Fifteen-year-old Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania won the 100-meter breaststroke at the London Olympics on Monday, holding off American world champion Rebecca Soni in a thrilling finish.
Competing for the first time on a major international stage, Meilutyte showed her strong performances in the prelims and semis were no fluke.
She built a big lead on the outward lap, then held off the 2008 Olympic silver medalist on the return. Meilutyte touched in 1:05.47, while Soni’s rally came up eight-hundredths of the second short. Japan took yet another bronze with Satomi Suzuki in 1:06.46.
Defending champion Leisel Jones of Australia was fifth.
Meilutyte broke into tears on the medal stand, the enormity of her accomplishment at such a young age finally sinking in. She became the first Lithuanian to win a swimming medal, and took her country’s first gold in any sport since a shooting gold in 2004.
"I can’t believe it," she said. "It’s too much for me. I can’t really say anything. It was hard and difficult."
Soni swept the 100 and 200 breaststrokes at last year’s world championships, and was hoping to do the same in London. Now, she’ll look to defend her title in the 200 breast.
"I’m a little disappointed," she said. "I knew it was going to come down to the last five meters and I wish I had five more meters to get to that finish. It was a great race overall."