Moments that made 2008: Rebecca Adlington's second Olympic gold destroys oldest world record in book

No 4: 16 August, The Water Cube, Beijing

It is a few seconds before 10.25am in Beijing on Saturday 16 August and the fingertips of Rebecca Adlington's left hand touch the wall to stop the clock after 16 lengths of the Water Cube. Simultaneously she propels herself to stardom. In winning the 800 metres freestyle final at the Olympics she becomes not only the first British woman to win two swimming gold medals – let alone in one Games – but pulverises the oldest world record in the books. And the opposition.

The photograph of that history-making touch tells its own story. Adlington, 19, is so far ahead at the end of the race that the other finalists are irrelevant. The nearest contender is Alessia Filippi of Italy in lane No 6. She is barely in the shot.

The only other moving thing on Adlington's heels for any significant part of the race is the line on the poolside monitors that denotes the previous world record. Not long after halfway, it was destined to be toast.

All of British swimming and much of Britain had expected Adlington to triumph over 800m, her preferred distance. She had, after all, already won her first gold medal a few days beforehand in her less favoured event, the 400m. She had swum the second-fastest 800m of all time in winning her 800m heat. But nobody, not even her coach, Bill Furniss, expected what happened.

"Frighteningly fast," is how he later described her 800m gold medal-winning time of 8min 14.10sec. "One of the all-time great swims," he added.

It was, it really was a performance for the ages and here is why. Adlington obliterated a record that had been set 19 years before by Janet Evans, a colossus of American swimming whose four Olympic gold medals included the 800m titles in 1988 and 1992.

Prior to the Beijing Games, Evans' world record of 8min 16.22sec, set in Tokyo on 20 August 1989, was the only swimming record still standing from the 20th century. Evans' record had also been the longest-standing women's swimming record of all time.

Adlington finished clear of Filippi by 6.13sec, the biggest margin of victory by a considerable distance at the summer's Games in any of the 34 swimming finals, male or female.

Even the gold and silver medallists in the marathon races, over 10 kilometres, were split by just a couple of seconds. For Adlington to hit Filippi & Co for more than six seconds over 800m was quite astonishing.

The teenager from Mansfield made the race her own within the first few lengths. The only stage when somebody other than her was ahead was after the first 50m, when Camelia Potec of Romania was slightly in front. By 100m, Potec had clocked 59.37sec, but so had Adlington, who then pulled clear and stayed there.

Late in the race, Potec's challenge crumbled. Filippi passed her between 650m and 700m, then Lotte Friis of Denmark, who finished in the bronze medal place, nudged her off the podium completely in the last 50m. By the time that happened, Adlington was already a double Olympic champion. She had completed the final 50m in 29.66sec, defying the laws of physics through sheer bloody-mindedness to swim faster than any of her previous lengths.

In the stands, Adlington's parents, Kay and Steve, leapt to their feet in celebration. Only an hour before, Adlington had felt so tense she had lain on the floor to quell nausea brought on because she was "more nervous than I've ever been in my life".

It transpired there was good reason. History beckoned.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015