Former USC NCAA Champion Ous Mellouli became the first man to defeat Grant Hackett in the 1500-meter freestyle in 11 years, wresting away the stranglehold the Aussie had on the race to win Tunisia's first-ever swimming gold medal on the final day of swimming at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Former USC NCAA Champion Ous Mellouli became the first man to defeat Grant Hackett in the 1500-meter freestyle in 11 years, wresting away the stranglehold the Aussie had on the race to win Tunisia’s first-ever swimming gold medal on the final day of swimming at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Following Mellouli’s win, USC senior Rebecca Soni swam the breaststroke leg for the U.S. 4x100m medley relay, which resulted in a silver medal.
Mellouli, a four-time All-American in the mile but never a title-winner in college, trailed the first two-thirds of the race before taking over first after 1100 meters. Coached in Beijing by USC head swimming coach Dave Salo, Mellouli stretched his lead to almost a second-and-a-half with only 100 meters to go.
Hackett cut more than half a second off the lead with 50 meters to go, but couldn’t catch a sprinting Mellouli over the final 50 meters as the Tunisian won in 14:40.84, an African record which made him the second-fastest man ever in the race. Hackett, the world record holder in the race, finished in 14:41.53.
Mellouli’s win is even more noteworthy considering he’s been battling back pain in recent months that has limited his training. Diagnosed in July with two herniated disks in his back, Mellouli’s ability to vie for medals in Beijing recently was in doubt.
“We were not sure he was going to do anything, let alone medal, especially in the 1500,” Salo said. “His 400 gave us hope and he seemed to be coming along reasonably well through the night before the race. The race played out well for him. Had Grant Hackett and ( bronze medal winner ) Ryan Cochrane gone out faster, I am not sure Ous would have been in the hunt for the gold medal. When he realized he had a chance to win at about 600-800 ( meters ), he was energized and took advantage of the way the early leaders were swimming.
Also swimming in the 1500m free was former Trojan Larsen Jensen, who won bronze in the 400m free earlier in the meet. The silver medalist in the 1500m free in 2004, he finished fifth in the mile in 14:48.16.
Mellouli’s win in the mile continues a tradition of Olympic success USC has had in the event. Mike O’Brien won the race in 1984 for the U.S. while Trojan Australians John Konrads and Murray Rose won the race in 1960 and 1956, respectively. Rose won silver in the race in 1960, as did Jensen in 2004. Buster Crabbe also won bronze in the race in 1928.
USC has 41 current, former and future Trojans competing at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. To date, USC athletes have won seven medals: four gold, two silver and one bronze. For a video update, visit http://usctrojans.cstv.com and look for Trojan Olympic Update 2 under Top Stories.
Here are the previous stories that have run on the Trojan Olympic athletes:
Vendt, Keller Extend Gold Medal Streak
By Paul Goldberg
Former Trojan swimming greats Erik Vendt and Klete Keller, members of the U.S. 4x200-meter freestyle relay, clinched gold medals when the Americans took first place in the event’s final Wednesday morning at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The event extending an amazing USC streak: A Trojan has won a gold medal in every summer Olympics from 1912.
Vendt and Keller swam the final two legs of the Americans’ preliminary relay Tuesday night in Beijing, helping to set an Olympic record of 7:04.66. Although both only swam in the prelims, by virtue of the U.S. win in the final, both former Trojans earned the same medals as the swimmers in the final.
It is Vendt’s first Olympic gold medal after winning the silver medal in the 400m IM in both the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. It is Keller’s second Olympic gold and fifth medal overall ( he also has one silver and two bronze ). He previously won gold as the anchor leg during the final of 4x200m free relay in 2004 when he held off Australian great Ian Thorpe at the wall.
It was the third and fourth medals already won by a current, former or future Trojan in the 2008 Games. Former Trojan Larsen Jensen won bronze in the 400m free while current USC senior Rebecca Soni won silver in the 100m breast. Both are medal contenders in other events later in the week.
Soni Wins Silver In 100m Breaststroke
By Paul Goldberg
USC senior Rebecca Soni, a two-time 2008 NCAA champion and the 2008 Olympic Trials champion in the 200-meter breaststroke, won a silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke Tuesday morning at the Beijing Olympics.
Soni set a personal best in 1:06.73, finishing second to Australian world record holder Leisel Jones, who won the race in 1:05.17. Austria's Mirna Jukic won bronze ( 1:07.34 ).
Soni, considered by some a long shot to earn a medal in the event, turned fifth at the midway point and was 0.32 out of second place, but her back final 50 meters of 35.17 was second-fastest in the race, helping the New Jersey native earn a spot on the medal stand.
Soni was not originally scheduled to compete in the event after finishing fourth in the event at the Olympic Trials. But first-place finisher Jessica Hardy withdrew from the U.S. team after testing positive for a banned substance on July 21. With the deadline for adding swimmers to the team having passed, USA Swimming could only add a swimmer to the event from within the existing USA Olympic squad. That berth went to Soni.
"I don't even know how I feel yet," Soni told reporters immediately after the race. "It's still registering. Who could ask for more?"
