Published: Jul 29, 2012 05:20:41 PM Updated: Aug 28, 2012 09:41:15 AM
The quartet of Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie and Melanie Schlanger have won Australia’s first gold of the 2012 London Olympic Games with a stunning performance in the women’s 4x100 metre freestyle relay - the final event of the first finals session.
The Aussies set an Olympic record of 3:33.15 to crush the Netherlands’ hopes of back to back Olympic crowns, the Dutch settling for silver in 3:33.79 and the USA the bronze in 3:34.24.
Coutts (53.90) got them off to a wonderful start, touching in third, Campbell (53.19) elevated them to second, before Elmslie (53.41) propelled them to the lead. Then Schlanger (52.65) hung on amid withering pressure from Dutch world number one Ranomi Kromodwidjojo (51.93).
Australia has a proud history of success in the event with victories in 1956 and 2004, silver medals in 1960 and 1964 and a bronze four years ago in Athens when Campbell and Schlanger were both a part of the team.
For that duo this was some form of redemption for that Beijing result and a wonderful exclamation mark on comebacks from illness that wouldn’t dare end with selection on this Olympic Team. They wanted more.
For Coutts, who finished sixth in the event at the Australian Olympic Trials, her swim justified the faith instilled in her by the team’s coach Shannon Rollason and for Elmslie, the moment is nothing short of stunning given that 12 months ago she was barely on the radar for Olympic selection, let alone a candidate for a gold medal.
For all, including heat swimmers Emily Seebohm, Yolane Kukla and Libby Trickett, it was a moment that was moulded on the self-belief that all posses and the support of the men that coach them.
Elmslie, 18, struggled to contain herself afterwards, disbelieving of the whirlwind she has been part of in the last 12 hours.
“That’s the best thing I’ve ever experienced in my whole life,” Elmslie said.
“I can’t stop smiling after that. I still can’t believe I’m an Olympic gold medallist. All four of us swam so well tonight and it is special to share the feeling with the other three girls.”
Schlanger, who clocked the second fastest split of the final behind Kromodwidjojo, augering well for her assault on the individual 100m freestyle, was similarly moved by the victory.
“I can’t describe it. I’ve always wanted to sing the National Anthem on the dais but to do it at the Olympics is unbelievable,”Schlanger said.
“We all dug deep and we came through with the win.”
And what a win it was.
Australian swimmers featured in all four finals and the two semi-final events earlier in the evening with many encouraging results. The wrap of all events below:
400m Individual Medley
Australian Thomas Fraser-Holmes has finished seventh in the men’s 400 metre individual medley as American superstar Ryan Lochte destroyed the elite field that included all-time great Michael Phelps who could only manage fourth.
Lochte led from start to finish to hit the wall in 4:05.18 - the second fastest time in history and best time in a textile swimsuit are included. It was a performance only ever bettered by Phelps and a display so dominant that Lochte must now be considered the best all-round swimmer on the planet.
Brazil’s Thiago Pereira was second (4:08.86), with Japan’s Kosuke Hagino third in (4:08.94). Phelps clocked, by his standards, a pedestrian 4:09.28. Fraser-Holmes swam 4:13.49.
Fraser-Holmes said he had hoped for a better time but was circumspect about what he’d just achieved, especially considering he was taking on athletes of the calibre of Lochte and Phelps.
“It’s (the time) disappointing but that was my first Olympic final and I’m the seventh best on the planet so looking from that perspective it’s pretty good,” Fraser-Holmes said.
“Ryan and Michael are tremendous athletes and they deserve all the accolades they get. I’m sure Michael’s disappointed but he’s a great athlete.”
Fraser-Holmes was determined to look to the future too, with the 2016 Rio Olympic Games already on his mind.
“Definitely. It’s on my list straight away. I’ll be writing that down straight away on my goals,” the 20 year-old Newcastle born former surf swimmer said.
“I will put that in the bank tonight and be back in four years.”
More pressingly, the Australian will be back in the pool on Sunday morning for the heats of the 200m freestyle.
