It’s July 28, 2012. What turns out to be the night of the most scrutinized 100 meters of swimming at the London Olympics.
China’s Ye Shiwen, 16, covers the final two lengths of the eight-length 400m individual medley in 58.68 seconds, a time that didn’t seem possible for a woman.
Ye destroyed those closing 100 meters of freestyle 2.9 seconds faster than the next swiftest finalist and .03 slower than men’s 400m individual medley gold medalist Ryan Lochte. She shattered the women’s 400m IM world record by 1.03 seconds.
The last 100 meters were watched again and again, the eye-popping, dubious Ye flying past American Elizabeth Beisel for gold.
Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu says she remembers everything about that race. Ye was in lane five. Hosszu was in lane three.
“In my mind,” said Hosszu, the 2009 World 400m IM champion, “I was going there for the gold.”
Hosszu led Ye, Beisel and the field after 100 meters of butterfly and at the 200-meter mark, after the backstroke leg. But she fell behind Beisel and Ye on the breaststroke and trailed by 1.89 seconds going into those final 100 meters.
“A lot of people tell you before the race, stay positive, and you cannot think about what happens if you lose,” Hosszu said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I was so focused on winning. The last 100, I’m not winning anymore. I kind of gave up.”
Hosszu turned at the 300-meter mark, looked ahead, breathed to her right and saw the feet of Beisel and Ye pulling away. The gold was gone. Battling for bronze didn’t enter her mind.
“I kind of took a couple of easy strokes,” Hosszu said, “and I actually didn’t even make it to the podium.”
Hosszu trailed by 3.06 seconds after 350 meters, still clinging to third place, but was passed by China’s Li Xuanxu for bronze in the final stretch. She finished fourth, 5.06 seconds behind Ye and .58 of a second behind Li.
It was the first night of swimming at the London Games. Hosszu, then 23, had two more individual events left, plus a relay.
“My Olympics was pretty much done,” she said. “I wanted to go home.”
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