LONDON – American swimmers won five medals – three gold, a silver and a bronze – Friday at the 2012 Olympic Games. Missy Franklin took top honors on a hot night for Team USA, winning gold and setting a world record in the women’s 200m backstroke in 2:04.06.
Fifteen-year-old Katie Ledecky also had a stellar showing with a gold medal and an American record in the women’s 800m freestyle, turning in a time of 8:14.63. And Michael Phelps won a gold medal in the last individual event of his career, taking the men’s 100m butterfly in 51.21.
Cullen Jones and Elizabeth Beisel also won medals for the U.S. Friday, Jones with a silver in the men’s 50m freestyle (21.54) and Beisel with a bronze in the women’s 200m back (2:06.55).
Through day seven at the Aquatics Centre, the Americans’ medal count in the pool stands at 28 – 14 gold, eight silver and six bronze. They lead all nations in the swimming competition.
Women’s 200m Backstroke
Franklin was in control and ahead of world-record pace from the start of the 200m back, building about a body-length lead on the field by the end of the first 100 meters. From that point, everyone else was racing for second as she cruised home for the win.
Russia’s Anastasia Zueva took second in 2:05.92. Beisel out-dueled Great Britain’s Elizabeth Simmonds in the last lap for the bronze. It was Beisel’s final race of the meet. She also won silver in the 400m IM on the first night of competition
Franklin’s win in the 200m back marks the first time an American has won this event at an Olympic Games since 1972, when another Melissa – Melissa Belote – won both the 100 and 200 back. Franklin also won the 100m back earlier in the week, making her the first American since Belote to win both backstroke races in the same Olympiad.
Franklin has swum six events so far this meet and has one race left in tomorrow night’s finals of the 400m medley relay. She has won four medals through day 7, including gold in the 100m back and 800m medley relay, and a bronze in the 400m free relay.
“It was an incredible field I was up against,” Franklin said. “On my way home – the last 25 meters – I know I was giving it everything. I could not feel my arms and legs.
“I knew I was going to take it out fast and have fun, and that’s what I did. I’m the happiest girl alive.”
Women’s 800m Freestyle
Making her first finals appearance at a major international meet in the women’s 800m free, Ledecky was up against two seasoned veterans in Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington and Denmark’s Lotte Friis, who qualified as the top two seeds.
Adlington is the defending Olympic and world champion and world record-holder. Friis finished second behind Adlington at last year’s World Championships.
If Ledecky was intimidated, she didn’t show it.
She was dominant, punishing the field from the start and never looking back. She was ahead by about a body length for most of the first half, and only increased that lead in the second. By the 700-meter mark, she was two body-lengths ahead of her next closest competitor, Mareia Garcia of Spain.
At the final turn, she was 31-hundredths of a second ahead of world record pace, but missed the mark – 8:14.10, set by Adlington in Beijing – by about a half a second. Garcia finished more than four seconds behind in 8:18.76, while Adlington was third in 8:20.32.
Ledecky shattered the American record of 8:16.22, set by the legendary Janet Evans on Aug. 20, 1989. That was about 7 and a half years before Ledecky was born. It was the oldest American record on the books.
“Michael’s and Missy’s races got me pumped,” Ledecky said. “I really wanted to see what I could do to represent the U.S.
“I figured I was going pretty fast. At one point, I thought, ‘If I’m not going to be close to this record, I don’t even care. I just want to get my hand on the wall first.”
Men’s 100m Butterfly
Phelps resembled the Phelps of old in the men’s 100m butterfly, maintaining contact with the field in the first 50 meters and surging ahead in the last 25 meters for the win. South Africa’s Chad le Clos, who bested Phelps in the 200m fly earlier in the week, tied for second with Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin in 51.44. Phelps’s teammate, Tyler McGill, was seventh in 51.88.
Yesterday, Phelps became the first male swimmer to defend a title in an individual event at three consecutive Olympic Games when he took gold in the 200 IM. With his win in the 100 fly tonight, he pulled the three-peat repeat.
He also won the 100m fly in 2004 and 2008. His combined margin of victory from both of those races was .05 seconds. He defeated teammate Ian Crocker 51.25 to 51.29 in 2004, then Serbia’s Milorad Cavic in 2008, 50.58 to 50.59. Comparatively, he won tonight’s race by a more comfortable margin of .23 seconds.
“I don’t even want to complain about going slower or having a bad turn,” Phelps said. “I’m just happy that last one was a win. That’s all I really wanted. This one was a bigger margin of victory than the last two combined, so I can smile and be happy. It was fun.
“It was just cool to be able to get out and feel the energy from the stands. It’s been loud the last two nights, and they’re cheering for us. The least we can do is put on a good show for the crowd.”
On Tuesday, Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time. His medal count now stands at 21 – 17 gold, 2 silver and two bronze. His gold Friday was his fifth medal of the meet. He’s also won gold in the 200m IM and the 800m free relay, and silver in the 200m fly and 400m free relay.
“The start of my meet wasn’t what I wanted, but I seemed to pick up some steam at the end of the meet and was able to finish with two individual golds,” Phelps said. “To be able to finish that way, you really can’t finish any better. I’m very pleased with how everything went.”
He will compete in his final event Saturday in the men’s 400m medley relay.
“I thought it would hit me harder than what it is right now,” Phelps said. “A lot of emotions haven’t come through my brain in the last week. Once I’m done, there’s going to be a lot more emotion. I’m kind of in meet mode.”
Men’s 50m Freestyle
It was almost a clean sweep for the U.S. in each of the four finals Friday, but France’s Florent Manaudou surged ahead in the final 10 meters for the win over Jones, 21.34 to 21.54. Brazil’s Cesar Cielo, the defending Olympic champ and world record-holder was third in 21.59. Jones’s teammate, Anthony Ervin, was fifth in 21.78.
It was Jones’s best showing in an individual event on the Olympic stage. He’s also won gold in the now-legendary 400m free relay in Beijing, and a silver in the 400m free relay on the second night of competition. He swam in the prelims of the men’s 400m medley relay this morning.
“I gave it 100 percent,” Jones said. “I’m happy the time wasn’t too bad. I’m thankful I got second. I was dreaming to get first, but it wasn’t in the cards this time. Getting silver was enough motivation for the future.”
This swim capped a remarkable comeback for Ervin, who retired in 2003. He tied for gold in the 50 free at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney with teammate Gary Hall Jr., and was also the world champion in this event in 2001.
He said he was inspired to return to the sport by a quote from the character Prospero, at the ending of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
“It was his redemption, returning to where he came from,” Ervin said. “My being here is my own redemption.”
Americans swimming semifinals Friday included Jessica Hardy in the women’s 50m freestyle. Hardy qualified seventh in 24.68 and will be competing in tomorrow night’s finals of this event.