Britta Steffen (GER) ended Germany's misery at the Water Cube with a 53.12sec victory over world record holder Libby Trickett (AUS) in the 100m freestyle. Trickett was just 0.04sec away, while Natalie Coughlin (USA) took bronze in 53.39.
Over in lane 7, next to Trickett in lane 8, Steffen swam an amazing race and exploited her situation perfectly. Trickett was her quarry to gold. Edgy off her blocks, Steffen turned last at 50m, in 26.04. Trickett was first, in 25.18. On the way home, Steffen, in a specially devised adidas bodysuit that has been ammended and updated since the German swam at her national trials in the spring, clawed back the deficit stroke by stroke and with 5m remaining was almost level with the Australian. The momentum carried her home to the gold. Trickett returned in 27.98, Steffen in 27.08, Coughlin in 27.87.
Steffen faced the touch pad unable to look up. When she turned round, she felt Trickett's hand on her shoulder and then realised what had happened. It will take a while to sink in. The smile was on Steffen's face but so was disbelief. Steffen had a tough time with an eating disorder but worked hard to overcome troubled times. There is nothing like an Olympic gold medal to exorcise the ghosts of the past.The ghosts of so many problems of her past have been exorcised for good.
"I wasn't expecting a medal, I just focused on myself and sometimes the outcome is not what you expect," said Steffen. Steffen, who became the first German since East Germany's Kristin Otto in 1988 to win this event, said she had wanted to race Trickett in the final.
"It definitely wouldn't have been the same if she hadn't been there, I was the record holder, now she has it and you want to race the best," she said. "I wouldn't have wanted to win without her there and never known what would have happened if she had been there. She is the world record holder, but didn't win gold - that's what sport is like."
The pair gave each other a long embrace over the pool lane ropes seconds after the finish "I was really happy she was next to me, we had a good fight and we hugged at the end because we had enjoyed the experience," Steffen said.
Trickett was thankful to be swimming the final at all after she capitalised on Chinese Pang Jiaying's disqualification to claim the last place in the final after she wore an old-style FS-Pro and clocked 54.10 in her semi-final. "I was ninth after the semi-finals, I was out of the final, so to get put in and come away with a silver is awesome," said Trickett. "I don't know how or why about yesterday, it was incredibly disappointing to be out of the final. I had another opportunity again, I didn't have that in Athens. But I was very grateful. That is standard in my career, I have had several ups and downs, I just took the chance given to me and did my best."
Trickett's place in lane eight could not have been better for Steffen, who had a hare to chase. And chase it she did. "She fought hard for it, I fought hard for it," said Trickett. " it didn't take the edge off (getting silver), it is part of the Olympics. It was very emotional, that is why I started crying during the medal ceremony."
Coughlin, meantime, can improve her medal tally from the 2004 Athens Games if the USA get to the podium in the 4x100m medley - more than likely. The 25-year-old took gold in the 100m backstroke and added a silver and three bronzes to her treasury, equalling the five she won in Athens and currently is two medals behind Jenny Thompson's American record of 12 spread over four Olympics.
"I can't be happier, I didn't know what to expect coming into this meet, I heard I was approaching the record and I am just so happy," Coughlin said.