Published July 25, 2012
LONDON – Ranomi Kromowidjojo enters the London Olympics with a big No. 1 next to her name. And she's just fine with that.
The Dutch sprinter established herself as Olympic favorite in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle when she swam the fastest ever times in nonrubberized suits at a home meet in April.
When Kromowidjojo joined the three swimmers she shared gold with in the 4x100 free relay at both the last Olympics and the last two world championships at a team presentation Wednesday, all the attention was on her.
How fast can she swim next week?
"I'm expecting good races. I'm not focusing on times," she said. "I don't feel that much pressure. The most pressure I put on myself. I want to achieve something big and what other people think they're allowed, but the most pressure is coming from myself."
Kromowidjojo's father is from Suriname and his grandparents came from Indonesia, but Ranomi was born and raised in the Netherlands. A couple years ago, she escaped without lasting damage from meningitis, an infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. She wondered if she would ever swim again.
"It made me a stronger person," Kromowidjojo said. "It was a very hard time but it only made me stronger."
She is the latest in a long line of Dutch sprinting standouts, starting with the likes of Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn. They won a combined 15 Olympic medals at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games.
Kromowidjojo (pronounced CRO-mo-wuh-JO-jo) was just joining the Dutch squad when De Bruijn retired in 2007, and still faces one of De Bruijn's old rivals — 34-year-old Therese Alshammar.
"I was a little child, but of course I remember (their races)," said the 21-year-old Kromowidjojo. "Inge was like an idol for me and I'm looking forward to racing against Therese and also Sarah (Sjoestroem, another Swede). We're going to have some fun races."
Other challengers include defending 50 and 100 champion Britta Steffen of Germany and Francesca Halsall of host Britain.
Kromowidjojo trains under Dutch head coach Jacco Verhaeren, who previously guided De Bruijn and Van den Hoogenband. They practice at the Pieter van den Hoogenband swim stadium in Eindhoven along with relay teammates Inge Dekker, Marleen Veldhuis and Femke Heemskerk.
The Dutch team arrived at the Olympic village Tuesday after an eight-day warmup camp in the northern England town of Leeds.
"They are ready. We've had very good preparation. It was very smooth travel by train, so everybody is rested, everybody is fit," Verhaeren said. "We have no major problems, no major injuries or sickness. Everybody could really do the work in training, so it's been good."
Veldhuis took 2010 off to become a mother but is back in form, and could also be a medal threat in the 50.
"We have evolved over the last four years and a lot of things happened but we also won a lot of races, so we are confident going in," Veldhuis said. "But we know the Aussies and the Americans, especially, are also strong."
The Dutch set a world record of 3 minutes, 31.72 seconds in the relay at the 2009 worlds at the height of the high-tech bodysuit era, then were more than two seconds slower at last year's worlds in Shanghai.
What would it take to break the record in London?
"Of course, we would like to break it, but you've got to take one step at a time," Veldhuis said. "First we've got to qualify for the final, then if you touch first in a world record that would be the best. But let's see what happens."
As for Kromowidjojo, her improvement over the past year has been akin to taking two steps at a time. In Shanghai, she was mildly disappointed with a silver in the 50 and a bronze in the 100.
"She's definitely in a lot better shape than in Shanghai, which wasn't too bad but not good enough," Verhaeren said. "We've found a very good balance between training and rest and her skills have improved a lot — her starts, turns and under water. She was already good at it, but in all those things, also physically, she made a big step forward."