London. Pieter van den Hoogenband. Inge de Bruijn. And now Ranomi Kromowidjojo, too, has joined the list of Dutch sprint champions at the Olympics.
Entering as the favorite, Kromowidjojo fulfilled her own expectations with a comfortable victory Thursday in the 100-meter freestyle — swimming’s signature race.
“It’s a great feeling,” she said. “Now I’m the next Dutch girl who won a gold medal,” she said.
It was the second Dutch gold medal of the London Games, after cyclist Marianne Vos won the women’s road race.
Kromowidjojo’s father is from Suriname, and his grandparents came from Indonesia, but Ranomi was born and raised in the Netherlands. She grew up idolizing Van den Hoogenband and De Bruijn, who won a combined 15 Olympic medals at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games. She trains at the Pieter van den Hoogenband swim stadium in Eindhoven along with relay teammates Inge Dekker, Marleen Veldhuis and Femke Heemskerk.
Kromowidjojo and teammates won the 4×100 free relay at the 2008 Beijing Games and the last two world championships but had to settle for silver on the opening night of pool competition this time.
“Of course that was emotional but she brought herself back into the [competition] with strong heats, strong semifinals and she lived up to [the hype],” said Kromowidjojo’s coach, Jacco Verhaeren, who previously directed De Bruijn and Van den Hoogenband.
A couple of years ago, Kromowidjojo escaped without any lasting damage from meningitis, an infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord that had her wondering at one point if she would ever swim again.
On a night when the other three gold medals went to the United States, Kromowidjojo touched fourth at the turn, then surged ahead to finish in 53.00 seconds, slicing 0.05 off her Olympic record set a night earlier in the semifinals.
“It was a great race, but it wasn’t a PB, it wasn’t my best time ever in the season, so I’m really unsatisfied about the time,” said Kromowidjojo, who clocked 52.75 in April for the fastest time ever in a non-rubberized suit.
“But a gold medal is a gold medal so I’m really happy with the gold medal,” she added. “I feel a lot of pressure, especially from the Netherlands, but I stayed calm and did my thing.”
Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus claimed the silver in 53.38 and the bronze went to China’s Tang Yi in 53.44.
American teenager Missy Franklin finished fifth and home favorite Francesca Halsall of Britain was sixth. Defending champion Britta Steffen failed to advance from semifinals and Swedish standout Therese Alshammar didn’t enter due to a pinched nerve in her neck.
“The first 50 was good. She wasn’t supposed to go out fastest,” Verhaeren said. “She built up her race good and of course what counts here is not the time but the results.”
Kromowidjojo will also be among the favorites for the 50 free, which begins with heats Friday morning. She took silver in the event at last year’s world championships in Shanghai.
De Bruijn swept the 50 and 100 at the 2000 Sydney Games, when Van den Hoogenband swept the 100 and 200.
Van den Hoogenband then defended his 100 title at the 2004 Athens Games. He’s working as a TV analyst at these games.
“I speak with him almost daily, also at home,” Verhaeren said. “It’s good to have the same feeling again after eight years.”