Day 7 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai
Women's 800m freestyle
For courage, for bravery, for heart, for guts, the gold goes to both Rebecca Adlington (GBR) and Lotte Friis (DEN) but there could be only one winner after a boiling 16-lap stroke-for-stroke battle - and that belonged to the double Olympic champion, over the defending world champion 8:17.51 to 8:18.20. The argument was decided with a blistering 28.91 last lap, while the bronze went to former world champion Kate Ziegler (USA), in 8:23.36.
Adlington, Olympic champion over 400m and 800m in 2008, sunk in the dark sea of suits in 2009, Commonwealth champion over 400m and 800m last year and European champion over 400m in a week in Budapest that saw Friis take the 800m crown as the Brit fell off the pace in the midst of training for her priority meet of the year in Delhi, now has a world crown in her collection.
The naked eye barely able to split the difference between the leaders a league apart, Friis's 0.31sec advantage after 14 of 16 laps was the biggest the gap between twentysomething rivals until Adlington dealt the Dane a the killer blow of a 28.91 last 50m split on the way to settling the argument 8mins 17.51 to 8:18.20.
Every time Friis, gained from her superior turns, Adlington, coached by Bill Furniss in Nottingham, responded with superior swimming speed in tune to the thunderous support in the stands from a Britain squad that gave their hero a standing ovation from the moment she walked out on to her blocks on the burning deck to the moment she climbed down from the podium, the gold around her neck.
By the last turn, Friis 0.21sec to the good, Adlington showed she was sick of her steely shadow with a last lap that even outshone shiny suits: in Beijing in a LZR Racer (of the kind now banned) on her way to the world record of 8:14.10, the 22-year-olf from mansfield clocked a 29.66 finish. Friis mustered a terrific 29.81 tonight but had no more to give after having twice tried to break her opponent's resolve.
"At 400m I tried to get away but I couldn't do it," said the 23-year-old Friis with a smile after hearing Adlington chuckle as she confirmed that her tactic had been no more that to "stick to her whatever". The two foes of the fray have long been friends in sport too and have shared many a fine race down the years since their days at European junior level.
Today's tussle had a little history to it. The Dane donned a 100% poly X-Glide in Rome two years ago to win a race in which Adlington, having refused to move up from her 50% poly LZR to full rubber suits, was locked out of the medals and left the pool distraught. The feeling was never personal, many of Adlington's teammates making a different choice in the chaos of choices around them.
Tonight, it was smiles all round as Adlington said: "I'm so happy. It's absolutely amazing, It was thrilling. At the last world championships I got two bronzes so to come away from here with a gold and a silver is just amazing."
Friis, who enjoyed the rough of battle, would take away from Shanghai valuable lessons for London 2012 and work on different tactics that could help her avoid the same flow as that in today's horn-locking thriller. Ziegler, also a sub 8:20 swimmer and on a fine recovery path towards her Olympic ambitions next year, said she was pleased with her time in her first competition back in the big-time pool. All to play for a year from now.
Asked about the pressures of a home Games, Adlington said: "I'm the type of person that it doesn't know me down when I have a bad swim, I just get more motivated. I'm quite resilient in that way. I have pretty much learned to cope with that now, I think I've had to after the Olympics. I want to do well, I want to succeed, I don't put all the hard work in and get up early in the morning just to come and not make it happen. A lot of people do that sometimes."
History in the making:
From the archive:
Janet Evans (USA) endured as world record holder between 1989 and 2008. Evan’s Olympic titles of 1988 and 1992 were followed by world titles in 1991 and 1994, those successes making her the first woman to stand aloft the winner’s rostrum in any event for two back-to-back Olympic Games and World Championships. She bowed out of the sport after having handed over the Olympic flame to Muhammad Ali at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Just over a year out from the Beijing Olympic Games, Rebecca Adlington (GBR) could be found in tears after falling shy of her own expectations more than 10sec from her best at the 2007 world championships as Kate Ziegler (USA) took the crown. A year later, Adlington cracked 8mins 20sec for the first time and arrived in China a medal prospect just as Ziegler's form deserted her. In 8mins 14.10, she took gold and broke the world record that had stood to Janet Evans (USA) since 1989. In Rome, she refused to wear a 100% polyurethane suit and finished fourth in a race won by Lotte Friis (DEN) in the second-fastet time ever, 8:15.92. Time rolled back in 2010, when Adlington, Commonwealth champion, led the world rankings in 8:21.25 ahead of Ziegler, heading back to best on 8:21.59 for the Pan Pacific crown. Friis took the European title in 8:23.27.