Rebecca Soni looks like the girl next door.
But behind the big eyes and dimples is a fierce competitor whose accomplishments have fallen under the radar.
As Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte dominate the headlines in men's swimming, the women's sport has been bombarded by comeback stories of Dara Torres, Janet Evans and Amanda Beard.
In Beijing, all eyes were on Beard in the 200-meter breaststroke. But as the four-time Olympian faded, Soni surged to the gold medal and a world record.
"I was so proud to represent USA four years ago. (But) there is pressure with that," Soni said of her world record and gold medal. "I can't really focus on that because I don't want to push it too early and fall back, so I just want to swim well for me, whatever that is. If that manages to be a world record, that would be amazing, but I'm not focusing on it."
Soni, a Plainsboro, N.J., native and four-time national champion at USC, won the 200 breaststroke championship at the trials and finished second to the surprising Breeja Larson in the 100 breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic swim trials.
Larson pulled the upset, which has happened in the breaststroke three times in the past two Olympic trials.
"I don't know," Soni said. "I'm not one to really like pay too close attention to all the details of swimming. All I know is when I dive in usually the 200 feels nice and smooth, and that's where I'm most comfortable and I just take care of myself."
Meanwhile, Soni watched as Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle upset Eric Shanteau and Brendan Hansen in the men's 200 breaststroke. Hansen and Shanteau made the Olympic team in the 100 breaststroke.
"The men's race was pretty crazy, and I'm excited for those guys that made it," Soni said.
So what is it about the breaststroke that makes for so many upsets?
"Butterfly and backstroke are difficult, to me," she said. "I think everybody has to find their own way to do breaststroke and not follow somebody else."
Though Soni is who they would follow, said Larson who said she was shocked to beat Soni at trials.
"I looked up on the board and it showed three of us, and I was like, oh gosh, oh gosh," Larson said. "I'm excited to meet everyone."
Larson and Soni will be spending a lot of time together in London and both look to medal in the 100 breaststroke.
"I think I just need to find a nice, smooth stroke," Soni said. "I'm still playing with when to flip the switch to take it to the next gear, usually it's the last 15 meters. I always hold on to that last few yards as my strength, so I'm always waiting to kick it into gear. I don't want to do it too early, but it felt good coming home, and I'm looking forward to having that same speed closing."
Page 2 of 2 - It brought her the gold in Beijing and could bring her more in London.
The Holland (Mich.) Sentinel