Understandably, the long-awaited duel in the pool between U.S. swimming stars Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps in the men’s 400-meter individual medley stole most of Saturday’s swimming headlines. The best 400 IM performance of the day, however, came in the women’s race.
China’s Ye Shiwen is only 16 years old, but she, now, already holds a swimming world record. Ye won the women’s 400 IM in 4 minutes, 28.43 seconds, the fastest time ever by a woman in the event.
U.S. swimmer Elizabeth Beisel, who swam the fastest time in Saturday morning’s qualification round and was the pre-race favorite, took the lead during the breaststroke portion of the swim between 200 and 250 meters. Ye, however, closed the gap with a superb final 100-meter split of 58.68 seconds in the freestyle, finishing first to win a gold medal with a world-record time.
Stateside, 17-year-old Missy Franklin has been heralded as swimming’s next sensation after winning five medals, including three total golds and one individual gold, at the 2011 World Aquatics Championships. Franklin has already won a bronze as a member of the 4x100-meter relay team and has five more events in which she will chase gold at the London Games.
The hype around Franklin is deserved, as she could legitimately win multiple golds at this event, but Ye is a teenage sensation in her own right. Her gold-medal-winning performance was no fluke.
Ye won gold at last year’s World Championships in the 200-meter individual medley, and will be the favorite to win that event, which begins with qualifications Monday and continues Tuesday. Ye’s best time of 2:08.90 is the fastest time in the event this year.
If Ye can win her second gold in London, she can establish herself as the world’s best IM swimmer and a young superstar who could contend for medals at the 2016 Games and beyond. Considering how strong of a swimmer Ye proved to be on Saturday, it's hard to believe she is only 16, but at her young age, she is likely just scratching the surface of her full potential.
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Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and also a member of B/R’s 2012 Olympics Coverage Team. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.