BEIJING (Reuters) - Federica Pellegrini broke her own world record to win the women’s 200 meters freestyle at Beijing’s Water Cube on Wednesday and become the first Italian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming.
Pellegrini powered her way to victory in one minute 54.82 seconds to shave 0.63 off the previous world record of 1:55.45 she set in Monday’s heats.
Slovenia’s European champion Sara Isakovic finished second to take the silver medal in 1:54.97 while the bronze went to China’s Pang Jiaying in 1:55.05 as the first three finishers all went under the old world record.
Pellegrini’s win helped erase some of the disappointment of the 400 freestyle two days ago when she finished out of the medals after going into the race as the world record holder.
“It wasn’t easy to come back after the blow of the 400 where I handled the race badly,” she said.
”The key this time was instinct. My coach told me to follow my instincts and that was the best way for me.
“I’ve reached three great aims, gold, the world record and getting past the wall of 1:55.”
Pellegrini went into the 400 final as the overwhelming favorite after breaking the world record at the European championships earlier this year and setting the fastest qualifying time in the semi-finals.
But she faded badly over the last 100 of the final to finish a disappointing fifth behind surprise British gold medalist Rebecca Adlington, whose winning time was more than a second outside Pellegrini’s heat time.
Pellegrini said the International Olympic Committee’s decision to switch the swimming finals from their usual night slot to the morning to fit in with prime-time American television had affected her in the 400 but made amends in the 200.
She vented her frustration out by breaking the world record in the heats then took her foot off the gas in the semi-finals to save her energy for the final.
Pellegrini, now 20, became the youngest Italian to win an Olympic medal in an individual event when she finished second in the 200 at the 2004 Athens Games as a 16-year-old.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)
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