner ever of the 100m crown and the youngest Olympic champion since Kyoko Iwasaki (JPN) claimed the 200m title in Barcelona at 14 years and 7 days. Jones, locked out in London, will look back at Sydney 2000 - and a silver medal won after she arrived in home-Games year outside the top 100 in the world - and understand better than most why Meiluytyte looked so stunned by her own achievement.  

The Britain-based teenager made her intentions known on the way to the final, setting a European record in the heats. If she was not taken for a doping test after that heat, the time will not count as a record. In the semi, she clocked 1:05.21: again, if she was not tested, then LEN, the European swimming league will not count the time. We assume that test was taken and the record will stand.

The final was delayed by a few minutes after the starter's gun apparently malfunctioned. The schoolgirl was not flustered. She led from start to finish, Soni getting an appallingly slow start that left her at least half a body length to catch up on the rest. 

The new champion was tearful after her heat, after her semi and even more so after lifting the crown. She said: "I can't believe it. It's too much for me."

Meilutyte was born in Lithuania and lost her mother to an accident in childhood. She arrived in Britain in 2010, when her father took a job in Britain, and has studied at Plymouth College and trained at Plymouth Leander, where Rudd leads the programme. 

He said: "We didn't realistically know what she would do. The Olympics are a funny place. We concentrated on her (training) process and she is amazing at that. She doesn't want me to talk about anyone else. She says 'just tell me what I have to do'."

Reports by Craig Lord and Karin Helmstaedt.