Rebecca Soni

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“Achieving my dream of going below 2 minutes and 20 seconds in the 200m breaststroke really put the storybook ending on my career.”

Rebecca Soni is a retired American Olympic swimmer who specialized in breaststroke. She is a six-time Olympic medalist, a former World-Record holder in the breaststroke events and was the first woman to swim the 200-meter breaststroke in under two minutes and twenty seconds. She currently holds the World-Record as part of the American 4×100-meter medley relay in both the short course and long course meter versions. Soni was named Swimming World’s World Swimmer of the Year in 2010 and 2011, and received the same award as American Swimmer of the Year in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Personal Life

Rebecca Soni was the second child born to parents Peter and Kinga Soni in Freehold, New Jersey on March 18, 1987. Soni’s parents are of Hungarian and Romanian descent, emigrating from Cluj-Napoca, Romania prior to Rebecca’s birth. Growing up in Plainsboro, New Jersey, Soni has one older sister, Rita, who swam collegiately at Texas A&M University. Originally, Rebecca was a gymnast but began swimming at the age of ten and continued her career at the Scarlet Aquatic Club. At the age of 17, Soni competed at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, finishing 15th overall in the 100-meter breaststroke and 11th overall in the 200-meter breaststroke. In 2005, Soni graduated from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North in Plainsboro, New Jersey as the New Jersey state record holder in the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke events. Soni was also ranked in the top 25 in the world in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke events after placing sixth in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:09.80) and winning the 2005 U.S. National championship in the 200-meter breaststroke (2:26.37). Upon graduation, Soni matriculated to the University of Southern California (USC) to swim under the direction of Head Coach Dave Salo and major in Communications at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. In 2006, just two years before her triumph at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Soni experienced an arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat and underwent a catheter ablation procedure to terminate a faulty electrical pathway from sections of the heart in order to decrease the chance of sudden cardiac arrest. Soni has since fully recovered.

College Swimming

Soni arrived to USC in time for the 2005-06 season, fresh off a very successful senior year of high school swimming in New Jersey. Her first season as a Trojan breaststroker was one of the best ever, earning three All-America honors while winning an NCAA title in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:09.37), placing second in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:00.07) to California freshman standout, Jessica Hardy (1:00.02), and helping USC to another runner-up finish in the 400-yard medley relay (3:33.97) in school-record fashion. But Soni’s success at NCAAs was only a continuation of a dominant freshman season. Earlier in the year, Soni captured her first Pac-10 crowns in the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststrokes with times of 1:00.10 and 2:08.16, respectively and established a new school record in the 100-yard breaststroke in the dual meet against California with a time of 59.96 seconds. In the meet against UCLA, Soni helped the 200-yard medley relay team post another school record (1:39.97) as they won that race, too. Soni finished her freshman season unbeaten in the 200-yard breaststroke and also posted USC’s top times in the 200-yard individual medley (2:00.33) and 400-yard individual medley (4:15.33).

During her sophomore campaign of 2006-2007, Soni had to overcome the adversity of heart surgery, which took place in the summer leading up to the season. Incredibly, Soni not only recovered in time to participate but she excelled at the NCAA level once again, scoring sixth place in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:00.63) and again dominating the field in her specialty, the 200-yard breaststroke, winning the event by over two seconds with a time of 2:08.23. Soni also competed in the 400-yard individual medley, but ended up in 35th place with a time of 4:21.39 – an admirable performance for someone recovering from heart surgery. At the 2007 Pac-10 Championships, Soni was second in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:09.92), fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:01.40), as well as 11th in the 400-yard individual medley (4:18.38).

In her third collegiate season of 2007-2008, Soni returned stronger than ever, dominating the NCAAs in the breaststroke events. Soni again won the 200-yard breaststroke event at the 2008 NCAA Championships in an NCAA meet record time of 2:06.32, making her the third woman ever to win the 200-yard breaststroke three times in a row. This year, though, marked the first time Soni would win an NCAA title in the 100-yard breaststroke by posting a time of 59.19 seconds, establishing her as USC’s first swimmer to win two NCAA titles in the same season since Kaitlin Sandeno in 2004. Soni earned her third All-America honor of the year as part of USC’s eighth place 400-yard medley relay. Soni’s season-best in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:06.11) came during the Pac-10 championships and was the second-fastest swim ever in the event, behind only Tara Kirk’s 2:05.73. Like NCAAs, Soni added her first Pac-10 victory in the 100-yard breaststroke, giving her four Pac-10 titles for her career, as she re-set her own school record with a time of 58.98. This swim also marked just the fourth time a woman broke the 59 second barrier in the race. Not to be outdone by her swimming, Soni also proved to be one of USC’s top student-athletes, earning Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention.

