London 2012 Olympics: Lithuanian teen stars in the pool

HEROICS::Ruta Meilutyte had to do it the hard way in the women’s 100m breaststroke final, survivng a fierce challenge from reigning world champion Rebecca Soni of the US

Reuters, LONDON

Wed, Aug 01, 2012 - Page 20

Lithuanian swimmer Ruta Meilutyte struck Olympic gold on Monday in the women’s 100m breaststroke aged just 15, capping a dramatic day in the pool where Frenchman Yannick Agnel also beat a US favorite to win the men’s 200m freestyle.

On the third full day of competition in London, Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen’s world record win in the 400m individual medley on Saturday raised eyebrows in the world’s media about the 16-year-old, prompting her to deny that she had taken performance-enhancing drugs.

However, it was heroics in the water that set ablaze the Olympic Village, and in particular those of Meilutyte, the first swimmer from her country to win an Olympic medal.

The Lithuanian had to do it the hard way, surviving a fierce challenge from Rebecca Soni of the US, the reigning world champion in the event, and just holding her off at the death.

“I can’t believe it,” a stunned Meilutyte managed to say in a post-race poolside interview.

Agnel, a 20-year-old who reads the poetry of Charles Baudelaire between races to relax, captured a second gold medal in 24 hours after his stunning anchor leg won France the 4x100m freestyle relay the previous night.

He had to beat a stellar field, including US world champion Ryan Lochte, who ended up fourth.

The US caught up some ground on China in the medals rankings, though, with two late golds in the pool.

Matt Grevers collected his first individual gold in the final of the men’s 100m backstroke, while teenager Missy Franklin won the women’s 100m backstroke.

It took the US gold tally to five by the end of the third full day of competition, still four golds behind medal table leaders China on nine.

At a press briefing at the main Olympic site in London’s East End, reporters asked Arne Ljungqvist, International Olympic Committee medical chief, whether Chinese Ye’s sensational victory was in any way suspicious.

“I say no,” replied Ljungqvist, who has 40 years experience in anti-doping.

“Should a sudden raise in performance or a win be primarily suspect of being a cheat, then sport is in danger because this ruins the charm of sport,” he added.

Ye, who turned 16 in March, powered to gold in the 400m individual medley at the weekend and became the first female swimmer to break a world record since the ban of high-tech suits, taking more than a second off the previous benchmark.

She brushed aside doping suspicions, saying Chinese athletes were clean.

“My results come from hard work and training, and I would never used any banned drugs. The Chinese people have clean hands,” she told reporters.

Yesterday, the last of Taiwan’s swimmers, Cheng Wan-jung, finished last out of 28 competitors in the heats of the women’s 200m butterfly and was eliminated.

A row over empty seats at venues across London rumbled on, with Olympic organizers under pressure to fill arenas and placate a public furious at seeing television pictures of unused places, having been told months ago that venues had sold out.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said volunteers, soldiers and the public would be able to take some of the available places, but added: “You’ll never have complete eradication of empty seats.”

Ticketing confusion also led to the opposite problem — overcrowding — in at least one instance on Monday.

Dozens of angry ticketholders trying to get into the men’s 10m air rifle competition at Royal Artillery Barracks were turned away because the venue was too full.

However, London’s transport system largely defied predictions of gridlock on the first regular working day of the Games.

Transport bosses expect an extra 3 million journeys per day on top of the usual 12 million during the Games, an Olympian test for an underground train network that first opened in 1863 during the reign of Queen Victoria.

On the first morning rush hour since the Games opened on Friday night, commuters said buses, trains and the underground were working surprisingly smoothly with few hiccups, and roads were generally clear.

Chris Round, 23, from Boston, Massachusetts, took the underground and Docklands Light Railway to watch the judo.

“It was real easy to get to,” he said. “We just got on the first train that came. It was kinda crowded, but it wasn’t bad.”

Additional reporting by Staff writer