Women’s 100m butterfly semi-finals
Australian Alicia Coutts is through to the women’s 100m butterfly final after a sizzling personal best time of 56.85 behind American world champion Dana Volmer (56.35).
Dane Jeanette Ottesen Gray was next best on 57.25, Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden fourth quickest on 57.27.
The Australian finished with the silver behind Vollmer at last year’s FINA World Championships in Shanghai but said tonight’s swim felt much, much better.
“That felt good,” Coutts said. “At Worlds last year I had a piano on my back but there was no piano tonight.”
Coutts will try and become the third straight Australian to win the event following the golden success of Petria Thomas (2004) and Libby Trickett (2008).
Men’s 400m freestyle
Aussie Olympic debutant Ryan Napoleon has finished eighth in the final of the men’s 400m freestyle won in scintillating fashion by Chinese 1500m world record holder Sun Yang who clocked 3:40.14, a personal best and the third fastest time in history.
Yang completely blew the field away over the last 100m, putting almost two seconds on the defending champion, Park Taehwan of the Republic of Korea, in the last two laps alone. Park had led for the first 300m but the result always looked inevitable.
Park clocked 3:42.08 for second with American Peter Vanderkaay grabbing the bronze in 3:44.69.
Earlier today in the heats, Park was controversially disqualified for a false start before having his subsequent protest dismissed, then overturned on appeal. Incredibly Park was also disqualified for a false start at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games where he was swimming as a 14 year-old.
For Napoleon, who swam a time of 3:49.25, the swim was not his best but he was still full of pride with what he’d achieved.
“I made the Olympic final and I’m really proud of myself for that,” Napoleon said.
“I would have liked to have swum a better time than this morning. This afternoon in the warm up I was nice and long and felt relaxed. I just didn’t execute the race well. I felt good for the first half of the race but my last 200m was rubbish.”
Women’s 400m individual medley
Australia’s 2008 Beijing Olympic golden girl Stephanie Rice has finished a gallant sixth in the women’s 400m individual medley and lost her four year-old world record in the process to brilliant Chinese prodigy Ye Shiwen.
Ye clocked a stunning 4:28.43 to slash 1.02 seconds from the record Rice set to win gold in Beijing. The 16 year-old turned for the last 100m 0.85 seconds behind race leader Elizabeth Beisel, but in a mind blowing freestyle leg, Ye put 3.65 seconds into the American world champion.
Beisel wound up second in 4:31.27, with another Chinese teenager, Li Xuanxu snaring bronze in 4:32.91. Rice posted a 4:35.49.
Rice has battled several injuries in the years since her Beijing triumphs including undergoing shoulder surgery in both September 2010 and December 2011.
After the race she said knew she had the job ahead of her but had given it her all.
“I knew this race was going to be hard. More than anything I’m a little disappointed with the time but all I wanted to do was give it my best shot,” Rice said.
“I walk away from this race not being able to give any more.
“I’m disappointed with the time but I am not disappointed with the effort I put in. I raced the best I could tonight.”
Men’s 100m breaststroke
Australians Brenton Rickard and Christian Sprenger are through to the men’s 100m breaststroke final in third and fourth position respectively.
Rickard, who finished fifth in the event in Beijing before breaking the world record in the controversial ‘shiny suit’ world championships in Rome a year later, swam a textile suit best of 59.50, whilst Sprenger swam the fastest time of his life – 59.61.
South African Cameron van der Burgh was the fastest qualifier in a swift 58.83, with pre-Olympics world number one, Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, scraped into the final in xx with a time of 59.69.
Like Phelps in the 200 and 400m individual medley and 100 and 200m butterfly, Kitajima is aiming to create history by winning a third straight Olympic crown in multiple events, being the 100 and 200m breaststroke.
Now that Phelps failed to win the 400m individual medley Kitajima can be first to the honour and now van der Burgh, and indeed Sprenger and Rickard, have the potential to stand in his way.
Dave Lyall at the Aquatic Centre
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