LONDON – There might be something to this ocean training thing.
Four days after Dana Vollmer notched a gold medal and shattered the world record in the 100-meter butterfly, her Olympics roommate Rebecca Soni seized gold in the 200-meter breaststroke in world-record fashion. And like Vollmer – who said the ocean waters off Fiji rejuvenated her in 2008 – Soni credited the inviting Pacific as her secret weapon to reaching the wall in only 2:19.59.
"I live by the ocean, so I kind of decided as taper was coming along that I didn't want to drive to the pool twice a day, so I swam in the pool in the morning and just jumped in the ocean at night," Soni said. "The main point was to not be too mentally challenged every day with getting to the pool twice. I live 20 miles away, so it's a whole day process if you're doing doubles. Just being able to walk down to the beach and go swim around for a little – I brought a lot of friends with me … was a lot of fun."
Soni had already broken the world record in the 200 breaststroke once before in preliminaries, dropping the mark down to 2 minutes and 20 seconds flat. That was almost a heartbreaking number, as she had had spent much of the last decade pursuing a personal goal of moving the record under the 2:20 barrier. When she saw she had just missed it by one hundredth of a second, she thought her chance might have passed.
But it was clear from the moment she hit the pool in the final that she was going to have another opportunity, as she quickly took the lead and never looked back, leading in all three turns and powering through the final 50 meters. Japan's Satomi Suzuki took silver at 2:20.72, and Russia's Yulia Efimova went 2:20.92 for the bronze.
Typically stoic, Soni gave a broad smile and burst of emotion when she turned and saw the clock, realizing she had reached the secret goal that a coach put into her mind when she was in high school.
"He just had a look in his eyes that he knew it was true, that I could be the first one under 2:20," Soni said. "I kind of laughed it off at the moment, but later would think about it. I just kind of kept it to myself as a secret goal, partially because I didn't know if it was possible."
That might explain why Soni has so often seemed happy but restrained in past victories – as if she was always holding something back.
"Along the way I said 'Ok, that was good, but there's still more. I'm not there yet,' " Soni said of previous gold medals and victories. "I think tonight I was there. I always thought I had a little bit more. I was always chasing that 2:19. It feels strange to be able to talk about it now, because I always just kept it to myself."
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