Lithuanian teenager Ruta Meilutyte lit up the second day of action at the world swimming championships with the first world record of the week as Brazil, Australia, Hungary and Sweden all struck gold at Barcelona’s hilltop Palau Sant Jordi on Monday.
Following up on her Olympic title in London last year, 16-year-old Meilutyte scorched to a time of 1 minute, 4.35 seconds in the semi-finals of the 100m breaststroke, shaving a 0.1 seconds off the previous record of 1:04.45 set by Jessica Hardy of the US in 2009.
Cesar Cielo of Brazil claimed a second consecutive 50m butterfly title, Australia’s Christian Sprenger took gold in the 100m breaststroke and there were triumphs for Katinka Hosszu of Hungary in the 200m individual medley and Swedish teenager Sarah Sjostrom in the 100m butterfly.
Hosszu’s race produced the biggest surprise of the day when Olympic champion Ye Shiwen of China failed to defend her title from the 2011 championships in Shanghai and finished outside the medals in fourth.
Meilutyte, who trains in England and is chasing the tiny Baltic nation’s first world championship gold, had already gone close to the world record in her heat on Monday morning with a time of 1:04.52.
She then became the first Lithuanian woman to break a swimming world record since the nation gained its independence from the Soviet Union more than two decades ago.
Improving on Hardy’s time had been “one of her dreams” and was more important than winning the final, but a gold would nonetheless be the “cherry on the cake,” Meilutyte told reporters.
Australia came into the championships hoping to put a woeful performance at the London Olympics behind them and Sprenger gave them just the tonic they were seeking when he came from behind to beat Olympic champion and world-record holder Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa in the day’s opening final.
Van der Burgh, who was coming back from a knee injury, led at the turn, but Sprenger powered through to touch in a time of 58.79 seconds, with the South African just behind in 58.97. Felipe Lima of Brazil took bronze with 59.65.
“I remember getting to that first wall and thinking: ‘Man, I’m traveling really fast and it’s not even hurting at all,’ so I knew I was on track,” Sprenger told reporters.
Victory for Brazilian Cielo, a gold medalist in Shanghai, made him only the second man to win the 50m butterfly twice after South African Roland Schoeman.
In a relatively slow race, Cielo touched in 23.01 seconds and was close to tears on the podium as his national anthem boomed out around the arena. Eugene Godsoe of the US took silver in 23.05 and Fred Bousquet of France was third in 23.11.
“It was a very tense final, everyone was very nervous,” Cielo, 26, told reporters. “I think my finish was the key, I think I just put my hand on the wall and I would say that last 10, even the last five meters, that was the main difference for me.”
Sjostrom, who won the 100m butterfly at the 2009 championships in Rome, reclaimed the title after a fourth-placed finish in Shanghai.
The 19-year-old touched in a time of 56.53 seconds, while Australia’s Alicia Coutts repeated her silver from 2011 with 56.97. Olympic champion and world-record holder Dana Vollmer of the US was third in 57.24.
Coutts went on to claim another silver in the 200m medley, which may help make up for the disappointment of surrendering the lead to the US on the final leg of Sunday’s 4x100m freestyle relay.
Hungary’s Hosszu, sixth in Shanghai and a bronze medalist in Rome in 2009, led on all four legs and touched in a time of 2 minutes, 7.92 seconds.
Coutts finished in 2:09.39, repeating her second place from 2011, and Spain’s Mireia Belmonte Garcia held off Ye and delighted the home support with bronze in 2:09.45, before dedicating her medal to the victims of last week’s train crash in Galicia.