LONDON (Reuters) - Yannick Agnel outsprinted some of the biggest names in swimming to capture his second gold medal in 24 hours at the London Olympics as Missy Franklin claimed her first to confirm her place as the new darling of the American team.
Lithuania celebrated their first Olympic swimming medal when teenager Ruta Meilutyte survived the ultimate test of nerves in the 100 breaststroke while the towering Matt Grevers led a U.S. one-two in the 100 backstroke final.
Michael Phelps did not compete in any of the four gold medal races but safely booked his spot in Tuesday’s 200 butterfly final where he can equal Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s long-standing Olympic record of 18 career medals.
Franklin also advanced to Tuesday’s 200 freestyle final after qualifying eighth from the semi-finals, just 13 minutes before the backstroke final.
“They let me use the diving pool to warm down and that was fantastic. It helped slowing my heart rate down and kept the adrenaline high,” Franklin said.
“Everyone told me I had to stay off my legs as much as I could during the first race but still do enough to qualify. It was difficult but it worked perfectly.”
Australia’s Emily Seebohm, who nearly broke the world record in the heats, was inconsolable after swimming slower in the final and finishing second ahead of Japan’s Aya Terakawa.
Meilutyte also began sobbing when she was presented with her gold medal after the 15-year-old, who was virtually unknown a week ago, became the youngest winner of the event.
Showing amazing composure after the start was initially aborted because of a bizarre technical mishap then Rebecca Soni drew level with her near the end, Meilutyte beat the American by just 0.08, with Japan’s Satomi Suzuki third.
It was only after the race that she lost control of her emotions.
“It is too much for me,” she said. “At the moment I can’t speak but it means a lot to me and I‘m so proud.”
Agnel, whose stunning anchor leg swim provided France with a shock victory in the 4x100 freestyle relay on Sunday, led all the way to win the individual 200 gold in 1:43.14.
China’s Sun Yang, who won the 400 freestyle on Saturday, deadheated for second place with South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan in 1:44.93 while Ryan Lochte, the reigning world champion, was fourth, marking the first time in three days of competition the U.S. failed to win a medal in a swimming final.
The 200 requires a combination of speed, stamina and tactical nous and Agnel used all three elements to win one of the most eagerly-anticipated races at London’s Aquatic Centre.
“I started really quickly on the first 100 meters because I knew I was the fastest,” he said.
“I tried to retain my speed with a little sprint over the last 50. I‘m really happy it worked.”
Grevers used every inch of his 2.03 meter (6-foot-8) frame to stretch out and win the 100 gold ahead of his team mate Nick Thoman finished second in 52.92 while Japan’s Ryosuke Irie got the bronze medal, Japan’s third on the night.
Chinese sensation Ye Shiwen set herself up for a second gold when she posted the fastest time in the semi-finals of the 200 individual medley.
The 16-year-old has already won gold in the 400 IM with a head-turning performance that thrust her into the spotlight.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury