OMAHA, NE -- Texas A&M sophomore Breeja Larson out-touched the world’s best breaststroker to earn a trip to the 2012 London Olympic Games with a win in the 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on Wednesday.
Larson, from Mesa, Ariz., out-dueled two-time reigning world champion Rebecca Soni and current world record holder Jessica Hardy to grab the victory in a time of 1:05.92, which is the 12th fastest long course 100-meter breaststroke clocking ever. Soni trailed Larson by .07 to grab second place, and punch her ticket to the London Games.
Larson becomes the first Aggie to qualify in an individual event for the U.S. Olympic team, and the second Aggie ever to earn a spot on the prestigious squad. Larson joins Christine Marshall, who made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team with the 800 freestyle relay.
After the race, Larson gave the credit to Aggie head coach Steve Bultman, who has seen her progress from “project” to 2012 Olympian.
“He’s the best coach in the world,” Larson said. “He means everything to me, and I’m so happy that I was able to make him proud. I wanted to show the world that he’s a wonderful breaststroke coach.”
Bultman, who has led the Aggies to six straight top 10 team finishes at the NCAA Championships, lauded Larson’s hard work and competitive fire.
“It’s incredible,” Bultman said. “She dropped two seconds at this meet alone. It was just a phenomenal swim. She beat the best breaststroker in the world and the world record holder — just a heck of a swim. She’s fearless. She just gets up on the blocks and races. She follows the gameplan. It’s her first time to Trials, it’s her first time in a big-time long course national meet and for her to step up like this is huge.”
Hardy had the lead at the turn, covering the first 50 meters in 30.88 with Larson (31.04), Ellyn Baumgardner (31.32) and Soni (31.33) right on her heels. Larson and Soni charged to the front in the second 50, but Soni’s second-half split of 34.66 couldn’t catch Larson who got to the wall first with final 50 split of 34.88. Hardy finished third in 1:06.53, followed by Baumgardner (1:07.19), Annie Chandler (1:07.28), Emily McClellan (1:07.41), Micah Lawrence (1:07.67) and Ashley Wanland (1:07.89).
“The second 50 was just a phenomenal race,” Bultman said. “Rebecca and Breeja separated from Jessica, and Breeja was able to get her hand to the wall first. To be honest I didn’t know if she was first, but I could see that she was definitely in the top two and at the Olympic Trials, that’s all that matters. It’s a huge accomplishment for Breeja and for Texas A&M Swimming and Diving, and I couldn’t be prouder of her.”
Also competing in an evening swim was fellow sophomore Sarah Henry (Garner, N.C.), who was 15th in a time of 2:00.36 in the 200 freestyle semifinals and did not advance to the final.
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