In her final season as a Trojan, Soni made sure she left no doubt that she would graduate as the best breaststroker in the country. In the 2008-09 NCAA Championships, Soni began the meet with a solid time of 1:59.66 in the 200-yard individual medley. On that same first day of competition, Soni helped USC’s 400-yard medley relay finish third, their best finish in her tenure, splitting an eye-popping 58.07 in the breaststroke. While this swim was very fast, her competitor from Arizona, Annie Chandler, actually out split her with a 57.95, leaving some room for doubt. On day two of the meet, Soni led the 200-yard medley relay to a 13th place finish with a split of 26.80 seconds, just .01 slower than the fastest split from Alia Atkinson of Texas A&M University. Hours later, Soni swam to her second consecutive national title in the 100-yard breaststroke, this time finishing with an NCAA meet record time of 58.36 seconds. While this time was a bit slower than Soni’s Pac-10 Championship time of 58.10, which was the NCAA record, it was enough to finish ahead of the second place finisher, Jillian Tyler of the University of Minnesota, who finished with a time of 58.53 seconds. On day three, Soni successfully completed her career sweep of the 200-yard breaststroke crown with a time of 2:05.52, finishing over one second ahead of Alia Atkinson (2:06.99) but a little slower than her NCAA record time of 2:04.78 set at the Pac-10 Championships a couple weeks prior.

At the end of her collegiate career, Soni graduated with the NCAA record in the 200-yard breaststroke, having won four national titles in the 200-yard breaststroke and having been crowned the 100-yard breaststroke champion back-to-back in her junior and senior seasons. Altogether, Soni collected 12 All-America honors and finished as one of the most dominant breaststrokers in NCAA history.

National and International Swimming

As previously mentioned, Soni hit the national and international rankings well before she went to college. At the age of 17, Soni finished 15th and 11th at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke, respectively. The following year, at the 2005 World Championship Trials, Soni just missed earning a spot on the 2005 World Aquatic Championship Team after finishing third in the 200-meter breaststroke behind NCAA champion and Olympic silver medalist, Tara Kirk, and 2004 Olympian, Kristen Caverly. Soni also placed fourth in the 100-meter breaststroke, narrowly missing out on a spot in the shorter event. At the 2005 World University Games, though, Soni earned her first three international medals by winning silver in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:08.77) behind fellow American, Megan Jendrick (1:08.20) as well as silver in the 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2:27.84, only .03 seconds behind Japan’s winner, Megumi Taneda (2:27.81). Soni also finished seventh in the 50-meter breaststroke with a time of 32.71, and also came out on top with her first international gold medal as part of Team USA’s preliminary squad in the 4×100-meter medley relay.

2006 FINA World Swimming Short Course Championships

At the 2006 FINA World Swimming Short Course Championships hosted in Shanghai, China, Soni finished in 4th place in the 200-meter breaststroke. Just a few weeks later, Soni underwent heart surgery to correct an irregularly high heart rate which affected her training. Later in the summer, at the 2006 National Championships, Soni swam to tenth place in both the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke events. While these swims were definitely gritty after undergoing surgery, Soni missed out on making both the 2006 Pan Pacific Swimming Championship team as well as the 2007 World Aquatic Championships team.

2007 Duel in the Pool

In April of 2007, though, Soni was invited to participate as part of Team USA in the Duel in the Pool meet against Australia. At this meet, Soni placed second in the 200-meter breaststroke (2:24.70) to then world-record holder, Liesel Jones (2:23.60) and third in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:07.81) behind Tara Kirk (1:06.72) and Jones (1:06.80).

At the 2007 USA Swimming Summer National Championships, Soni won her second and third career national titles, first in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:07.06) and next in the 200-meter breaststroke (2:23.62), establishing the meet record in the latter. At the Japan International Meet, the final major international meet of the 2007 season, Soni posted a pair of second place finishes in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:06.94) and 200-meter breaststroke (2:23.26), losing both times to Leisel Jones. While both times were personal bests, neither was fast enough to usurp the throne from Jones, but her 100-meter breaststroke time did make Soni the sixth woman ever to go under 1:07 in the event.

