Nanjing 2014 crowns queens of the pool
Shen Duo (CHN), Liliana Szilagyi (HUN), Rozaliyia Nasretdinova (RUS), Hannah Moore (USA), Ruta Meilutyte (LTU), Jessica Fullalove (GBR) and Brianna Throssell (AUS) were the indisputable stars of six drama-packed days of women’s swimming action in the Nanjing Natatorium.
Nguyen Thi Anh takes YOG curtain-raiser
On 17 August, the opening day of swimming competition at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, Vien Nguyen Thi Anh (VIE) dominated the first medal race, the 200m individual medley. The 17-year-old, who had only managed to record the fifth fastest time in qualifying, led from start to finish, leaving her more favoured rivals to battle it out for the remaining spots on the podium.
In the end, it was Siobhan Haughey (HKG) and Meghan Small (USA) who claimed the silver and bronze medals respectively. “I knew that I would have to swim fast to win gold tonight, so I swam, swam and swam some more,” joked the victorious Asian.
The day’s second final saw China reign supreme in the 4x100m mixed freestyle relay, but only after a rousing third-leg fight-back initiated by Yu Hexin, who had already performed a similar rescue job in the heats. Shen Duo, swimming the anchor leg, resolutely held onto the lead to finish in 3:27.02 and win her first medal of the Games. Brazil touched the wall 4.53 seconds later, while Australia took bronze.
Szilagyi strikes gold
On 18 August, Liliana Szilagyi kickstarted what would be a hugely successful competition for Hungary by claiming the 200m butterfly title. Her triumph was particularly entertaining for the fans at the Natatorium due to her memorable celebratory dance.
“I said this morning that today would belong to Hungary, and I was right,” said Szilagyi, referring to the positive results achieved by her male compatriots that same evening. “I promised myself that I’d win a gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games, and that’s why I’m so incredibly happy right now. I did it. And that won’t be the last Hungarian swimming medal, I can promise you that.”
Elsewhere, Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte, the Olympic 100m breaststroke champion at London 2012, added another gold to her collection in the 50m breaststroke, overcoming the challenges of Germany’s Julia Willers and Hungary’s Anna Sztankovics, whose bronze medal confirmed her team-mate’s earlier prediction.
The most thrilling showdown of the evening was undoubtedly in the 100m backstroke, where Clara Smiddy (USA) arrived 1/100th of a second ahead of Jessica Fullalove (GBR), with Bobbi Gichard (NZL) a further 2/100ths behind.
Afterwards, the American admitted that she did not initially realise that she had won. “As I approached the wall, there was water everywhere and I had no idea where I was placed,” she recalled. “When I saw my number come up, I had trouble connecting it with my name. I wasn’t sure, so I looked over towards my team, and it was only then that I thought, ‘Yes!’.”
Back in the pool after the medal ceremony, Fullalove picked up her second silver in the space of 15 minutes in the 4x100m medley relay as she and her three British team-mates followed behind the powerful Chinese quartet onto the podium. Australian came third. Placed third as she commenced her anchor leg, Shen Duo propelled the host nation into the lead before bagging her second gold medal of the YOG.
Italians to the fore
On 19 August a dramatic evening at the Natatorium began with the women’s 800m freestyle. In an unusual quirk, Simona Quadarella (ITA) emerged victorious from the ‘slow heat’, but still logged a faster time (8:35.39, a personal best) than Spain’s Jimena Perez Blanco (8:36.95), who came out on top of the ‘fast heat’, and Johanna Evans (8:39.75) of the Bahamas.
Quadarella subsequently watched on in amazement as that time proved sufficient for top spot on the podium. “I’m very happy,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that I’d won, and when it dawned on me, I screamed for joy.”
There was even more suspense in the 200m backstroke final, as Ambra Esposito (ITA) and Hannah Moore (USA) posted exactly the same time (2:10.42) to share the gold medal. Esposito, who had surged to the front courtesy of a late comeback, stated after the race that she did not know if Moore was ahead or behind her.
“I just knew that I had to swim as quickly as I could and stay strong,” she said, jokily flexing her muscles. “It’s a bit of an odd feeling to share a medal, but I’m still really pleased – it’s a gold medal, after all.
As for Moore, her voice betrayed her feelings of relief, as she feared that her chance had come and gone. “It’s clear to me that I headed off too fast because my legs were burning in the last 50 metres. Once I touched the wall, I just thought, ‘My goodness, I lost’,” she admitted.
“This is the greatest moment of my life, though. All my team-mates were taking photos. I’m a big fan of social networks, so I’m sure that I’ll be spending some time online tonight.”
