The opening weekend of the Summer Olympics was marked by highs and lows, of course, and the swimming pool had its share of both. World records, a stunning loss and a medal for the home team — and that was all in just one afternoon.
Before American Dana Vollmer answers how a 55.98-second 100-meter butterfly — the fastest time ever, and worth a gold medal — feels, consider this: Vollmer was diagnosed as a teenager with two life-threatening heart conditions that prompted her mom to carry a defibrillator to Dana’s races.
The heart problems were fixed, but Vollmer had to battle tons of injuries. She won a relay gold medal at the 2004 Olympics but then failed to qualify for the games in 2008. Now, after what Vollmer calls a long journey, there she was Sunday night. Asked, “How does it feel?” she choked out: “It’s cool.”
That was American Cullen Jones’ attitude as well, after he and his teammates won silver in the men’s 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay.
“Since I’ve looked at my Twitter, we’ve made everyone happy,” he said. “We’ve made people proud.”
That was the best “half-full” answer of the night, because — and, yes, it’s awful to say this because all medals are great — the U.S. relay team didn’t win silver as much as it lost gold. The Americans were big favorites, with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte on the team.
Lochte, swimming the anchor leg, made the turn and headed for home with a good lead. But French anchor Yannick Agnel caught him and touched the wall first. Lochte, who put his early stamp on the games the night before with a dominating win in the 400 individual medley, didn’t speak to reporters afterward, but Jones did: “He was beating on himself,” Jones said of Lochte. “I mean, once he heard his time, he was actually, I think, a lot better with it. Because he thought he swam a lot slower than that, I think.”
The mostly British crowd at the aquatics center snapped fully to attention on the eighth and final lap of the women’s 400-meter freestyle race. England’s Rebecca Adlington, the 400 and 800 defending Olympic champ, was powering to the finish. Would Adlington win Great Britain’s first gold medal of the games? No, she won bronze. But the crowd kept on roaring. After the race, a frizzy-haired Adlington talked about the expectations of being on the host country’s team.
“Yeah, it’s pressure, but at the same time it’s been support,” she said. “It’s just them saying good luck. They don’t mean ‘you better get a gold medal.’ … And it shows in the crowd’s reaction there when I got a bronze, and I can’t wait to go to medals — if I can just find a hairbrush!”
She found one and tamed her curls before the medal ceremony. Now, if she can tame her opponents in Friday’s 800 freestyle, her best race, team Great Britain can cross that very big to-do off its list — unless someone else wants to win gold before her.