2008 US Olympic Trials / 2008 Olympic Games

In 2008, Soni qualified for her first Olympic team by winning the 200-meter breaststroke in 2:22.60, becoming the third-fastest woman ever at that time. In the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni came in fourth place with a personal best time of 1:06.87 in the preliminaries. In Beijing, though, Soni actually was asked to swim both the 100-meter breaststroke and 200-meter breaststroke after her teammate, Jessica Hardy, withdrew from the Team USA after losing her appeal on the detection of banned substances in her body. Hardy had qualified in both the 100-meter breaststroke and 50-meter freestyle, but her withdrawal opened up spots in those events. Tara Kirk, who had finished third in the 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials, was not added to the U.S. roster in time to be eligible to compete, so Soni took on the challenge and did so successfully. In the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni won a silver medal with a time of 1:06.73, finishing well behind Leisel Jones (1:05.17) but ahead of Austrian, Mirna Jukic (1:07.34). In her specialty, Soni actually pulled off an improbable upset over “Lethal” Leisel Jones by winning the gold medal and posting a new world record time of 2:20.22. Jones finished with a time of 2:22.05. Soon after her shocking coup, Soni added her third medal and second silver as part of Team USA’s 4×100-meter medley relay. In this race, though, Jones got her revenge on Soni as she helped Australia defeat Team USA by handily beating Soni in the breaststroke leg with a time of 1:04.58 as compared to 1:05.95. Jones was the only Australian to out split her American counterpart, and her margin of victory was large enough to compensate for her teammates’ close individual losses to their respective American competitors.

2009 World Aquatic Championships

In 2009, Soni competed in the USA Swimming National Championships once again, winning the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke events. In the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni easily won with a time of 1:05.34 and in the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni dominated the field by finishing with a time of 2:20.38, just off her world record pace.

At the 2009 World Aquatic Championships held in Rome, Italy, Soni set a meet record in the heats of the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:05.66. In the semifinal, Soni recorded a time of 1:04.84 to set a new world record and become the first female to finish under 1:05 for the event. In the final of the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni won the gold over second-place Yuliya Yefimova (1:05. 41) with a time of 1:04.93. Despite being the heavy favorite in the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni surprisingly faded in the final meters of the race, ultimately placing fourth behind Serbian Nada Higl (2:21.62), Canadian Annamay Pierse (2:21.84) and Austrian Mirna Jukic (2:21.97) with a time of 2:22.15. In the 50-meter breaststroke, Soni swam to an impressive time of 30.11 seconds, but was narrowly beaten for the gold and the world record by the 100-meter runner up, Yuliya Yefimova (30.09). Soni was unable to procure a fourth medal at the meet due to the inability of her teammates to qualify for the finals after the preliminaries of the 4×100-meter medley relay, who missed eighth place by .52 seconds.

2009 Duel in the Pool

Later in 2009, Soni competed at the 2009 Duel in the Pool against Team Europe, a short course meters meet held in December at Manchester, England. In the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni broke Leisel Jones’ world record with a time of 2:14.57, and one day later swam a 1:02.70 in the 100-meter breaststroke, again breaking Jones’ world record of 1:03.00.

2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships

At the 2010 National Swimming Championships, Soni qualified to compete at the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke events. In the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni won the national title with a time of 1:05.73, and in the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni easily won with a time of 2:21.60, almost five seconds ahead of second-place finisher Amanda Beard.

At the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, Soni gold medals in each of her three events. In the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni recorded the third fastest time in history with a 1:04.93 to win the gold medal ahead of Australian swimmers Leisel Jones and Sarah Katsoulis. Her time was also the fastest ever recorded in a textile swimsuit. Two days after the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni then competed in the 200-meter breaststroke and the 4×100-meter medley relay. In the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni dominated the field with a time of 2:20.69, finishing well before second place finisher, Leisel Jones, who recorded a time of 2:23.23, and world record holder Annamay Pierce, who came in third with a time of 2:23.65. Less than an hour after the event, Soni performed the breaststroke leg in the 4×100-meter medley relay alongside Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer and Jessica Hardy, recording a time of 1:05.35 – the fastest breaststroke split in the field. The American team went on to win the gold medal in a time of 3:55.23.

2010 Short Course World Championships

At the conclusion of 2010, Soni competed at the 2010 Short Course World Championships in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates. Soni again won three gold medals, but also added one silver. Individually, Soni swept all the breaststroke events and set championship records in the 100-meter and 200-meter events. Soni’s closest race was the 50-meter breaststroke, when she beat out Australian Leiston Pickett (29.84) by the smallest of margins, with a time of 29.83. In the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni won the showdown with Leisel Jones, once again, posting a time of 1:03.98 as compared to Jones’ 1:04.26. Finally, in the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni finished comfortably ahead of Chinese swimmer, Sun Ye, with a time of 2:16.39. Soni’s silver medal performance came as part of Team USA’s 4×100-meter medley relay, when China’s team finished ahead of the Americans (3:48.36) with a meet record time of 3:48.29.

