LONDON, England ● A night at the Palace with thousands of beer-drinking compatriots loomed for Dutch swim queen Ranomi Kromowidjojo after winning Olympic gold in the women’s 100 metres freestyle on Thursday.
The Dutch team and brewers Heineken have taken over the Alexandra Palace, the people’s palace better known as the ‘Ally Pally’, as their home from home at the London Games and their gold medallist will be feted on Saturday once the swimming competition has ended.
It should be a lively evening in north London.
Kromowidjojo, whose father has Indonesian ancestry by way of former Dutch colony Surinam, will have plenty to celebrate after adding her name to a list of great Dutch sprint champions in the Olympic pool.
Better known as a relay swimmer, winning world and Olympic golds, she finally chalked up an individual title with an Olympic record time of 53 seconds.
Only fourth at the turn, she surged clear on the last length to beat world champion Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus into second place with China’s Tang Yi third.
“The people who were watching on television were perhaps more nervous than I was,” she told reporters in a crowded poolside mixed zone as she tried to take in what she had achieved.
“I thought it was a great race but it wasn’t a PB (personal best), it wasn’t my best time ever this season,” she said. “So I’m not really satisfied about the time.
“I mean, a gold medal is a gold medal, so I’m really happy about it and being Olympic champion,” beamed the 21-year-old lest anyone should think she was truly dissatisfied.
Kromowidjojo follows in the illustrious tradition of compatriots Inge de Bruijn and Rie Mastenbroek (in 1936) in taking on the mantle of the world’s fastest female in the pool with 100 metres gold.
She entered the final with a wave to the crowd, where a ‘Go Ranomi’ banner caught the camera’s attention, and the confidence of someone who had already broken the Olympic record in the semi-final on Wednesday.
If all goes well in Saturday’s 50 metre freestyle final, after Friday’s heats, the comparisons with De Bruijn will become even stronger for a girl who won her first gold medal the year after her great compatriot retired in 2007.
De Bruijn won the 50 metres sprint in both 2000 and 2004.
“It’s a great feeling and a great honour,” Kromowidjojo said of being mentioned alongside the four times Olympic champion.
Jacco Verhaeren, who coached De Bruijn and Pieter van den Hoogenband to 15 medals between them at the Sydney and Athens Games, is now working with her at the facility in Eindhoven named after the great Dutchman.
“In Holland we had so many great female and male freestyle sprinters and now I am the next Dutch girl who won a gold medal and I’m really happy,” said the woman who arrived in London as a favourite to win three golds.
“I felt a lot of pressure, especially from the Netherlands, but I stayed calm and did my thing.”
Kromowidjojo could do that because she has overcome far greater obstacles than the burden of national expectation. Two years ago she was diagnosed with meningitis but overcame it and was back within three months.
“It made me stronger,” she has said when she arrived in London. “I thought it was not a big issue to go to the Olympics and swim fast.”