Soni, considered a stronger medal contender in the 200m breast, will swim in the prelims of the event on Wednesday. She will also likely swim in the 4x100m medley relay.
"I'm going to try to keep it rolling," Soni said. "It's a good sign for the 200. It takes a lot of the pressure off. After the first swim, especially if you win a medal, it makes the next swim a lot easier, a little more relaxed."
USC is currently being represented by 41 past, present and future athletes at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Also on Tuesday, former Trojans Rodrigo Castro ( Brazil ) and Ous Mellouli ( Tunisia ) finished 18th and 19th, respectively in the 200m freestyle, while Tamas Kerekjarto ( Hungary ) was 22nd in the 200m butterfly.
Incoming freshman women's swimmer Katinka Hosszu just missed qualifying for the semifinals of the 200m IM, taking 17th in prelims. She was also 12th in the 400m IM.
41 Trojans Compete in Beijing
By Matthew Kredell
Forty-one current, former and future Trojans will compete at the 2008 Olympic Games, which have kicked off in Beijing.
USC leads all American universities in the number of athletes who have participated during the 104-year history of the modern Olympics. This year’s 40 participants, second in the nation behind Stanford University, would extend USC’s record total of all-time Olympians to 384.
Trojan athletes have collected 236 medals, including at least one gold in every summer Olympics since 1912. Only 11 nations have won more gold medals than the 112 by USC athletes.
“Once again, Trojan athletes from throughout the world will gather at the Olympics and compete successfully at the highest level in their sports,” said USC athletic director Mike Garrett. “It is something we’ve come to expect ever since our first Olympian in 1904. USC’s Olympic tradition of participation and success by its athletes is unlike any other university, and the Beijing Games will further enhance that legacy.”
Allyson Felix ’08 is the most likely individual athlete to continue USC’s gold rush, though the sprinter never actually competed for the school. Felix became the first female in track and field ever to turn professional right out of high school in 2003.
Part of her contract with Adidas was to pay for her college education. She chose to attend USC, where her brother Wes competed, and graduated in May with a degree in elementary education.
Although Felix never wore the uniform, USC track and field coach Ron Allice said it doesn’t make her any less of a Trojan.
“What people don’t realize is she could have gone any place and the shoe company had to pay,” Allice said. “That’s a Trojan family. Her brother was the captain of the team here. She’s on the pillar ( dedicated to USC Olympians at the entrance to the Katherine B. Loker Track and Field Stadium ). If you’re an Olympian and go to school here, that’s where you’re going to be.”
Sports Illustrated picked Felix as the favorite to win her best event, the 200-meter dash. She won the silver in that event at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She also could help the United States medal in the 400- and 1,600-meter relays.
Felix was one of 39 Trojan athletes in Athens, a group that brought home eight gold medals and 17 overall.
USC would be more than halfway to breaking its 2004 gold medal total if the United States wins in women’s water polo. Junior Kami Craig, Patty Cardenas ’08, Brittany Hayes ’07, Moriah Van Norman ’06 and Lauren Wenger ( on track to graduate soon ), amazingly make up five of the 13-person roster.
“We’re very proud and really excited about watching the Olympics,” USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic said. “The last Olympics, we didn’t have anyone on the team. I think it says we’ve done a good job recruiting and developing players the last four years.”
If the U.S. doesn’t win at women’s water polo, USC still has its bases covered. Russia is considered the main competition for the title, and the Russian captain is 2004 USC graduate Sofia Konoukh. Another contender is Hungary, where USC has a representative in Aniko Pelle ’03.
Konoukh and Pelle are part of a large international constituency of USC athletes. Twenty of the 40 Trojans are competing for 16 countries outside the United States. Eight are currently at USC, 30 are former Trojans and Katinka Hosszu, who will represent Hungary in swimming, is an incoming freshman.
USC also is well-represented among Olympic coaches and staff.
Ten USC-affiliated coaches or former athletes will be in Beijing coaching or helping with track, baseball, water polo, swimming and volleyball. Three current USC coaches in the group are track’s Tina Fernandes, assisting Puerto Rico’s women’s track team, head swimming coach Dave Salo, the head coach of men’s swimming for Tunisia, and diving head coach Hongping Li, serving on the staff of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The other seven former USC coaches or athletes are assisting U.S. teams, such as Bernice Orwig ’99, a former USC water polo goalie and 2000 Olympic silver medalist, who is an assistant coach for women’s water polo.
Other athletes who are possibilities to win gold medals include Los Angeles Sparks forward Lisa Leslie ’97 and Tina Thompson ’97 in women’s basketball, senior Amy Rodriguez in soccer, Torri Edwards ’05 and Angela Williams ’02 in track and swimmers Larsen Jensen ’07, Erik Vendt ’05 and Klete Keller, currently a junior.
“It will be fun for Trojan fans across the globe to root on the many USC athletes who will be competing in Beijing,” Garrett said. “A number of those Trojans have excellent chances of bringing home medals. Not only will their home countries be solidly behind them in their quest, but so will the entire Trojan Family.”
This story was released on 2008-08-19. Please make sure to visit the official company or organization web site to learn more about the original release date. See our disclaimer for additional information.