Rome 2009, Day 3
Women's 100m backstroke final:
Florida-based Gemma Spofforth (GBR) and her LZR sunk the world record with a 58.12 blast in the 100m backstroke, her homecoming stamina helping to confine Anastasia Zueva (RUS) and her X-Glide to the silver and the Russian's day-old global mark of 58.48 to history. Zueva took silver in 58.18. The bronze went to Emily Seebohm (AUS) in 58.88.
The race provided the first gold medal for Speedo's LZR at these championships. A delighted Spofforth credited the compression of her suit and the "very hard work" she puts in at the University of Florida, where sets of 40x50s and constant race practice throughout the season have helped to hone the Brit into a racer fit to beat the best in world waters. But more than that, there was mental strength of a very special kind.
After becoming the first British woman ever to win the global 100m backstroke crown and the first since 1958 to hold the world record, Spofforth dedicated the gold medal to her late mother, Lesley, who died of cancer in 2007.
On a day when the world-record tally on the third of eight days of action in Rome reached 15, Spofforth, of Portsmouth, insisted that, while the suit helped, her massive gain on the clock since she missed a medal at the Beijing Olympic Games last year by just 0.04sec (the moment is captured as the swimmer's screen-saver to remind her every day of what she is chasing), came down to pure will in the end.
The University of Florida psychology student coached by Martyn Wilby said: "My mum's thoughts are always with me. In the last 15 metres that's where I got my strength from."
Strength needed to get a fingernail to the touchpad just 0.06sec ahead of Zueva and her 80% polyurethane X-Glide. The Russian had set the world record at 58.48sec in the semi-final a day earlier and in the final cracked out a championship record of 28.13sec at the half-way mark with a blast faster than any solo world 50m title had ever been won in.
Racing in the very Lane 5 in which Anita Lonsbrough swam to gold for Britain on breaststroke at the 1960 Olympic Games, Spofforth, turned 0.58sec behind the Russian before clawing back the deficit slowly but surely on the way to gold. Accustomed to looking heavenward at the start of races and saying "hi mum", she repeated the dedication at the end of the Rome race and then again on the podium as she watched the Union Flag rise on the skyline of the Eternal City.
The last British woman to hold the 100m world record was Judy Grinham, 1956 Olympic champion and later Lonsbrough's England teammate when she clocked 1min 11.9 to win the Commonwealth crown in Cardiff.
"It's a dream come true," said Spofforth, who dedicated the gold medal to her mother and added: "Virtually every race is pretty much dedicated to her." She had put in four 45-minute drives a day to get Spofforth to training and her brother to school when they were children. "Her dedication to swimming was almost bigger than mine. On Sundays she would make me go training and I was very angry at the time. Now, I'm really glad she did it. It's nice to give something back to her.”
Spofforth had shown great talent when trained in Portsmouth as a girl. In 2006 she contracted pancreatitis and spent a week in hospital, followed by a year out of swimming, during which she almost quit the sport. She then went to Florida and began her "second career" and was now glad that she had done so, the work and the loss and the pain having led to gain on a grand scale.
The splits, which tell the tale of a phenomenal homecoming effort by the Brit, compared:
The all-time top 10 coming into the Rome final:
And how things looked emerging from Melbourne 2007 (previous season best at the end of each line: