Analysis: Women's 200m Breaststroke
Craig Lord
The final ranged from 2:20.22 to 2:25.23, the latter time faster than the silver medal was won in at Melbourne 2007; Soni takes two strokes forward to Jones's 1.5 backwards

Beijing 2008:

  • 1. Rebecca Soni (USA) 2:20.22 WR
  • 2. Leisel Jones (AUS) 2:22.05
  • 3. Sara Nordenstam (NOR) 2:23.02er
  • Soni's splits: 32.17; 1:07.46; 1:43.70; 2:20.22
  • Jones's former WR: 32.19, 1:08.52; 1:45.02; 2:20.54
  • Nordenstam's ER splits: 32.70; 1:09.19; 1:46.00; 2:23.02 
  • Fastest field: Beijing final - 2:20.22 - 2:25.23

Comparison fields:

  • Melbourne 2007: 2:21.84 - 2:28.67
  • Athens 2004: 2:23.37 - 2:26.39

Facts going into the race:

  • World Record: 2:20.54 - Leisel Jones (AUS), Melbourne, 1.2.06
  • Olympic champion: Amanda Beard (USA) 2:23.37
  • World champion: Jones 2:21.84

Impact of morning finals - what it took to qualify for the semis:

  • Beijing 2008: 2:22.17 - 2:27.28 (last in would have progressed 4th in 2007)
  • Melbourne 2007: 2:27.03 - 2:30.61
  • Athens 2004: 2:26.02 - 2:31.49

Notes from the race:

The final ranged from 2:20.22 to 2:25.23, the latter time faster than the silver medal was won in at Melbourne 2007. Bob Bowman, coach to Michael Phelps, said that the LZR suit is also of help to breaststroke specialists, helping them to kick back in a more controlled an powerful way. It is what Kosuke Kitajima has been saying. That said, the dam has been building in the 200m breaststroke for a while now. The dam burst in Beijing and woman who led the way, Leisel Jones (AUS), found herself washed sideways by Rebecca Soni (USA). Jones was no walkover, of course, but she would have needed her best ever to have beaten Soni: the American took down the world record in 2:20.22, a personal 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, 0.21sec slower than the time in which she claimed the world title in 2007 while still with coach Stefan Widmer. The bronze went to Sara Nordenstam (NOR) in 2:23.02, a European record. 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. The 25-year-old 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 is 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. She summed up the race thus: "It just kind of flowed, it just happened, it felt great. I just kept it strong and powered to the end. It feels great. The last 15m I had plenty left in me, I saw Liesel behind and just pushed for the wall. I have only raced her three or four times in the past. 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."

Jones 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."

The pressure of watching three years of dominance slip away told on Jones. Moments after getting out of the pool, Jones collapsed into the arms of a press officer with the Australian team. She felt faint and was short of breath. Later, she explained: "I just couldn't breathe. 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."

Impact on the all-time top 10:

  • 2:20.22 Soni, Rebecca,  USA BEIJING F
  • 2:20.54 Jones, Leisel, AUS
  • 2:22.44 Beard, Amanda, USA
  • 2:22.99 Qi, Hui, CHN
  • 2:23.02 Nordenstam, Sara, NOR BEIJING F
  • 2:23.24 Jukic, Mirna, AUT BEIJING F
  • 2:23.64 Heyns, Penelope,  RSA
  • 2:23.76 Efimova, Yulia, RUS BEIJING F
  • 2:23.77 Pierse, Annamay, CAN BEIJING F
  • 2:23.85 Taneda, Megumi, JPN

All-time top 10, end 2007:

  • 2:20.54 Jones (AUS) 2006
  • 2:22.44 Beard (USA) 2004
  • 2:22.99 Qi (CHN) 2001
  • 2:23.36 Soni (USA) 2007
  • 2:23.64 Heyns (RSA) 1999
  • 2:23.85 Taneda (JPN) 2007
  • 2:24.03 Kovacs (HUN) 2000
  • 2:24.04 Balfour (GBR) 2006
  • 2:24.12 Tanaka (JPN) 2000
  • 2:24.41 Luo (CHN) 2002


A rare event where the USA does not come out on top on gold count, a situation that will not change if Jones has her day (or four) in Beijing. The upper hand is held by the Soviet Union. Between 1964 and 1980, Soviet women won 10 of the 18 Olympic medals on offer over 200m breaststroke. Galina Prozumenshikova (later Stepanova) got the ball rolling, winning in 1964 and taking bronze in 1968 and 1972. Winner of silver medals in the 100m in 1968 and 1972, she was the first breaststroke specialist to reach the podium at three Games and remains the only one to have won five Olympic medals. Then, in 1976, Marina Koshevaia led teammates Marina Yurchenya and Lyubov Rusanova home for a Montreal 1976 sweep in a world record of 2:33.35; and Lithuanian Lina Kachushite (2:29.54, Olympic record) led Svetlana Varganova and Yulia Bogdanova home in a 1980 home Games sweep. The boycott of 1984 killed a tradition: no Russian (or anyone from other former Soviet states) has made the Olympic 200m breaststroke podium in the intervening years. Prozumenshikova and Amanda Beard (USA) are the only two women to have won breaststroke medals at three Games, and Beard the only one to have done so in the same event, 200m: 1996, silver, 2000, bronze, 2004, gold.

  • Fastest: 2:20.22, Rebecca Soni (USA), 2008.
  • World Record wins: Anita Lonsbrough (GBR), 1960; Marina Koshevaia (URS), 1976; Silke Hoerner (GDR), 1988; Rebecca Soni (USA), 2008
  • Biggest margin: 2.7sec separated the two Evas of Hungary, Szkeley and Novak, in 1952, when they swam with butterfly arms; and 2.73 split Koshevaia and teammate Marina Yurchenya (URS) in 1976.
  • Closest shave: Lina Kachushite and Svetlana Varganova (both URS) were 0.07sec apart in 1980.