Dutch sprinter relishes No 1 role
Freestyle speedster Ranomi Kromowidjojo isn't shying away from her chance to become the Netherlands' newest Olympic swimming star.
The 21-year-old from Winsum is the fastest woman in the world this year in the 50m and 100m free and will kick off her multiple medal bid on Saturday as part of the Dutch defence of their 4x100m freestyle relay crown.
"I want to achieve something big," Kromowidjojo said as she and relay teammates Marleen Veldhuis and Inge Dekker met the press this week.
"I do not feel under that much pressure, because the most pressure I put on myself."
Although she's no newcomer to the Games, having helped the Dutch to relay gold in Beijing, she suffered a scary setback in her preparations for London in 2010 when she was hospitalized with viral meningitis while at a training camp in the Canary Islands.
"It made me a stronger person," said Kromowidjojo, who briefly feared she might not be able to resume her swimming career. "I was seven weeks out of the pool and went easy after coming back.
"Within three months I was at the same level as before and even better."
Coach Jacco Verhaeren says Kromowidjojo, whose father is from Surinam and paternal grandparents from Indonesia, has the tools to improve on the 50m silver and 100m bronze she earned at the World Championships in Shanghai last year.
"She's definitely in much better shape than Shanghai," he said. "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."
"I'm expecting good races. I'm not focusing on times," said Kromowidjojo, who is poised to join a long list of Dutch Olympic swimming stars that includes Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn.
Kromowidjojo was a relative newcomer to international competition when de Bruijn retired in 2007, but she remembers watching her countrywoman's classic clashes with Sweden's Therese Alshammar – who is back in London at the age of 34.
"I was a little child, but of course I remember," Kromowidjojo said. "Inge was like an idol for me and I'm looking forward to racing against Therese and also Sarah (Sjoestroem, another Swede)."
She'll also be up against Germany's Britta Steffen, the defending Olympic champion and world record-holder in both the 50m and 100m free.
First up, however, will be the relay, in which veteran Veldhuis says the Dutch women harbor hopes of breaking the world record of 3min 31.72sec they set at the 2009 World Championships in Rome, in the era of the now-banned high-tech bodysuits.
"Of course, we would like to break it, but you've got to take one step at a time," said Veldhuis, who returned to the pool in 2011 after taking 2010 off to become a mother. "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."
Veldhuis said the level of competition in the relay means the Dutch can't afford to take anything for granted.
"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."