From Hannah Miley an apology, from the rest of the swimming world a collective intake of breath.
Opening night in the pool went off script to an extent that would have even raised a Danny Boyle eyebrow; the eagerly anticipated collision between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte proved a damp squib and then Miley failed to deliver a desperate home nation its first medal.
Instead it was a story of remarkable Chinese domination and that may prove to be the lasting tale of the week’s events in the London Aquatics Centre. And it is from Chinese ranks that a swimmer to counter Lochte and Phelps as man of the meet could emerge.
Sun Yang won China’s first ever men’s gold in the pool with startling ease on Saturday night. Tomorrow night he is set to face Lochte in the final of the 200m freestyle in what will be one of the races of the week. And then comes the 1500m, on the final night, Yang’s banker gold medal – he is the world record holder. The Chinese do not have the depth to match the Americans and the Australians in the relays, but three gold medals are a real possibility for the ultra-confident Yang.
This morning he swam alongside Lochte in the heats for the 200m free. The two played cat and mouse with each other – by the end of each length the 20-year-old from Zhejiang province was edging ahead but then Lochte would pull him in on the turn and emerge in front. The two prowled down the final 50m keeping a wary eye on each other with the 6ft 6in Yang snaking out a long arm to take it on the touch – it will be some contest. The semi-finals are this evening.
Lochte, who took the first of a targeted six golds in the 400m individual medley on Saturday as Phelps’s challenge never materialised, was also impressed with the performance of Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old who shattered the world record in the women’s event. Ye covered the final 50m of her race quicker than Lochte completed his. The American was easing up but it was nonetheless some turn of pace by Ye.
“We were talking about that at dinner,” said Lochte this morning. “It is pretty impressive. She’s fast – if she was there with me she might have beat me.”
Miley and the rest of the field had no answer to Ye, who is likely to double up with gold in the 200m IM later in the week – she is the current world champion.
“That was very fast,” said Miley. “For us it is an opportunity to learn from them. It's a privilege to be part of that race. It’s not very often you get to swim in the same waters as a world record holder. I do apologise to everybody that it wasn’t what everybody expected. For me, I gave it my all.”
Miley will also swim in the 200m IM – the heats are tomorrow, final on Tuesday – but given the form displayed by, among others, Ye, Beisel and Li Xuanxu, the 18-year-old who took 400m bronze, a place in the final may be the limit of her hopes.