Print and Go Back espnW.com: Olympic Sports

Friday, August 3, 2012
Dana Vollmer, Rebecca Soni bond

By Wayne Drehs

LONDON -- Their room in the Olympic village certainly has a number. One, two or perhaps even three digits to let outsiders know exactly who sleeps behind these doors. But in the room where Dana Vollmer and Rebecca Soni stay, a number isn't necessary. Instead, this room should have a name: The Gold Medal World Record Abode.

Of the five world records set at the London Aquatics Centre this week, two have been by the women who call the same village room home. Vollmer started it off Sunday night, earning a gold medal while becoming the first woman to break 56 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly, finishing in 55.98. Wednesday night, Soni followed suit, swimming a world-record time of 2 minutes, 20 seconds in the semifinals of the 200 breaststroke.

Less than 24 hours later, in the final, Soni lowered the mark to 2:19.59 while becoming the first woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the event.

"We've kind of mentioned it, I guess," Vollmer said. "But that's really about it. It's weird to think that no one has ever gone faster than we have. It's still kind of sinking in. Like, 'Oh god, what did we just do?'"

What they've done is lean on each other during the nerve-racking times prior to competition. They've used the strength of their friendship to help them stay calm in the water. And the result has been Olympic greatness.

"I'm so proud of our room," Soni said.

Vollmer and Soni first roomed together at the world championships last summer. It went so well that they requested to be together in London. The night before they boarded separate planes and began their monthlong quests toward Olympic glory, Soni and Vollmer couldn't stop talking on the phone.

The roommates were packing for training camps in Knoxville and France and for two weeks at the Olympics, so they had to be sure they weren't forgetting anything. How many jackets are you bringing? How many pairs of shoes? What kinds of shirts?

They talked about which movies they had on their iPads and which ones they each should rent. And they agreed they would bring journals so they could write about their experiences.

"I think we talked the whole night," Vollmer said. "Making sure we had everything."

Now, they watch movies, write in their journals and talk. At night, when the door is closed and the hour is late, they confide in each other about the greatest fears. They talk about nerves. About pain. Discomfort. The things they worry might go wrong. And since training camp, it's worked.

"She's one of the few people I'm willing to open up to about things like being nervous," Vollmer said. "We work the same way. We process swimming the same way. It's just been awesome."

"We are so good together," Soni added. "If I'm worried about something I can talk to her and feel better every time."

The night before Vollmer's 100 fly, her body felt sore. She was fatigued, and she worried she wasn't going to swim well. But she talked to Soni, whose body was feeling the exact same way. They figured out it was normal. And then they both felt better.

"She helped through that," Vollmer said. "It was a total confidence booster."

On the day of Vollmer's 100 fly final, the two lived on the "Dana schedule." They woke up, ate breakfast, went to the pool and took a nap all when Vollmer wanted. The next night, when Soni swam in the final of the 100 breast, they followed the "Rebecca schedule."

"We slept in," Vollmer said, "'cause that's what Rebecca likes to do."

Later that night, after Soni finished second in the 100 breast, it was Vollmer who helped lift her roomie's spirits.

"I definitely felt a little bit left out after the 100 when I got a silver," Soni said. "All this, 'I'm not as good as Dana.' But she is just so inspirational to me. She's helped me so much. We've helped each other."

Then on Wednesday and Thursday, Soni got a world record and later a gold medal of her own. When she was younger, one of her coaches told her she would be the first woman to break 2:20 in the 200 breast. She shrugged it off at the time, but kept the number in the back of her mind, just like Vollmer did in her quest to break :56 in the fly.

On Thursday, it happened. And when it did, the typically serious Soni let out a huge smile and fist-pumped the water three times. It was a reaction that tickled her coach, Dave Salo.

"I'm more excited about the happiness. I'm just ecstatic about that," Salo said. "She's a very, very serious athlete. She doesn't give herself much of a chance to celebrate, but she'll be celebrating now."

Vollmer noticed the reaction, too.

"I just loved seeing her face light up," Vollmer said.

And there is more to come, when the roommates team up for the 4x100 medley relay that will close the swimming program Saturday night.

"We've been talking about that medley relay since trials," Vollmer said. "I think it's both of our favorite relays. It's sort of like 'our relay.' I don't ever remember a time where I haven't gone after 'Reb' in that relay. I can't wait."