Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Great Olympic Streaks: Women's Swimming

Today's entry on great Summer Olympic streaks, the eighth of a 10-part series leading into Friday's opening ceremonies, focuses on women's swimming. One could argue that, whereas men's Olympic swimming historically has made headlines for athletes capturing large numbers of gold medals within a single Olympiad (e.g., Michael Phelps's 8 golds in 2008, Mark Spitz's 7 golds in 1972), the women's side may be characterized more by athletes' longevity.

That's not to say women's swimming is completely devoid of spectacular single-Games performances. In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, East Germany's Kristin Otto "won six gold medals, as well as setting world records in the 50 m freestyle, 100 m freestyle, 100 m backstroke and 100 m butterfly" (the other two golds came in the 4 x 100 freestyle and medley relays).

Several other women's swimmers exemplify longevity, however. Most visible to American fans would be Dara Torres, whose Wikipedia page describes her as “the first and only swimmer from the United States to compete in five Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008) … [and who] won at least one medal in each of the five Olympics in which she [...] competed.” Torres tried to make the U.S. team yet again this year, at the age of 45, but failed to qualify at the Olympic Trials.

Australia’s Dawn Fraser claimed 3 straight golds in the 100-meter freestyle (1956, '60, and '64), making her “one of only two swimmers to win the same Olympic event three times.” The other is Hungary’s Krisztina Egerszegi, whose 3 straight golds occurred in the 200 backstroke (1988, '92, and '96).

Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe will be seeking to match Fraser's and Egerszegi's three-peat feat in London, going for her third straight gold in the 200 backstroke, having already won it in 2004 and '08.

Natalie Coughlin, the 100-backstroke gold medalist in ’04 and ’08, sought to try for three straight, but didn’t qualify in that event at this year’s U.S. Trials.

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