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LONDON — Elizabeth Beisel came here as the world champion with the year’s fastest time. Then she ran into heavy weather Saturday night in the form of a 16-year-old Chinese typhoon named Ye Shiwen, who snatched away her golden dreams.
“She had the race of her life,” saluted the 19-year-old Saunderstown, R.I., native who represents the Bluefish Swim Club from Attleboro, Mass. “Congratulations to her a million times over. It is definitely hard getting second but I can’t complain at all.”
Not after finishing fourth four years ago in Beijing, when she was the US team’s baby sister. And not after Ye set a world record of 4:28.43, taking down the mark of 4:29.45 that Australia’s Stephanie Rice set in Beijing by more than a second. “We have good scientific-based training,” declared Ye, whose teammate Li Xuanxu took the bronze. “That’s why we’re so good.”
Beisel, who just finished her sophomore year at Florida, had been the clear favorite coming in but proclaimed herself happy with a podium place after going home to the Ocean State emptyhanded last time. “I’m totally satisfied,” said Beisel, who set a personal best of 4:31.27, second only to Katie Hoff’s American record of 4:31.12. “A gold is obviously something that would be a little bit cooler but any time you can do a best time the day is pretty special.”
The 400 IM has been a tough event for the American women for the last two decades. None of them has won it at Olympus since Janet Evans in 1988 and Hoff settled for third in Beijing. Beisel knew she’d be in for a fight, especially after she touched the wall last after the opening butterfly leg. But her nasty backstroke leg put her in the lead midway through and halfway through the breaststroke leg with 150 meters to go Beisel still had the edge. But she knew that might not be enough against her onrushing pursuers.
“I knew the Chinese would be able to bring it home,” she said. “That’s how they swim it. I knew I was in a little bit of trouble when they were that close.” Indeed, Ye’s final 50 freestyle split of 28.93 was faster than Ryan Lochte’s 29.10. “In the last 100 meters I thought I was behind so I tried as hard as I could to catch up,” Ye said. “Then I found out it was only me.”
So the Chinese, who hadn’t won a medal in the event since 1992 and never had collected gold, grabbed a pair in less than five minutes. And Beisel got a dream of a different color. “This was definitely the icing on the cake because finally it’s a medal for me,” said the only Olympian here from Rhode Island in any sport, who’ll get another chance in Friday’s 200 back. “But I am definitely hungry for gold.”
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.