Day 2 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai
Women's 200m Medley
The roof-raising cheer that may have been audible in downtown Shanghai could mean only one thing: China had its first gold in the race pool. Ye Shiwen, of Zhejiang, was the local hero: 15 and on a 2:08.90, the fastest swim ever in a textile suit, the first unassisted sub-2:09 effort and one that kept at bay the Commonwealth champion, Alicia Coutts (AUS), reigning world champion and record holder Ariana Kukors (USA) and Olympic champions Stephanie Rice (AUS) at bay.
All four raced inside 2:10, Coutts taking her second silver of the day (after the 100m butterfly) in 2:09.00, Kukors, the second world champion and world record setter of of Rome 2009 to take bronze, on 2:09.12, and Rice on 2:09.65. Next home were Caitlin Leverenz (USA), 2:10.40, Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 2:11.24, Hannah Miley (GBR), 2:11.36 and Julia Wilkinson (CAN) on 2:16.18.
Ye, from Hangzhou, began swimming aged six after her kindergarten teacher noticed her large hands. The teenager played down her stunning win. The Asian champion said: "I lagged behind in the first 150 metres so I was nervous. But in the end I tried my best and did it," she said, thanking her watching parents for their support. I do have many difficulties in practice. I have my low points. But I adjust my mood because a lot of people give me strength."
There was, she added "much room for improvement … It's true for breaststroke I am lagging behind but I think my freestyle result is also not that good. Usually I'm very bad at turning. This is one of my worst basic skills but turning is a very important skill therefore I was practicing my turns before the competition."
Ye was well back after butterfly, in sixth, as Coutts, Rice and Kukors turnd finger tips behind a 27.69 for California-based Katinka Hosszu (HUN). By the half-way turn, Kukors had taken the lead, with Hosszu hanging on in 1:01.02, the click of a chopstick ahead of Rice, Coutts in strong contention, Ye back in touch on 1:01.77 but still showing no sign of a breakthrough.
It remained that way on breaststroke, Kukors delivering a kick that gave her a biting edge on 1:38.02 at the last turn. With Coutts in 1:38.68 and Rice 0.13sec away, that looked likely to be the podium, Ye on 1:39.48 in fifth, with the second American in the final, Caitlin Leverenz having moved up to third 0.04sec ahead of the Olympic champion.
Commonwealth 100m free champion Coutts then produced a 30.32 homecoming decider. Or at least it was a decider among the member of the 30-plus club. Ye wielded a 29.42 as the crowd sensed she needed their support: the eruption was fit to split the rafters as Ye came home 0.1sec ahead of Commonwealth champion Coutts in the first sub-2:09 effort by a swimmer in a textile suit, her time and indeed those of all four at the helm sensational. Place your best on how long that 2:06.15 will last. And no, that is not a criticism of the swimmer - just the circumstance.
Said Ye: "This is the first gold medal for China in swimming so I am very happy. Usually I am bad at turns, so I got more training before the competition to improve that. My parents were here and said that what matters is the process, not the result. I want to tell them: I made it!"
The freestyle split is an oddity, no question. Consider that 29.84 was Kukors trend-setting homecomer in one of the suits now sunk. Then consider that Rice boiled below 30 neither here nor in Rome, even though we are talking about an Australian who so far has a best 200m (textile) free 2sec quicker than Ye's.
The splits compared:
History in the making:
From the archive:
At 15, Tracy Caulkins (USA) won five gold medals and a silver at the 1978 World Championships in Berlin. Coached variously by Paul Bergen, Don Talbot, Ron Young and Randy Reese, she set 62 US standards - across all four strokes and medley. Aged 8, she would only swim backstroke because she hated getting her face wet. She became one of the most versatile swimming in the history of the sport.
The Rome 2009 world-title final was among those that set the cat among the pigeons in the debate on shiny suits. At the dawn of 2008 only one woman had ever broken 2:10, Wu Yanyan (CHN) - and she subsequently tested positive for doping and was banned. By the end of 2008, the club of sub-2:10 swimmers had grown by four, Stephanie Rice (AUS) at the helm on a world record of 2:08.45 for Olympic gold ahead of a 2:08.59 silver medal for Kirsty Coventry (ZIM). Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin, both USA, also got inside 2:10. In 2009, ten women broken 2:10, half of them inside 2:09, three inside 2:08 and one almost inside 2:06. Ariana Kukors (USA) won the world title in 2:06.15, with Rice on 2:07.03 and Hosszu on 2:07.46. In 2010, 11 women got inside 2:11, three of those inside 2:10, the best a 2:09.37 by Chinese 14-year-old Ye Shiwen for the Asian Games crown in November. The Commonwealth Title went to Alicia Coutts in 2:09.70, the Pan Pacific crown to her teammate Emily Seebohm in 2:09.93. A 2:10.09 was good enough for Hosszu to take the the European crown 0.01sec ahead of teammate Evelyn Verraszto.
Meanwhile, the times on the clock carried a reminder of China's dark past in the sport: in Shanghai back in 1997, Wu Yanyan became the first woman to race inside 2mins 10sec, her world record of 2:09.72 prompting an outcry from a disbelieving swimming world. The cries of 'foul' turned out to be justified: Wu tested positive for doping and was banned from the sport. By the end of the 1990s, more than 40 Chinese swimmers had tested positive, mostly for steroids.