2011 World Aquatics Championships

In 2011, Soni won her first gold medal of the long-course World Aquatics Championships in the 100-meter breaststroke. After posting the top times in the heats (1:05.54) and semifinals (1:04.91), Soni recorded a time of 1:05.05 in the final for the win. Her winning time was over a second ahead of second place finisher Leisel Jones. In her second event, the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni again earned her first gold medal of a long-course World Championship meet with a time of 2:21.47. However, her time in the final was slightly slower than her semifinal time of 2:21.03.  In the 4×100-meter medley relay, Soni teamed up with Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer and Missy Franklin to win another gold medal with a time of 3:52.36, over three seconds ahead of second-place finisher China. Swimming the breaststroke leg, Soni had a split of 1:04.71, helping the team finished with the second-fastest effort of all time, just behind the China’s world record of 3:52.19. In her last event, the 50-meter breaststroke, Soni finished in third place behind Jessica Hardy (30.19) and Yuliya Yefimova (30.49) with a time of 30.58 seconds.

2012 U.S. Olympic Trials

In 2012, at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, hosted in Omaha, Nebraska, Soni qualified for the U.S. Olympic team by finishing second in the 100-meter breaststroke and first in the 200-meter breaststroke. Her second-place finish in the 100-meter breaststroke also ensured her a spot on the 4×100-meter medley relay. In her first event, the 100-meter breaststroke, Soni placed second behind Breeja Larson (1:05.92), a Texas A&M swimmer, with a time of 1:05.99. In the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni placed first with a time of 2:21.13, winning by almost two seconds over Micah Lawrence of Auburn University and SwimMac in North Carolina.

2012 Olympic Games

At the 2012 Olympics in London, England, Soni repeated her silver medal performance in the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:05.47, finishing 0.08 seconds behind 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte (1:05.39). After topping the heats and semi-final of the 200-meter breaststroke, Soni established a new world-record time of 2:20.00. Soni then defended her title in the final of the 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2:19.59, breaking her own world record and becoming the first woman ever to break 2 minutes 20 seconds in the event. With her win, Soni became the first female to successfully defend her title in the event. In her final event, Soni won gold with Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt in the 4×100-meter medley relay. Swimming the breaststroke leg, Soni recorded a time of 1:04.82, and the U.S. team went on to set a new world record with a time of 3:52.05, bettering the previous Chinese-owned record of 3:52.19 set in 2009.

Originally developed by Doug Lennox II

International Medals

Place Event Year Meet
Gold 200 Breast 2012 Olympic Games
Gold 400 Medley Relay 2012 Olympic Games
Silver 100 Breast 2012 Olympic Games
Gold 200 Breast 2008 Olympic Games
Silver 400 Medley Relay 2008 Olympic Games
Silver 100 Breast 2008 Olympic Games
Gold 200 Breast 2011 World Championships
Gold 100 Breast 2011 World Championships
Gold 400 Medley Relay 2011 World Championships
Bronze 50 Breast 2011 World Championships
Gold 100 Breast 2009 World Championships
Silver 50 Breast 2009 World Championships
Gold 50 Breast 2010 Short Course World Championships
Gold 100 Breast 2010 Short Course World Championships
Gold 200 Breast 2010 Short Course World Championships
Silver 400 Medley Relay 2010 Short Course World Championships
Gold 100 Breast 2010 Pan Pacific Championships
Gold 200 Breast 2010 Pan Pacific Championships
Gold 400 Medley Relay 2010 Pan Pacific Championships

Best Times

Course Event Time Date Meet
lcm 50 Breast 30.11 08/03/14 World Championships
Rome, Italy
lcm 100 Breast 1:04.84 07/27/09 World Championships
Rome, Italy
lcm 200 Breast 2:19.59 08/02/12 Olympic Games
London, United Kingdom
scm 50 Breast 29.83 12/16/10 Short Course World Championships
Dubai, UAE
scm 100 Breast 1:02.70 12/19/09 Duel in the Pool
Manchester, United Kingdom
scm 200 Breast 2:14.57 12/18/09 Duel in the Pool
Manchester, United Kingdom

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