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Olympic Swimming Records Smashed, Hopes Dashed

Jul 30, 2012
Originally published on July 30, 2012 5:16 pm

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 she 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.

Anyone?

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The opening weekend of the Olympics had its share of ups and downs. We're going to hear about some of them, starting with swimming, which brought world records, a stunning loss and an unexpected medal before an adoring home crowd. NPR's Tom Goldman was there.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: First, a world record.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Dana, how does it feel?

DANA VOLLMER: How does it feel? Oh.

GOLDMAN: Before American Dana Vollmer answers how a 55.98-second 100-meter butterfly - fastest time ever and 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 last night, asked: How does it feel? She choked out this answer...

VOLLMER: Cool.

GOLDMAN: It's cool was Cullen Jones' attitude as well after he and his American teammates on the men's four-by-100 meter freestyle relay team won the silver medal last night.

CULLEN JONES: Since I've looked at my Twitter, we've made everyone happy. So, we made people proud.

GOLDMAN: Easily 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 kick-turn at 50 meters 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 afterwards. Cullen Jones did.

JONES: He was beating on himself. And, 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GOLDMAN: 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 Team 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 team.

REBECCA ADLINGTON: Yeah, it's pressure, but at the same time, it's been support. It's just them saying good luck. They don't mean you better get a gold medal. It's just been great, and that shows by the crowd's reaction there when I got a bronze. They were so, so happy. And I can't wait to go to medals now, if I can find a hairbrush.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: 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 GB can cross that very big to-do off its list, unless someone else wants to win gold before her. Anyone? Tom Goldman, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.