By: Mark Maloney
SEC Digital Network
LONDON — For a second night in a row, Allison Schmitt and Ryan Lochte highlighted a banner performance by Southeastern Conference swimmers at the Summer Olympic Games.
Schmitt brought the United States’ 800-meter freestyle relay from behind to win the gold medal Wednesday, finishing in an Olympic-record 7:42.92. Lochte advanced to Thursday’s finals in the 200 backstroke and 200 individual medley.
A night earlier at London’s Aquatics Centre, Schmitt struck gold in the 200 freestyle, while Lochte led off the men’s first-place 800 freestyle relay. Schmitt, a Georgia senior, trailed Australia’s Alicia Coutts by 54 hundredths of a second to open the anchor leg. Schmitt pulled nearly even in the first 50 meters, then powered past to win by more than a body length.
"I knew it was going to be close," she said. "I was just trying to swim my own race and save legs on that first 50 meters, just like I did (Tuesday) night, and bring it home for the U.S."
Teamed with Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer and Georgia Bulldogs junior Shannon Vreeland, the Americas broke the Olympic record of 7:44.31, set by the Aussies four years earlier.
"I just got in the water as quick as I could," said Vreeland, who swam the third leg. "It hurts."
Schmitt was the only swimmer to go under 1:55 in the relay, splitting in 1:54.09.
Australia took the silver medal, 1.49 seconds behind in 7:44.41. France netted bronze in 7:47.49. Schmitt now has two golds to go along with a silver (400 freestyle) and a bronze (400 free relay).
"The first three ladies had an amazing swim," she said, "and I just wanted to bring it home for them."
Team USA won its morning semifinal in 7:50.75, ranking second to Australia. Lochte, the former Florida Gator, also won his second gold of the London Games and third medal overall. His other win came in the 400 individual medley, the silver in the 400 free relay. He also placed fourth in the 200 freestyle.
He won Wednesday’s backstroke semifinal heat in 1:55.40, ranking second overall to teammate Tyler Clary’s 1:54.71. Clary and Lochte also went 1-2 in the morning heats, winning their races in 1:56.23 and 1:56.36.
Lochte also advanced in the 400 IM, going 1:58.03 in heats and 1:56.13 for the top semifinal time. Beijing silver-medalist Laszlo Cseh of Hungary qualified second, followed by defending champion Michael Phelps. Lochte and Phelps were in the "ready" room as Team USA’s Nathan Jones edged Australia’s James Magnussen by a hundredth of a second to win the 100 freestyle.
"We watched it and just went nuts," Lochte said. "We were screaming and everything. ... We’re so happy for him."
Auburn’s (2009) Cesar Cielo, the world record-holder in the 100 free and who gave Brazil a tie for a bronze in 2008, led halfway through Wednesday’s race. He slipped to sixth place in 47.92.
Earlier, former Florida and Arizona standout Clark Burckle placed sixth in the 200 breaststroke with a time of 2:09.25. Gold-medal winner Daniel Gyurta of Hungary finished a world-record 2:07.28. Great Britain’s Michael Jamieson bagged the silver medal, with Ryo Tateishi of Japan getting bronze.
Two-time defending champ Kosuke Kitajima of Japan placed fourth, followed by Team USA’s Scott Weltz, then Burckle.
"I felt fine. I knew I’d be tired because the event was so fast, getting to the final was ‘right there,’" Burckle said. "I don’t know if any other event was like that, where it’s the actual top eight in the world right there in that final, the fastest final in that event pretty much all time.
"So I knew it would be fast. I knew it would take a world record to win. And I knew the Hungarian would be kind of biding his time. He was the only one who could get through (qualifying) without having to go all out. So I just, kind of in my mind, thought about that and then just tried to swim my race. But my body was pretty tired from doing three in a row all out. It was a solid swim. I’ll take it."
Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, a two-time Olympian and two-time NCAA champion out of Auburn (2012) won her morning heat in the women’s 100-meter freestyle for the Bahamas. Her time of 53.73 ranked sixth overall.
She didn’t survive the semifinals, though, placing fifth in her heat and 10th overall in 54.12.
"That was kind of a disappointment. But, honestly, ... I’ll just have to go back up in the 50 freestyle and go as hard as I can," said Vanderpool-Wallace, who will complete her degree after a fall-semester internship in Miami.
Auburn fans have encouraged her "a ton. Everyone’s supporting me a lot, and it’s really exciting," she said.
Also in the 100 free, Auburn sophomore Megan Fonteno of American Samoa placed sixth in her heat and 35th overall in 57.45. Auburn senior Micah Lawrence qualified for the finals of the women’s 200 breaststroke. She advanced in the morning heat, placing fourth overall in 2:24.50, then went 2:23.39 in the semifinals to qualify sixth.