This post is a tribute to Swimming’s Rising stars in the early 2000’s. Today: Rhiannon Jeffrey
Shortly after setting the pool on fire at the 2000 Olympic Games, the U.S. women’s sprint dynasty was already in serious trouble. Dara Torres, Amy Van Dyken, and Ashley Tappin had announced their retirements, and Jenny Thompson would no longer defer entry into medical school.
Almost instantaneously, the matriarchs of a generation of female sprinters were gone, leaving the future of American women’s sprinting in a precarious position. The Europeans had already taken over: Holland’s Inge De Bruijn reigned as Olympic champion and world record holder; Sweden’s Therese Alshammar held the short course global marks; and Britain’s Alison Sheppard was the fastest 50 meter sprinter on the planet in ’02.
Things were beginning to look even more bleak in the summer of 2002, when a German squad led by a rejuvenated Franzi van Almsick did the unthinkable, breaking the USA’s seemingly untouchable 400 free relay world record set in Sydney. Just a few days later at the Pan Pacific Championships, the U.S. women began to show chinks in their once impregnable armor, losing both the 400 free and medley relays to Australia, despite the imposing presence of Natalie Coughlin and the welcome return of veteran Jenny Thompson. Things were not looking good.