Rebecca Soni (USA)
Honor Swimmer (2021)
FOR THE RECORD: 2008 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (200m breaststroke), silver (100m breaststroke, 4×100m medley relay); 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (200m breaststroke, 4×100m medley relay), silver (100m breaststroke); EIGHT WORLD RECORDS: 100m breaststroke (1 LC, 1 SC), 200m breaststroke (3 LC, 1 SC), 4×100 medley relay (1 LC, 1 SC); 2009 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (100m breaststroke), silver (50m breaststroke); 2011 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke, 4×100m medley), bronze (50m breaststroke); 2010 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): gold (50m breaststroke, 100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke), silver (4×100m medley relay)
Rebecca Soni is known as a breaststroke phenom. What she lacked in size, she made up for in strength and desire. Her much-discussed technique is what separated her from her rivals. It featured an abbreviated leg kick aligned with perfectly timed rapid arm sweeps. It was an effective and efficient approach, and it was gold – Olympic gold.
Soni is a two-time Olympian and six-time Olympic medalist. She broke eight world records in breaststroke events and as part of two women’s medley relay teams, one long course and one short course.
During the summer of 2006, Soni had a procedure called a cardiac ablation that helped regulate her heartbeat. She had an irregularly high heartbeat that affected her training and needed to be treated.
Soni worked through her health issues and qualified for her first Olympic team in 2008 by winning the 200m breaststroke. In the 100m breaststroke, she took fourth place. However, fate stepped in when one American teammate withdrew and another missed a deadline for the Games, allowing Soni to represent the United States in her first Olympic Games in three events – both breaststrokes and the 4×100 medley relay. She did not disappoint.
In her first event, the 100m breaststroke, Soni won the silver medal behind world record holder Leisel Jones of Australia. She followed with a stunning victory in the 200m breast, out-swimming Jones with a time of 2:20.22 that also broke Jones’ world record.
Soni wrapped up her first Games as a member of the USA medley relay team, taking her second silver medal, behind the Australians.
Soni attended the University of Southern California from 2005-2009 and swam for multi-time Olympic coach Dave Salo. Her career was defined by four national titles in the 200-yd breaststroke and in her junior and senior years, she also won titles in the 100-yd breaststroke. Soni ended her career at USC with the NCAA record in the 200-yd breaststroke, gathered 12 All-American honors and finished as one of the most dominant breaststrokers in NCAA history.
At her second Olympic Games in 2012, Soni again won the silver medal in the 100m breaststroke, this time behind Lithuania’s Ruta Mejlutyte by only .08 seconds. In the 200m breaststroke, Soni broke the world record in the semi-finals with a time of 2:20.00. In the finals, she won the gold medal and broke the world record again with a time of 2:19.59. The effort made Soni the first woman to break 2:20 in the event.
With that gold medal, Soni became the first female to successfully win back-to-back Olympic titles in the 200m breaststroke. In the medley relay, Soni helped the United States win gold, as she teamed with Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt. Together, the foursome broke the world record with a time of 3:52.05.
After her retirement in 2014, Soni went into business with friend and former Olympic teammate, Caroline Burckle. They co-founded a company called RISE Athletes, an online mentoring platform for young athletes. Soni’s company recruits Olympians to help mentor young athletes by using one-on-one interaction.