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On a night of novelty at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium Dmitriy Balandin pulled off the biggest shock of the week in the pool when he took the 200m breaststroke title to land Kazakhstan's first-ever Olympic swimming gold.
21-year-old Balandin had scraped into the final as the eighth and final qualifier but produced the performance of his life from the outside lane to snatch gold in an open race, in which the eight finalists were separated by a mere 0.88 seconds.
Balandin, who had lost a year of his career to a serious knee injury before returning in 2014, beat Josh Prenot (USA) to the touch by just 0.07 seconds, with Russian teenager Anton Chupkov third.
“This is the biggest honour and the biggest thing I could have given to my country,” said Balandin, who won in 2 mins 07.46 secs. “It’s history, because it’s the first medal in swimming for Kazakhstan and I’m very proud and happy that I’m the one that got it. I think all of Kazakhstan will be drinking tonight.”
On his theoretically difficult lane draw, Balandin said: “There is a positive and a negative side to swimming in the end lane. When you’re swimming at the end, on one hand you don’t see your opponents so it’s very hard to know how well you're swimming. On the other hand, it’s a plus because when you don’t see them you can concentrate on your own race and not get distracted.”
On a fantastic evening of action Mireia Belmonte Garcia became Spain’s first women’s Olympic swimming gold medallist by winning a dramatic 200m butterfly final.
Belmonte Garcia, double silver medallist four years ago, went one better at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, edging out Australia’s Madeline Groves by three-hundredths of a second to win in 2 mins 04.85 secs, while Japan’s world champion Natsumi Hoshi won bronze.
It was a reward for the courage of 25-year-old Belmonte Garcia, who is allergic to chlorine and has to take special medication to be able to compete. She will be a contender for another medal if she qualifies for the 800m freestyle final being held on 12 August.
Admitting she was still nervous, Belmonte Garcia said she could not quite grasp her accomplishment upon exiting the pool after an enthusiastic crowd cheered her powerful finish.
“I couldn't believe it, and I can’t believe it now,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m feeling, there are lots of emotions. I knew that the second 100 metres were my forte. I suffered a lot in the last few metres but a gold is what I’ve dreamed about my whole life and now it’s come true.”