The swimming career of Britta Steffen seemed to have hit the buffers after a disappointing Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. Gone was her motivation and her focus switched from competitive swimming to her studies. However, a sports psychologist convinced the East German-born swimmer that she had a future in the sport and soon the confidence came flooding back.
At the 2006 European championships in Budapest Steffen announced her return in spectacular fashion by breaking Libby Trickett’s 100m freestyle world record as well as helping herself to three other gold medals.
With just a relay bronze to her name from the Sydney Games in 2000, Steffen was ready to set the record straight with a stunning display of speed at the iconic Water Cube venue in Beijing. First she won the 100m freestyle gold by four hundredths of a second from Australia’s Trickett, who only reached the final after benefiting from a disqualification.
The winning time was an Olympic record and gave her the momentum she needed going into the race designed for the world’s crack sprinters – the 50m freestyle.
The biggest threat to Steffen’s golden double came from American veteran Dara Torres, the 41-year-old competing in her fifth Olympics who first struck gold in a relay in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
In the 50m sprint there is no room for error, and Steffen flew out of the blocks in a wave of white water as the world’s eight fastest female swimmers dashed for glory.
Steffen touched home first in 24.06 seconds, clear of second-placed Torres in the narrowest of margins, with surprise package Cate Campbell from Australia in third.
Campbell, who was just 16 years old, was not even alive when the veteran Torres had been selected for her third Games in Barcelona in 1992.