After being handed a small lead in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay by teammate and incoming Cal freshman Abbey Weitzeil, Cal alumni Dana Vollmer had first place and a gold medal in her sights.
Donning a red, white and blue leotard, Vollmer soared through the air with the grace of a bald eagle through the crisp Alaskan wilderness as she entered the water ahead of Bronte Campbell — a member of defending world champions Team Australia. The .61-second lead handed to her by Weitzeil seemed to be the early deciding factor of the 4×100 relay about 30 meters into her lap.
Campbell, however, was able to close the lead at the halfway mark and take Australia’s first lead of the race about 75 meters in — one that the Aussies would not give up.
Australia would win the gold in that event for the second straight Olympics, this time setting a new world record in the process with a time of 3:30.65. The Bears duo of Weitzeil and Vollmer — along with Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky of Team USA — finished a distant second for the silver medal at 3:31.89.
Manuel started the first leg of the relay for the Americans, butting heads with Aussie Emma McKeon for race’s first 100 meters before narrowly finishing .05 seconds ahead of McKeon. Weitzel, however, further cushioned Team USA’s lead with a powerful performance against Brittany Elmslie. As the former American record holder in the 100-meter freestyle, the incoming Bear gave the veteran Vollmer a .61 second head start over Campbell.
It was not enough, however, as Campbell was able to finish her leg with a .42 second lead that she would hand off to her older sister, Cate.
Ledecky — World Record holder in the 400, 800 and 1,500-meter freestyles — attempted to battle back and win the gold for the US in dramatic fashion. Unfortunately for the States, Cate Campbell’s performance in the last leg was too great to overcome.
Campbell immediately created space between herself and Ledecky, with the Malawi native swimming a whole bodies-length apart from her competition at the 50-meter mark. The race did not fare any better for the former Bear during the swim back as Campbell maintained a comfortable lead, defeating the United States by more than a second and breaking her country’s own world record set in 2014 by .33 seconds.
By winning the silver medal in the event, as disappointing as it was, Vollmer and Weitzel become the first Bears to medal at this year’s Olympics.
Contact Chris Tril at [email protected].