Analysis: Women's 50m Freestyle
Craig Lord
Money can't buy gold medals. Steffen (GER) comes from a humble background in former East Germany, she lives in a small flat in Berlin, she prized the gold medal over the rewards that might flow from it


Beijing 2008:


  • 1. Britta Steffen (GER) 24.06
  • 2. Darra Torres (USA) 24.07
  • 3. Cate Campbell (AUS) 24.17
  • Fastest field: 24.06 - 24.77


Comparison fields:


  • Melbourne 2007: 24.53 - 25.31
  • Athens 2004: 24.58 - 25.20 


Facts going into the race:


  • World record: 23.97 - Lisbeth Trickett (USA), Melbourne, 27.3.07
  • Olympic champion: Inge de Bruijn (NED) 24.58
  • World champion: Lisbeth Lenton (later Trickett), 24.53
Impact of morning finals - what it took to qualify for the semis:
  • Beijing 2008: 24.20 -25.07
  • Melbourne 2007: 25.23 - 25.70
  • Athens 2004: 24.66 - 25.68


Notes from the race:

Money can't buy gold medals.  Steffen (GER) comes from a humble background in former East Germany, she lives in a small flat in Berlin, she prized the gold medal over the rewards that might flow from it. And she won, by 0.01sec over Dara Torres (USA) a 41-year-old who spent $100,000 a year on an entourage of specialists to help her become the ultimate comeback supermom. It almost paid off - but not quite, and a silver plus two relay silvers at 41 is not a bad haul, to say the least. But the day belonged to a younger generation, Steffen taking the crown and teenager Cate Campbell (AUS) promising much for next time round, as early as Rome 2009 perhaps. And did you notice: 0.01sec again - but no appeal, no conspiracy theories. It was just the way it turned out. Just as it had been in the Phelps-Cavic race. Torres said: "It was tough to lose the 50m freestyle by one-hundredth of a second. I realised I shouldn't have filed my nails last night. When I was in the warm-up area and saw Phelps, he said to me 'you've got it easy, you only have to swim two races'." On her age, the American added: "What I've done is show them (middle-aged adults) that you can do it. I'm absolutely thrilled. If I can help, that's a rewarding experience. I have had a fabulous time being part of the US Olympic team. It's been awesome."

Torres dedicated her efforts to German coach Michael Lohberg, who was back in Florida awaiting a bone marrow transplant. Lohberg suffered aplastic anemia, in which the bone marrow doesn't produce enough new cells, leading to fatigue, increased risk of infection and uncontrolled bleeding. Treatment can involve blood transfusions or a bone marrow transplant. Lohberg had hoped to be in Beijing to see Torres race but must remain home for life-saving treatment. Lohberg also coaches seven other Olympians from five countries. "I wouldn't be here without him," said Torres. "It's not about 'I' over these last 2 years. We wrote this story together. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be here to finish this story with me."

New suit technology has opened up a new era of sprinting and masked more than many would care to admit. Libby Trickett said that morning finals and evening heats had little impact on proceedings. She wasn't alone. Understandable that swimmers judge things by what they do and what their coaches tell them. The result sheet tells us something different - the first woman through to the semis at the world championships in Melbourne - on 25.23 (Kara Lynn Joyce, USA), would not have made the top 16 in Beijing, where the last woman through had to clock 25.07. The change is more to do with evening finals than morning heats but the two things cannot be divorced, each round affecting the next to one degree or another, dependent on swimmer.

Impact on the all-time top 10:



  • 23.97 Lenton/Trickett, Lisbeth AUS
  • 24.06 Steffen, Britta GER BEIJING F
  • 24.07 Torres, Dara USA BEIJING F
  • 24.09 Veldhuis, Marleen NED 
  • 24.13 de Bruijn, Inge NED
  • 24.13 Campbell, Cate AUS
  • 24.23 Alshammar, Therese SWE
  • 24.49 Mills, Alice AUS
  • 24.50 Jackson, Lara USA
  • 24.51 Le, Jingyi CHN


All-time top 10, end 2007:


  • 24.13 de Bruijn, Inge NED 2000
  • 24.44 Alshammar, Therese SWE 2000
  • 24.49 Mills, Alice AUS 2005
  • 24.51 Le, Jingyi CHN 1994
  • 24.58 Lenton/Trickett, Lisbeth AUS 2006
  • 24.59 Zhu, Yingwen CHN 2005
  • 24.63 Torres, Dara USA 2000
  • 24.68 Sheppard, Alison GBR 2002
  • 24.71 Shan, Ying CHN 1997
  • 24.72 Volker, Sandra GER 2001




Of the five finals contested since 1988, De Bruijn and the Netherlands are out in front, with two titles (2000, 2004). The GDR and China dominated early events but their results were tainted by subsequent confirmation of widespread doping programmes. At 33, Torres (USA) became the oldest female to win an Olympic swimming medal, and will try to go there again at 41 next summer.


  • Fastest: 24.06, Britta Steffen (GER), 2008 
  • World Record wins: Yang Wenyi (CHN), 1992

  • Biggest margin: 0.31sec, De Bruin over Metella (FRA), 2004

  • Closest shave: Steffen over Torres: 0.01sec, 1008.