In Thursday’s final of the women’s 200-meter breaststroke at the 2012 Olympic Games, U.S. swimmer Rebecca Soni accomplished multiple feats that no other woman has before. Most significantly, Soni became the first woman ever to swim the event in faster than 2 minutes and 20 seconds, with a world-record time of 2:19.59.
Soni, who broke her own world record set in Wednesday's semifinals, proved she is among the most dominant swimmers in London and certainly the best ever in the 200 breast. Soni became the first woman to win multiple Olympic gold medals in the 200 breast, matching her gold-medal performance Beijing in 2008, where she set what was then a world record with a time of 2:20.22.
Through six days of swimming competition at the London Games, Soni is the only female swimmer to defend a gold medal from the 2008 Games. Since the turn of the century, Natalie Coughlin is the only other U.S. female swimmer to win consecutive individual golds in the same event, doing so in the 100-meter backstroke in 2004 and 2008.
In addition to winning consecutive golds in the 200 breast, she picked up her second consecutive silver medal in the 100 breast. She was also a gold medalist in both events at the 2011 World Championships, and won gold in the 100 breast at the 2009 World Championships in what was then a world record-breaking performance.
What makes Soni an especially great swimmer is not only that she has had so many impressive performances, but that she has done so with such great consistency. The greatest display of her consistency came Wednesday and Thursday, as she was able to dominate the 200 breast field for two consecutive days and break the world record both times.
Soni already has a list of accolades that make her arguably the greatest female breaststroker in history and a U.S. swimming legend, but her career is far from over. At age 25, Soni should still be able to return for at least one more Olympics in 2016, and if she continues to swim at such a high level, she is likely to add to her medal total.
Soni’s 2012 Games are not over yet. She will swim the breaststroke leg for the U.S. 4x100-meter medley relay team, an event in which she helped the U.S. team win a silver medal in 2008. Soni could leave London with six career Olympic medals, and if she returns for the Rio Games in 2016, she would likely be a heavy favorite to win more.
If there was any doubt before the Games began that Soni is the world’s best breaststroker, and one of the United States’ best swimmers, she has certainly proven herself in London.
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Dan Hope is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the 2012 Olympic Games. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.
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