LONDON – The thing about the Olympics, they don’t always turn out as planned.
All the endless hours, months, years of training and plotting and preparing can be undone by a totally unpredictable event.
That’s what may have happened to Rebecca Soni on Monday night at the Olympic pool.
Though these are the USC star’s second Olympics and though she’s an inexperienced international swimmer, she had a new experience in her 100-meter breaststroke final. An event she was supposed to win.
Her teammate Breeja Larson false started, diving into the pool at the sound of the horn but without the instructions for the swimmers to take their marks.
While officials tried to sort out what was the correct procedure, the swimmers waited on the pool deck.
“I’d never had that happen before,” Soni said. “You’re sitting there not knowing how much time you have. I was putting on my jacket… I thought they’d give us a little more time but then we just throw our clothes off and get up on the blocks.
“It was kind of unnerving.”
Larson, who has relatively little international experience, was allowed to swim because the error was technical, not hers.
Also unnerving was the emergence of an unexpected face: 15-year old Ruta Meilutyte, a Lithuanian living in Great Britain who swam blistering heats in the preliminaries. The new face touched the wall 0.08 seconds ahead of Soni.
“After the prelim swim, I knew she was going to be a great competitor,” Soni said. “It’s amazing to be able to do that at 15. She swam three great races (in preliminaries), so it’s not out of nowhere. I’m honored to swim with her because I know she’ll do great in the future.”
Soni is a one-time world record holder in the event – setting it at the World Championships in 2009. But she knew it would be tough to excel in both the 100 and 200.
“I can’t say I’m completely satisfied,” she said. “But I was happy to have been on the podium. I really focus on 200. That’s my baby.”
Swimmers are creatures of habit, who go through their same routines and preparation and visualization. Sometimes a change – like a five-minute delay on the pool deck – can change things.
Or maybe not.
“I don’t think I would have done much better if it hadn’t happened,” Soni said. “I can’t say for sure.
“But it was definitely a strange thing to have happen at the Olympics.”
Former Arizona three-time All-American Nick Thoman won a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke. The only man faster than Thoman was his teammate Matt Grevers who won gold.
“I looked a couple of lanes over and saw Matt just grinning like an idiot, so I swam over for a good, big hug,” said Thoman, a 26-year old Olympic rookie. “That’s not something many people get to share with a teammate and a friend.”