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W200Breast: Soni Holds Off Efimova Threat

Jul 29, 2011  - Craig Lord

Day 5 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai

Women's 200m breaststroke

Rebecca Soni (USA) put the woes of Rome behind her with a 2:21.47 victory in which she fended off a strong late challenge from Yuliya Efimova (RUS), on 2:22.22, the bronze going to Martha McCabe (CAN) in 2:24.81. That locked out China's Sun Ye by 0.28sec, with Rie Kaneto fifth in 2:25.36.

Defending champion Nadja Higl (SRB) clocked 2:25.93 for sixth place, Rikke Pedersen (DEN) on 2:26.56 and  world record holder Annamay Pierse (CAN) keeping her place in the books but nursing 8th place on 2:27.00.

Soni set out at a good pace far removed from her own break-neck stuff of 2009 but not far from world-record pace, 32.19 at the 50m but 1:08.05 at the half-way mark, down on the 1:07.28 that swept Pierse to the world mark back in Rome. 

Closest to the American at the 100m was Pedersen, on 1:08.87, with Efimova on 1:09.93 in fourth and McCabe on 1:10.05 in sixth. As Soni put in a 36.27 third lap, Efimova moved up a gear to 35.84 and turning for home with a deficit of 1:44.32 to 1:45.77 sensed that she could get closer. A 36.45 split narrowed the gap but Soni had done enough and in 37.15 closed the argument at 2:21.47, 0.75sec ahead of the Russian.

Efimova, best European ever in a textile suit, established a Russian record, 1.28sec inside the standard set by Anastasia Chaun when she claimed the European title last year. Only Leisel Jones, on 2:20.54 in 2006, and Soni, on 2:20.69 to win the Pan Pac crown last year, have ever swim faster than the Russian unassisted.

The background to the race: Leisel Jones (AUS) claimed the crown at Melbourne 2007 in 2:21.84 in a final that closed on 2:28.67. That time was surpassed by no fewer than 40 women in the first four months of 2009 alone on the way to a world championship title race won by unheralded Nadja Higl (SRB) in 2:21.62 ahead of world record holder Annamay Pierse (CAN), on 2:21.84, with Mirna Jukic (AUT) taking bronze in 2:21.97. Higl and Jukic's times are the only efforts by Europeans faster than Efimova's today.

Olympic champion Rebecca Soni (USA) was well ahead of world record pace at the 100m and 150m mark but paid the price in the closing 20m of the race. In 2010, Soni proved she had learned the lessons of 2009, her season best of 2:20.69 in a textile suit just shy of Pierse's world mark set in a suit of the kind now banned. Closest to Soni was Jones, on 2:23.23 for silver at the Pan Pacific Championships ahead of 2:23.65 for Pierse, while Anastasia Chaun claimed the European crown for Russia in 2:23.50.

Today, Soni swam to win and did just that, hanging on for gold by a good margin as Efimova piled on the pressure down the last lap. "It felt great the first 100 and then I was trying to hold on at the end," Soni said. "I ran out of gas." Asked about the events of 2009 and that fourth place, she said: "I try to put that in the past. I proved I can win the gold medal." And how, though Efimova is building good momentum going into Olympic year.

Same for McCabe. "I’m excited and ecstatic," said the Canadian. "It’s a pretty important result one year out of the Olympics but I know this event will only get faster so I can’t step back by any means. My goal was a top-five but after the semis I knew a medal was possible. My coach told me to focus on my third 50 and that’s what I did. Heading into the wall, I didn’t know where I was but I finished strong."

The result:

  • 1. Rebecca Soni (USA) 2:21.47
  • 2. Yuliya Efimova (RUS) 2:22.22
  • 3. Martha Mccabe (CAN) 2:24.81
  • 4. Sun Ye (CHN) 2:25.09
  • 5. Rie Kaneto (JPN) 2:25.36
  • 6. Nadja Higl (SRB) 2:25.93
  • 7. Rikke Pedersen (DEN) 2:26.56
  • 8. Annamay Pierse (CAN) 2:27.00

Splits compared:

  • 2006: 32.19; 1:08.18; 1:43.97; 2:20.54 Leisel Jones (AUS) WR, Melbourne, February 1, 2006  
  • 2009: 32.03; 1:07.28; 1:43.42; 2:20.12 Annamay Pierse (CAN) semi-final Rome 2009 
  • 2010: 32.36; 1:07.58; 1:43.91; 2:20.69 Rebecca Soni (USA) Pan Pacs gold
  • 2011: 32.19; 1:08.05; 1:44.32; 2:21.47 Rebecca Soni (USA) Shanghai 2011 gold

History in the making:


  • WR (all suits): 2:20.12 Annamay Pierse (CAN) semi-final Rome 2009  Rome July 30, 2009
  • WR (textile):   2:20.54 Leisel Jones (AUS) WR, Melbourne, February 1, 2006 
  • First woman inside 2:25: Rebecca Brown (AUS) 2:24.76 Brisbane, March 16, 1994
  • First woman inside 2:24: Penny Heyns (RSA) 2:23.64 Sydney August 27, 1999 Pan Pacs gold
  • First woman inside 2:23: Qi Hui (CHN) 2:22.99 Hangzhou, April 13, 2001
  • First woman inside 2:22: Leisel Jones (AUS) 2:21.72 Montreal July 29, 2005 world titles
  • First woman inside 2:21: Leisel Jones (AUS) 2:20.54 Melbourne February 2, 2006

World-class stats: 

  • World Record wins: Lina Kachushite (URS); Silke Hoerner (GDR); Amanda Beard (USA); Leisel Jones AUS)
  • Title retained: Agnes Kovacs (HUN); Jones
  • Biggest margin: Jones beat Anne Poleska (GER) by 4.12sec in 2005
  • Closest shave: Kovacs beat Qi Hui (CHN) by 0.19sec in 2001

From the archive:

Agnes Kovacs (HUN), world champion in 198 and 2001 either side of her Olympic victory, was accused by doping testers of failing to submit to a control in 2007. But not only did she have justice on her side, she had 007 too: unable to produce enough urine at the pool, Kovacs invited testers to accompany her to an engagement with Sir Roger Moore, aka James Bond, as part of her work for UNICEF. Testers registered a no-show - and were shot down in flames.