Melanie Marshall broke down in tears last night after an "embarrassing" and "just awful" performance in the semi-finals of the 200 metres freestyle that ended her dream of spearheading Britain's Olympic swimming revival.
That particular movement, which aims to win a medal for the first time since the Atlanta Games of 1996, is still on hold, although a stunning victory for Stephen Parry in his own semi-final last night, in the 200m butterfly, was an unexpected boost.
The 27-year-old from Liverpool had only narrowly made the last 16 in his event, qualifying in 16th place yesterday morning. Yet in last night's race, pitted against America's superstar, Michael Phelps, who holds the world record, and Phelps' compatriot, Tom Malchow, the reigning Olympic champion, Parry clocked the fastest time of the night to win in 1min 55.57sec.
Afterwards he revealed that his knock-out performance had been inspired by watching a video, Rocky III, lent to him by team-mate James Gibson. "I love swimming for Great Britain, I really do care for this team," Parry said, explaining why his win meant so much after a poor showing from his team-mates so far.
"I think we have got off to a bad start and I wanted to do my bit. I have kind of shown my cards for tomorrow, these guys are going to have to go 1.54 to beat me.
"I am going to get some good rest and I am looking forward to racing. It is nice to beat Michael, although I know he was only swimming down after his earlier race."
Marshall, a 22-year-old from Lincolnshire, was ranked No 1 in the world this year coming into the Games. She led her semi for the first two lengths, but ended up clocking the slowest time of the 16 competitors vying for eight places in tonight's final.
"This isn't just four years of hard work [wasted], it's 15 years," she said. "Gutted would be an understatement. I don't know what went wrong. I had nothing left."
After a tremendous first 50 metres, Marshall was leading the race, with a split time of 27.46sec, well inside the Olympic record and three tenths of second off the world record. She was still ahead at 100m, inside the Olympic best, but was third by the turn at 150m and a goner by the final touch. Her time, 2min 1.06sec, was more than three seconds slower than that of Italy's Federica Pellegrini, who won Marshall's semi and was fastest overall on the night.
"I felt quite tired," Marshall said. "But I wasn't willing to let that be an issue. To finish 16th is embarrassing for me and for everybody else, it's just awful."
Asked why she went out so fast, she added: "That's how I swim races. I did it at the [Olympic] trials and didn't die."
It was at those trials in Sheffield in April that she set the world's fastest time this year. "Maybe I trained too hard," she reflected. "If my training had gone better the last six weeks I would have had more confidence."
One of the hallmarks of the regime of British swimming's technical director, Bill Sweetenham, is tough training but it is unlikely that Marshall meant her comments to be directed at him. In many ways she has epitomised the positive aspects of Sweetenham's reign, crediting the Australian as the man who gave her a "kick up the backside" two years ago, when her career over 200m really started to take off.
No doubt her confidence before last night was also dented because of the failure of Gibson, a friend and training partner, in Sunday's 100m breaststroke final.
In last night's showpiece race, the men's 200m freestyle final, Britain's Simon Burnett finished seventh. "It was an honour just to be in the same race as Thorpe and Phelps," he said.
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