As recently as the 2000 Summer Olympics, the Americans women's swimming team matched the men's team in gold medals, winning seven gold medals apiece. Over the past two Olympics, the American women have fallen behind their counterparts, winning only three gold medals in 2004 to the men's nine and two in 2008 to the men's 10.
If the American women hope to stop their hemorrhaging of gold medals in London, they will rely heavily on Rebecca Soni, the winner of one of the team's two gold medals in Beijing. Since 2008, when Soni shocked the swimming world by upsetting Australia's Leisel Jones to win the gold medal and set the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni has dominated the breaststroke in national and international competition.
Prior to the 2008 Olympics, Leisel Jones was considered the best breaststroker in the world, having pulled ahead of Amanda Beard with her performance at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Jones won the 100-meter breastkstroke in Beijing, finishing 1.53 seconds ahead of Soni, who won the silver, but Soni's upset of Jones in the 200-meter established her as the heir apparent as the world's top breaststroker.
Soni continued to easily win breaststroke events in 2009, winning both the 100 meter and 200 meter at the 2009 National Championships by comfortable margins. Though she lost the 200 meter at the 2009 World Aquatic Championships, Soni won the 100 meter and won both events with ease at the 2010 National Championships. Soni beat Jones again at the 2010 Pan Pacifics and the 2011 World Aquatic Championships.
At this year's Olympic trials, Soni finished first in the 200 meter, though she lost the 100 meter by .07 seconds to Breeja Larson, a 20-year-old up-and-coming breaststroker.
Jones will be back again for her fourth Olympics to compete against Soni, where she will aim for her second Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter and first gold in the 200 meter. Soni has had Jones' number since 2008 and has shown no sign that she is easing up. Her biggest challenge will likely come from Larson, though Soni's Olympic experience should give her the edge in both events.
Soni is slightly more dominant at the short course than she is at the Olympic long course due to her impeccable turns, and she is the current world record holder in both the 100-meter and 200-meter short course breaststrokes. Though she no longer holds the long course records in either event, no one has won more significant competitions at either stroke since the last Olympics.
This year's women's team is the most talented squad that the U.S. has fielded since 2000, and Rebecca Soni is the team's best hope for multiple medals. Though she will face fierce competition from both other countries and her own teammate, Soni has proven that when it matters most she is nearly unbeatable.