Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Larson upsets Soni, Hardy in 100 breast
OMAHA, Neb. -- Breeja Larson's face said it all. First she looked confused, then startled and finally shocked.
The Texas A&M sophomore had just edged world champion Rebecca Soni to win the 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials and earn herself a ticket to London.
Larson won in 1 minute, 5.92 seconds Wednesday night, with Soni closing quickly in 1:05.99 to take the second spot on the U.S. team.
Jessica Hardy missed out by finishing third in 1:06.53.
Larson squinted at the overhead scoreboard, her mouth agape, trying to figure out what had happened while nearly 13,000 fans roared.
"I saw about three people (listed). I was like, `Which one is it?" she said. "I heard him announce my name a couple times. I was like, `That must be a good thing."
Larson, who didn't start swimming competitively until 17, pulled off the night's biggest upset in her first time at trials. Soni and Hardy, who both train at Southern California, had been expected to claim the two Olympic berths.
Instead, it was the woman who did volleyball, softball and track at Mountain View High in Mesa, Ariz., who beat them both.
"I loved all of it and I hated swimming. It was just boring," Larson said, recalling her summers spent with the Mesa Aquatics Club. Her coach, Brad Hering, told her then that she would make a team.
"I was like, `Oh, whatever," she said.
Larson wasn't highly recruited out of high school, but she loved Texas A&M as soon as she stepped on campus. She's the first Aggie swimmer to make the Olympics in an individual event. She had said after the semifinals that she wanted to do well for the sake of coach Steve Bultman.
"I just want Steve to have just as much glory as I do," he said. "He means everything to me. He's the best coach in the world. I'm so, so happy that I can make him proud and be able to show the world that he's a wonderful breaststroker coach."
About an hour before the final, Larson talked to Roth to calm herself down.
"Adrenaline just kept rushing through and I was getting really tense about it," she said.
Once she dived off the blocks, Larson put the pedal to the metal.
"I just went," she said. "I tried to make my first 50 a little bit faster so coming home I might have a chance."
Did she ever.
Soni is known for her closing surge, but she couldn't catch Larson, who came in with the third-fastest qualifying time.
"She wasn't expected to make it," Soni said. "She's been getting better and better, so I can't wait to see how far she's going to take it."
Soni was nervous all afternoon, even though she swept both breaststroke events at last year's world championships in Shanghai and has been the top American woman in the stroke since the Beijing Games. She earned silver in the 100 and gold in the 200.
"It's a different kind of nerves, it kind of turns into an expectation," she said. "That's a whole new level of pressure. It's so much easier, looking back four years ago when nobody knew my name. If you didn't make it, no big deal. But now if I didn't make it, it would be, `Oh why didn't you make it? Why didn't you make it?' I'm really happy, really relieved. Really happy for Bree also."
Hardy still has chances to make the team in the freestyle sprints. She won the 100 breast four years ago at trials, but lost her spot on the team because of a positive doping test. She fought to clear her name and had her suspension reduced to one year.
"It was a great race for me," she said in comments to a USA Swimming spokeswoman. "I held it together, really happy with it. I gave it a good shot and I'm lucky I still have some races to go. Just try to stay calm and stay grateful."
Larson is anticipating meeting the rest of her new Olympic teammates, including Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.
"I see them walking by and I want to introduce myself and say hi, but I don't want to be a fan," she said. "My coach always tells me, `You get to this meet just like everyone else, don't be a fan, be a swimmer.' Now I get to meet them and I'm really excited."
Larson's father, Kjell, had promised her a steak dinner if she made the Olympics.
"After the steak has settled in I might believe it," she said, smiling.