Last but not least, the final of the 100m freestyle saw home favourite Shen Duo prevail in 53.84, ahead of Siobhan Haughey (54.61) and Chinese compatriot Qiu Yuhan (54.66), increasing her medal haul to three in three days. “Today it was just me, all alone, without my team-mates, although they were present and gave me great support,” she said.
“There’s more pressure involved in winning an individual event, but you’re more motivated. I’m extremely pleased. I almost cried when the national anthem played!”
Shen Duo goes from strength to strength
Rozaliya Nasretdinova got the fourth evening of swimming off to a solid start on 20 August, delivering Russia’s first women’s swimming gold medal in the 50m butterfly.
Meanwhile local favourite Shen Duo continued her remarkable run in Nanjing, clinching her fourth Youth Olympic title in the final of the 200m freestyle after an arduous duel with her compatriot Qiu Yuhan, who had to settle for silver. Australia’s Brianna Throssell took the bronze.
Lithuania’s Meilutyte triumphed in the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.39, a good two seconds ahead of silver medallist He Yun (CHN). Meilutyte had already landed a gold medal in the same event at the Olympic Winter Games in London two years earlier at the age of 15.
“I’m completely delighted to have swum the race in 1:05,” she declared. “I would have preferred 1:04, but it’s still a great result. I’ve really been trying to push myself to the limit.”
De Waard and hosts shine brightly
In the final of the 50m backstroke on 21 August, Maaike De Waard (NED) held off a late charge from Great Britain’s Fullalove and Gabrielle Fa’amausili (NZL), who had clocked the best time of the heats but had to eventually content herself with bronze after a slow start. Fullalove’s silver was her third of the Games.
A joyful De Waard admitted post-race that what she was most looking forward to was a welcome holiday. “It’s been a long, long season, but this gold medal is a great way to bring it to a close,” said the 17-year-old, who trains 25 hours per week before and after school. “I didn’t expect it – it’s quite wonderful.”
The 4x100m medley relay capped off the night, with the robust Chinese foursome registering a winning time of 3:41.19, outpacing Russia (3:42.39) and Australia (3:44.44). For Shen Duo, who swam the anchor leg, it meant fifth gold at the Games.
Szilagy wins again
Liliana Szilagyi provided another reason for Hungary to celebrate on the final day of swimming in Nanjing by capturing gold in the 100m butterfly.
In a repeat of the 200m result, the excitable swimmer again saw off Zhang Yufei and Brianna Throssell to top the podium. The latter’s bronze medal was her seventh of the Games, which she earned in both butterfly events, the 200m freestyle, and as part of the Australian team for the four relay events.
Szilagyi continued to keep the Natatorium public amused with her idiosyncratic poolside dance routine, which debuted on Monday following her 200m butterfly victory, although her reaction was a little more muted this time around.
“After the 200m, I got carried away by the atmosphere and acted spontaneously, but today I was a bit calmer,” she noted. “But I’m just as happy as before.”
Aged 17, the Budapest native has aquatic sport in her genes – her grandfather, Deszo Gyarmati, was a three-time Olympic water polo champion, while her father, Zoltan Szilagyi, competed in three Olympic Games as a freestyle swimmer.
It was her mother that occupied Szilagyi’s thoughts after the race, however. “She won’t be able to stop crying, but she’ll be so happy that I’m living my dream,” she said. Throssell, meanwhile, was overjoyed to have amassed seven bronze medals.
“To get a bronze, to be the third fastest woman in the world, is quite simply a wonderful feeling– I’m walking on air!” she exclaimed.
Six of the best for Shen Duo
Another woman to enjoy multiple successes was Hannah Moore, whose fine 400m freestyle performance took her gold medal count in Nanjing to two. In a tight contest, Moore (4:11.05), who had turned 18 that day, pipped Thailand’s Sarisa Suwannachet (4:11.23) and Germany’s Kathrin Demler (4:11.25) at the wall.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present,” said the future University of Michigan student. “I wasn’t expecting it, and it’s just fantastic.”
In the remaining individual events, Ukraine’s Anastasiya Malyavina secured gold in the 200m breaststroke, while the Russian pair of Rozaliya Nasretdinova and Daria Ustinova finished first and third in the 50m freestyle, in which Australia’s Ami Matsuo also snatched silver. It was a second title of the Games for Nasretdinova, who was visibly proud to share the podium with her team-mate.
“It’s absolutely brilliant that we were both there,” said the victor. “Winning gold is incredible, but I’m aware that it’s still the Youth Olympic Games, and that I need to aim much higher in my career.”
Finally, it fell to the most successful athlete of Nanjing 2014, Shen Duo, to bring the curtain down on the Games in the same manner that she began them, contributing to a formidable Chinese 4x100m mixed medley relay team that overpowered Russia and Australia in a world junior record time of 3:49.33. In doing so, the new fan favourite expanded her gold medal haul to six.