London — JADE Howard yesterday swam the fastest, beating six other swimmers at the Aquatic Centre to save face for Zambia by winning the women's 100 metres freestyle event, but unfortunately that as far as she could go at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Howard, who was ranked third before the race, broke her personal record and for Zambia, clocking 59.35 seconds from the 1:01:24 seconds that she was entered in. However, she will not proceed to the semi-finals because she entered the competition as a wild card. The Zambian, in lane three, heat two, jumped into the pool at 10:05 hours (11:05 Zambian time) and swam with skill reminiscent of an Olympic champion.
Immediately upon jumping into the pool, she took the lead until the last lap to relegate her closest rival, Bayan Jumah from Syria in lane five, who also improved her best personal by 0.43 seconds, into second position on 59.78 seconds. Karen Shultz Riveros from Paraguay in lane four was third after clocking 59:86 seconds and improved her best personal by 0.51 seconds.
Britany Van Lange from Guyana in lane six was fourth with a time of 1:01:62 from her previous record of 1:01:39 minutes. Madagascar's Aina Rabetsara Fils in lane two clocked 1:03:62 minutes, with Reshika Udagampola from Sri Lanka in lane seven recording 1:03:93 from her previous record of 1:04:23 minutes.
Magdalena Moshi from Tanzania was last after timing 1:05:80 minutes from her previous record of 1:05:39 minutes. Howard, who was ranked 45th before the competition, becomes the first Zambian swimmer to set this record, timing under one minute in this category after now retired Ellen Hight who set the previous record at 1:00:05 minutes.
"It was a personal best and I think it was a national record for Zambia, so that makes me very happy and it will obviously make the country proud. I'm so happy," Howard said. The 17-year-old, who is making her first appearance at the Olympic Games where she finished 31st out of 50 swimmers in this category, described the experience of winning the heat as amazing.
She said she was inspired by her school friend, Ruta Meilutyte who won a gold medal for team Britain at the ongoing Olympics. "She is a massive inspiration. We go to school together and she is three grades below me, so I always think of her as little Ruta. "But seeing her out there was pretty amazing. I came to the stadium to watch her live and cheer her on."
Howard, who is based in London, said she would stick around at the Games until the end on August 12, adding: "I'm going to enjoy the Games. I am going to be here for another week and I do not have any races left, so I am just going to enjoy being here and meeting everyone."
Coach Gajan Sothylingam described Howard's swim as very good. "She's the first swimmer for Zambia to go under one minute. She's only 17 and she's got a lot of experience.
"We'll sit down with her local coaches here and see where we need her to improve; otherwise she has got what it takes to be a world champion," Sothylingam said. He said Howard and her Zambian counterpart, Zane Jordan, who is based in Australia, would start preparing for the world championships to be held in Turkey this December.
Jordan emerged third in heat one of the men's 100 metres backstroke event, in a group of three and broke his personal best at 58:77 seconds from 59:33 seconds, an improvement of 2.50 seconds and also set Zambia's new record. "We expected improvements from the two swimmers. They will both start preparing for the world championships in Turkey set for December.
"We'll discuss what times Jade will be working at and see how she needs to work on the targets that we'll set with her local coaches here," Sothylingam said. And Zambia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Bizwayo Nkunika described Howard's victory as sweet for Zambia, saying the young swimmer had done Zambia proud.
"That performance was just so amazing. She has really done Zambia proud, even if her victory will not account for any medal because she entered as a wild card, she has really put smiles on our faces," Nkunika said.