Britain’s wait for a first gold medal of the Olympic Games continues after Camille Muffat of France took home favorite Rebecca Adlington’s 400-meter freestyle swimming title.
Muffat, 23, touched the wall in an Olympic record 4 minutes, 1.45 seconds, ahead of Allison Schmitt, 22, of the U.S. in 4:01.77. Adlington, a double winner in Beijing four years ago, clocked 4:03.01 for the bronze medal. World record holder Federica Pellegrini of Italy, the only woman to complete the event in less than 4 minutes, finished fifth.
“Being an Olympic champion was the most difficult dream to reach,” Muffat told reporters. “I knew this year I was the best, but I didn’t expect to win.”
The 23-year-old Adlington has been the face of U.K. swimming since she won the 400 and 800-meter freestyle titles at the last games. Fans in the 17,500-capacity Aquatics Centre in London had been hoping for her to kick-start Britain’s climb up the medal table on the second day of competition after the host finished without a podium place yesterday.
Cyclist Elizabeth Armitstead won silver in the women’s road race today for Britain’s first medal of the games.
“Twelve years of hard work have gone into that,” said Adlington, who was in sixth place during the middle portion of the race. “I’m pleased with that. I’ve got a medal at a games, not many people can say that.”
France’s team of Amaury Leveaux, Fabien Gilot, Clement Lefert and Yannick Agnel also clinched the men’s 400-meter freestyle relay by a margin of 0.45 seconds from the U.S.
The Americans -- Nathan Adrian, Michael Phelps, Cullen Jones and Ryan Lochte -- led until the last leg, when Agnel outpaced Lochte to clinch the gold medal. Russia defeated world champion Australia for the bronze medal. France was an outsider at 7-1 with William Hill Plc.
France and the U.S. swam a similar race in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when the Americans were victorious. Then Jason Lazek of the U.S. out-swam 100-meter individual freestyle gold medalist Alain Bernard to give his team the win. Bernard was left off France’s relay team this time around.
After two of his seven events, Phelps has yet to add to his record tally of 14 gold medals. Today’s silver means he’s now one short of tying the record 18 Olympic medals won by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina.
Dana Vollmer, a 24-year-old American, broke the world record to take the 100-meter butterfly gold. Her time of 55.98 seconds was the first below 56 seconds in the event.
Vollmer trailed at halfway to Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen before storming to victory ahead of China’s Lu Ying, who finished in 56.87 seconds, and Alicia Coutts of Australia. Sarah Sjorstrom, whose three-year-old record Vollmer broke, was in tears after the race. She placed fourth.
Vollmer had a wide smile throughout the medal presentation, during which she waved with both hands. She said she managed to get the best time even though “I didn’t feel so good in the last 50.”
“It was everything I have ever dreamed of, ” Vollmer told reporters. “I put that time in my head and I knew I could do it.”
Lochte, who yesterday dethroned Phelps to take the 400- meter individual medley title, qualified for the 200-meter freestyle final after finishing second to Germany’s Paul Biedermann, 25, in the first semifinal.
The 27-year-old Lochte’s time of 1:46.31 was the fifth fastest after the second semifinal. China’s Sun Yang won that in 1:45.61 ahead of fellow 20-year-old Agnel and Korean Taehwan Park, 22. All three men finished quicker than Biedermann’s 1:46.10.
Cameron van der Burgh, 24, followed Vollmer into the history books. The South African won the 100-meters breaststroke in a world’s best 58.46 seconds.
“I’ve been working towards this goal,” van der Burgh said. “It’s amazing. I’ve been doing so much hard work over the last four years.”
Adlington scraped into the final after her victory in her heat turned out to be the eighth-fastest overall. Muffat clocked the fastest time at 4:03.29, more than two seconds better than Adlington’s 4:05:75. Pellegrini, the world champion from Italy, made the final in seventh place in a time of 4:05:30.
Adlington, the only British swimmer to win gold at the last Olympics, said after qualifying that she wasn’t “expecting anything” because of her placing.
Backed by a vocal home support, Adlington fought back after falling into sixth place, although she was too far back to threaten the lead. Muffat had a marginal advantage during every split over Schmitt.
“I knew it was going to be tough and I knew it was going to be close, even before it happened,” Schmitt said. “I was just racing the whole time. I’m excited to get my first individual medal.”
Adlington’s battle with Pellegrini, 23, was one of the stories of the pool in Beijing. The Italian took the 200-meter freestyle before Adlington beat her in the 400-meter race and swam a world record time to get her second victory in the 800 meters, an event Pellegrini chose not to participate in.
Pellegrini is a pinup in Italy and one of the country’s most popular athletes. Her success has helped secure seven endorsement deals with companies including Emporio Armani and energy supplier Enel SpA. Adlington has three sponsors including British Gas and confectionary brand Cadbury.
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