LONDON – Lithuanian swimmer Ruta Meilutyte struck Olympic gold on Monday in the women’s 100 metres breaststroke aged just 15, capping a dramatic day in the pool where Frenchman Yannick Agnel also beat an American favourite to win the men’s 200 metre freestyle.
On the third full day of competition in London, Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella was expelled for an abusive message on Twitter after his team’s defeat by South Korea.
And Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen’s world record win in the 400 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-enahncing drugs.
But 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 American Rebecca Soni, 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 4×100 freestyle relay the previous night.
And he had to beat a stellar field including U.S. world champion Ryan Lochte who ended up fourth.
The United States caught up some ground on China in the medals rankings, however, with two late golds in the pool.
Matt Grevers collected his first individual gold in the final of the men’s 100 metres backstroke while teenager Missy Franklin won the women’s 100 backstroke.
It took the U.S. gold tally to five by the end of the third full day of competition, still four golds behind medal table leaders China on nine.
American Michael Phelps has a chance to make history on Tuesday by becoming the most decorated Olympian if he scores medals in two men’s finals.
It would take his tally to 19, one more than the current all-time record of 18 held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
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 400 metres individual medley at the weekend and became the first female swimmer to break a world record since the ban of high-tech suits, taking over 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.