Rebecca Soni (USA) ended Leisel Jones's dream of the breaststroke double when she took down the world record in 2:20.22, a best time by 2.4sec. Jones (AUS) came in to the Games with a 2sec advantage but where Soni took two strokes forward, Jones took two backwards, taking silver in 2:22.05. The bronze went to Sara Nordenstam (NOR) in 2:23.02.
Soni joined Anita Lonsbrough (GBR), 1960; Marina Koshevaia (URS), 1976; and Silke Hoerner (GDR), 1988 on the list of those who have won gold in world-record time. Last year, 2:23.36 was Soni's best. It was 2:22.60 coming into the meet here.
The 25-year-old, who underwent minor heart surgery two years ago, swam a perfect tactic: she kept up with Jones under world record pace throughout and made her move coming off the last turn. Jones had everything to lose, Soni nothing. Jones had come down from the massive relief of victory in the 100m at the tail end of a career where she lacked a gold medal for completion and closure. Soni was still chasing a n unfulfilled dream. Big difference. The American shaved 0.32secs off Jones's standard and looked powerful enough at the end to have cracked the wall and gone right through to the diving tank.
Her victory reversed a run of losses against Australian women. So far, the tally if 5 golds to the Dolphins, 2 to the Americans.
Soni had surgery in July 2006 to correct a rapid heart-beat, but she said she has put that well behind her now. "It was long road, it was only a small heart procedure to take care of things and then to get back into training," Soni said. "I swam well today and it was definitely a confidence builder."
On her race she said: "It just kind of flowed, it just happened, it felt great. I just kept it strong and powered to the end," she said. "It feels great. The last 15m I had plenty left in me, I saw Liesel behind and just pushed for the wall."
The pressure of it all told on Jones. Moments after getting out of the pool, Jones collapsed into the arms of a press officer with the Aussie team. She felt faint and was short of breath.
Later she said: "I just couldn't breathe," Jones said. "I dug so deep on that last 50 metres. It happened once before at the (2006 Melbourne) Commonwealth Games, I had the same feeling. I don't suffer from asthma. It was just from digging deep and working so hard and probably not being conscious of my breathing. Rebecca is a pretty good competitor, she was always going to go fast, it's good to see people swimming so fast."
On taking second, she said: "A silver medal is still a silver medal in the Olympics. I gave it everything, I couldn't have given more. It has been a long week and it's hard to get up for that."
Soni has been waiting in the wings, and watching. "I have only raced her three or four times in the past," Soni said. "I remember how she always went out fast and I learnt her strategy which helped me a lot. I know when she goes out hard and when I should. I just keep my eyes on my own lane and concentrate on my own lane. I panic if I think she is too far in front, but I kept my cool and swam my race."