RIO DE JANEIRO — The “Iron Lady” now owns some precious metal.
Four years after missing the medal podium entirely in a bitterly disappointing London Olympics, Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu opened a redemptive Rio Games by dominating the 400-meter individual medley and smashing the world record. Hosszu’s winning time of 4:26.36 put her easily ahead of silver medalist Maya DiRado (4:31.15) of the United States and bronze medalist Mireia Belmonte Garcia (4:32.39) of Spain.
“I didn’t want to just break the record,” Hosszu said. “I wanted to crush it.”
American Elizabeth Beisel, swimming the 400 IM in the third-straight Olympics, finished sixth. She was the silver medalist in this event in 2012.
Hosszu, who earned her “Iron Lady” nickname for her tireless year-round racing schedule, served notice in the preliminaries of the event Saturday that she would not be denied. Hosszu very nearly took down Ye Shiwen’s four-year-old world record of 4:28.43 in the prelims, missing by just a tenth of a second.
Seeded first for the final by four seconds, there was no letup Saturday night at Olympic Aquatics Stadium. Hosszu dominated from the start, taking a solid lead in the butterfly and opening more distance in the backstroke before finishing solidly in the breaststroke and freestyle legs.
“It’s just crazy that I’ve been able to swim two seconds faster than anyone ever, ever did,” she said. “It’s just crazy.”
Hosszu has been the world’s premier female IM swimmer for many years, with the glaring exception of 2012. In those Olympic Games, she finished fourth in the 400 IM and eighth in the 200 IM.
Off this performance, Hosszu appears primed for a huge Olympic turnaround. She will be the heavy favorite in the 200 IM and also will be a contender in her three other events: the 200 butterfly, 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke.
DiRado will be chasing Hosszu twice more, in the 200 IM and 200 back. While DiRado has had a standout couple of years and was the breakout star of the U.S. trials, she has her work cut out for her trying to catch Hosszu.
Also of note: 2012 gold medalist Ye did not come close to making a finals appearance and defending her title. She finished 27th, swimming a whopping 17.28 seconds slower than her winning time four years ago. Ye’s breakout performance at age 16 raised many eyebrows internationally, and this free-fall out of competitive form will only intensify old suspicions.
“It raises a lot of eyebrows, for sure,” Beisel told Yahoo Sports.