Steffen wins 100 free to complete comeback

Britta Steffen almost quit after the last Olympics. But she took a year off, sorted out some personal problems.

updated: August 22, 2008 09:10 IST
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Britta Steffen almost quit after the last Olympics. But she took a year off, sorted out some personal problems and on Friday won Germany's first swimming medal of the Beijing Games.

Steffen won the 100-meter freestyle in 53.12 seconds, setting an Olympic record.

"My coach told me the other girls were going to be very fast. I just closed my eyes and tried not to be disturbed and it turned out well," Steffen said.

At the 2000 Sydney Games, when Steffen was 16, she earned a bronze medal as a member of Germany's 800 free relay squad, even though she did not swim the final.

Her best result in Athens four years ago was a fourth-place finish as a member of the 400 free relay team, when she again did not compete in the gold-medal race.

After the Athens Games, Steffen took a year off and sought help from a psychologist, for reasons she hasn't elaborated on. She came back in August 2005 and won the 50 and 100 free at the German championships, then dominated the 2006 European Championships with four golds, one silver and three world records.

"I enjoy my life. I have a positive environment in Berlin and I train in one of the best pools we have," said Steffen, who still works with a sports psychologist.

Her mark of 53.30 seconds in the 100 stood for nearly two years until Libby Trickett improved it to 52.88 in March.

Despite the record, Trickett only barely qualified for the final when Pang Jiaying of China was disqualified, setting up the Australian to swim in lane 8 alongside Steffen.

"I'm glad she was there," Steffen said. "In an Olympic final you want to compete against the best. It would have been difficult without her."

Trickett took silver in 53.16 and Nathalie Coughlin of the United States settled for bronze in 53.39.

"It was good that I had her next to me," Steffen said of Trickett. "She's so different from me. She starts faster and I swim more evenly. At the end of the day, she's the world record holder and she's only second, but that's what sport is all about."

Trickett won the 100 butterfly on Monday.

"Britta is a wonderful person and a great competitor," said the Australian, who reached over the lane rope and offered Steffen a congratulatory hug. "Full credit to her. She kept driving through the wall."

When the race was over, Steffen waited a few seconds before turning around to see her result.

"At that moment I didn't know what had happened on the other side," she said. "I only knew where Libby was beside me, and I thought I should be faster than her. But then I turned around and everything was great."

Steffen was to race in the 50 free heats later Friday.