LONDON — So much for all those dire predictions of records set during the high-tech bodysuit era standing for decades.
They’re falling quickly at the Olympic Aquatics Centre in London.
American Dana Vollmer took down another record in the 100-meter butterfly Sunday night, then Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa beat another in the 100 breaststroke — denying Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima an Olympic threepeat.
Not even through the second night of the London Games, three world records had already been set.
And they’re just getting warmed up.
Camille Muffat of France also won gold in a riveting 400 freestyle duel with American Allison Schmitt, the two virtually stroke for stroke the entire way. Muffat held on to win by about half a stroke with an Olympic-record time, while Schmitt settled for silver. Britain’s Rebecca Adlington brought out the biggest cheer when she touched third — the home country’s first swimming medal of the games.
On a night expected to feature a relay duel between the Australians and the Americans, Vollmer got things started with a bang. She was third at the turn but powered to the wall for a time of 55.98 seconds, beating the record of 56.06 set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom at the 2009 world championships.
Not bad for someone who didn’t even qualify for the last Olympics.
Vollmer dropped back her head when saw the time, then broke into a huge smile, slapped the water and pumped her fists.
“I’m on top of the world right now.” she said. “I still know I can go faster.”
Vollmer, who made the Olympics as a 16-year-old in 2004, was a huge disappointment when she failed to make the team in Beijing four years ago. She was slowed by injuries and health problems, making her question whether she even wanted to continue competitive swimming.
But her injuries healed, and a change in diet gave her a new outlook. She came close to breaking Sjostrom’s record at the U.S. Olympic trials last month, and set an Olympic record in the semifinals to come in as the top qualifier.
Now, she’s an Olympic champion.
“I kept telling myself that my strength is my second 50,” Vollmer said. “I kept really calm.”
Kitajima was trying to become the first male swimmer to win the same race at three straight Olympics. But, like Michael Phelps the night before in the 400 individual medley, the Japanese star didn’t come close.
Van der Burgh made sure of that, dominating the race almost as soon as his head popped out of the water for the first time. He was comfortably ahead at the turn and blew away the field on the return lap to touch in 58.46, knocking off another of the marks set at the 2009 world championships.
Brendan Rickard’s time of 58.58 was among the astonishing 43 world records established at that meet in Rome, when rubberized suits took the sport to times that bordered on absurd. The suits have since been banned, with some predicting that it might take decades to go faster in textile suits.
Only two records fell at last year’s worlds in Shanghai, but the Olympic meet has already beaten that number.
Australia’s Christian Sprenger took the silver in 58.93, and American Brendan Hansen claimed bronze in 59.49, providing a bit of salve for past Olympic disappointments. Hansen was so disgusted with his performance in Beijing that he retired from the sport, saying he was totally burned out. After giving triathlons a try, he returned to the pool and got back up to speed.
“That’s as fast as I can go right now, and I’m really pleased with the outcome,” Hansen said.
Kitajima didn’t find the speed he needed, struggling home in fifth at 59.79. The night before, Phelps failed in his bid to win three straight 400 IM titles, fading to fourth while fellow American Ryan Lochte took gold with a dominating performance.
Van der Burgh propped himself on the lane rope, breathing heavy and holding his hands on his head. He thought of his good friend, Alex Dale Oen, who was the world champion in this event but died suddenly in April from cardiac arrest.
“I just have to pay tribute to Alex Oen,” van der Burgh said. “I know that he’s been with me this year and helped me to finish the race in such a strong manner. If there is such a thing as a perfect race for me, I definitely think that I submitted it tonight. I don’t even care about the world record. Once you become an Olympic champion, you join the club.”
Lu Ying gave China another medal, taking silver behind Vollmer in 56.87. Australia’s Alicia Coutts grabbed the bronze in 56.94. It was a tough night for Sjostrom, who not only lost her world record but didn’t even get a medal, touching fourth in 57.17.
Muffat and Schmitt raced side by side the whole way in the 400 free, with Muffat clinging tenaciously to the lead while the American tried desperately to reel her in. She couldn’t pull it off, as Muffat touched in 4 minutes, 1.45 seconds to win by a scant 0.32 margin. Adlington was looking to defend her Olympic title in the event, but the big crowd seemed pleased that she rallied from a sluggish start to at least make the podium.
“I saw them guys. They were off. I just couldn’t keep with them,” Adlington said. “To be honest, I am so happy I managed to sneak that medal. … Another Olympic medal is just unbelievable, and there is not an ounce of disappointment in me.”