Fifteen-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte edged out American world champion Rebecca Soni for the gold medal in an exciting Olympic Games 100m breaststroke final.
Meilutyte led all the way to post a brilliant win over Soni in one minute 05.47 seconds, prevailing by just eight-hundredths of a second.
The schoolgirl became the first to win a swimming gold medal for Lithuania, which was once part of the Soviet Union and tearfully said: “I can’t believe it, it’s too much.”
Meilutyte, who used her early speed off the blocks, held on to her lead despite Soni’s desperate finishing lunge at the wall. Japan’s Satomi Suzuki was third.
Meilutyte, coached in England at Plymouth College, arrived at the Games with a best time of 1:07.20 and bettered it by 1.73secs to become Olympic champion.
“I knew it was going to come down to the last five metres and I wish I had five more metres, but it was a good race overall,” said Soni.
The start of the final was delayed by a technical malfunction forcing American Breeja Larson prematurely into the water. “The start was definitely interesting, we were all put off in the same way, I felt sorry for Breeja, who actually jumped in the water,” she said. “It is what it is.”
Australia’s triple Olympic gold medallist and defending champion Leisel Jones could not go the pace and finished fifth.
Earlier, American swimming sensation Missy Franklin produced a rousing finish to overhaul Australian Emily Seebohm and win the women’s 100m backstroke final.
Franklin only swam minutes earlier in another event but still had enough to finish the better to down Seebohm in 58.33seconds. Seebohm was second in 58.68secs with Japan’s Aya Terakawa 58.83secs third.
The 17-year-old from Colorado could swim four individual events and three relays in London, a programme that could make her the first US woman to swim seven events at one Olympics.
“This is indescribable, I can’t believe that just happened,” Franklin gushed moments after her win. “I saw my parents reaction on the screen and I just started bawling.
“You never know until you see the scoreboard, I was just going as fast as I could I put in 110 percent effort and all the work paid off. I couldn’t be happier right now. I’ve just won an Olympic gold medal, so I am not thinking straight right now.”
The voluble American added: “It is exceeding the expectations a hundred billion times more than I think it could be like. I knew Emily Seebohm had taken out that heat, so I knew I needed to be out there and give it everything I had coming home.”
Seebohm, the fastest into the final, had swum an Olympic record in the semi-finals of 58.23sec but could not withstand Franklin’s powerful finish. British hope Gemma Spofforth failed to improve on her fourth on Beijing, coming home fifth.
Meanwhile, Matt Grevers led a US one-two finish in the men’s 100m backstroke, capturing gold in an Olympic record of 52.16sec. Grevers edged ahead with about 25m remaining and drove to the wall.
Ryan Lochte won the 400m individual medley gold as Olympic sup-erstar Michael Phelps was shut out of the medals in the first swimming final of the Games.
The race was expected to be a duel between 14-time Olympic gold medallist Phelps and Lochte – who settled for bronze in the event four years ago in Beijing – as Phelps made it one of his eight golds.
Instead it was Lochte who won in 4min 05.18sec, comfortably in front of Brazilian Thiago Pereira in 4:08.86 with Japan’s Kosuke Hagino claiming bronze with an Asian record of 4:08.94.
“I think I am in shock right now,” Lochte said. “Going into these Games I knew I was capable of getting the win. I’m happy that I was able to do that.”
Referring to the performance of his friend and team-mate Phelps he said: “I know he gave everything he had, so I’ll have to have a chat with him and see how he is after that.”
Phelps was fourth in 4:09.28 – the first time since he was a 15-year-old at his first Olympics in Sydney that he failed to medal in an Olympic final. He was fifth in the 200m fly in Sydney.
In the interim, Phelps had won six gold and two bronze in Athens, and of course his vaunted eight golds in eight events in Beijing.
“It was just a crappy race,” Phelps said. “I felt fine the first 200 and then I couldn’t really go the last 100.
“They swam a better race than me, they swam a smarter race than me and that is why they are on the podium,” he added.
Phelps was in trouble from the time he barely scraped into the final, putting himself in the unfavorable outside lane eight. He had never been seeded lower than fourth in an Olympic final.
“I was lucky to get into the final,” Phelps admitted. “After the heat I figured I’d be fourth or fifth.”
He never led, and once Lochte had gained the lead from South African Chad le Clos by the end of the opening butterfly leg, the race appeared to be his to lose.
Phelps had moved into second at the end of the butterfly, and held onto it during the backstroke leg, but as Lochte began to extend his lead Phelps was locked in a battle with Pereira and Hagino that he was destined to lose.
“It’s just really frustrating to start off on a bad note like this,” said Phelps, who is slated to swim seven events. “It’s pretty upsetting.”
The flop denied Phelps in his first bid to become the first male swimmer to win the same event at three successive Olympics.
He’ll have a chance at trebles in the 100m and 200m butterfly and the 200m medley, but Japanese breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima also has two shots at the achievement.
“The biggest thing now is to try and get past this and move forward,” Phelps said. “I have a bunch of races and hopefully we can finish this a lot better than we started.”
Earlier, Phelps paid for a miscalculation of just how much he nee-ded to put into the heats of an event he swore he would never race again after Beijing.
The American admitted ahead of the final that he had gone too slow in the morning.
“I didn’t expect those guys to go that fast,” Phelps said. “I just wanted to try to get some good underwater, try to get some good times.”
If there is one thing you should expect during the Olympics it is the unexpected and, as the first day proved, it is fatal to start believing the hype.
Anyone who supposedly knew anything about cycling had tipped Mark Cavendish to complete a glorious British double by winning gold to go with Bradley Wiggin’s historic Tour de France triumph.
You would have thought it was hardly worth anyone else turning up if you had been taken in by all the predictions for this gruelling 250km road race.
In the event everyone turned up except for Team GB and Cavendish who finished a dismal 29th with Kazakhstan’s Alexandr Vinokourov winning gold.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Cavendish who began the race with so much pressure of expectation on his shoulders. He was the only British track cyclist to leave the last Olympics in Beijing without a medal and now this.
He must think he is cursed. Maybe the British cycling stars were spent after their Tour de France efforts but whatever the reason the lesson was there to be learned.
Never ever underestimate your opponents or take victory for granted in these Games, no matter who you are.
There were more stories of triumph and disappointment. We had the hugely anticipated swimming duel between Ryan Lochte and 14-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
The build-up to this one was in contrast to the Cavendish cycling story as Phelps had been disappointing in the build up and only just managed to squeeze into the final of the Men’s 400m Individual Medley.
Sure enough, he never even won a medal and Lochte swam superbly to win gold comfortably and confirm his status as the new superstar of the pool.
Phelps isn’t done with these Olympics yet but this was the first time since he was 15 that he has failed to make an Olympic podium and you suspect he has made a mistake by coming back and trying to relive his glorious past.
Away from the high profile sports there we had tears of joy from China’s Yi Siling as she won the first gold of these Games in the 10m air rifle women’s event and drama when Italy won a shock gold in the men’s archery team event when Michele Frangilli held his nerve to hit the centre of the target to score a maximum 10 with the last arrow of the final against the United States.
Italy, who have never before won team gold at the Games, were nine behind with one shot remaining when Frangilli broke American hearts. Incredible stuff.
Britain’s Andy Murray, fresh from his brave defeat to Roger Federer in the final of Wimbledon, was in action alongside his brother Jamie in the Olympic doubles and crashed out at the first hurdle losing 5-7, 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 to Austria’s Jurgen Melzer and Alexander Peya.
This was only the hors d’oeuvre for what is to follow in the coming days; a gripping story of human endeavour; sport’s greatest drama.