Rebecca Soni (born March 18, 1987) is an American breaststroke swimmer and six-time (3 gold, 3 silver) Olympic medalist from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2012 London Olympic Games.
A member of the Trojan Swim Club, she currently holds the world record in the 100m and 200m breaststroke (short course) and is a former world-record holder in the 100m and 200m breaststroke (long course).
Soni has won a total of 22 medals in major international competition spanning the Olympics, the World, the Universiade, and the Pan Pacific Championships. She burst onto the international scene at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where she won two silver medals and one gold. In the 200m breaststroke at the Olympics, she set the world record en route to winning gold, shocking Australian favorite Leisel Jones. She won Swimming World Magazine's World Swimmer of the Year award in 2010 and the American Swimmer of the Year award in 2009 and 2010.
Soni was born in Freehold Borough, New Jersey in 1987, the daughter of Péter and Kinga Sőni. Soni's parents are of Hungarian and Romanian descent; they emigrated from Cluj-Napoca, Romania in the 1980s. Her father works in real estate and her mother is a nurse. Besides English, Soni also speaks Hungarian. Soni has one younger sister, Rita, who is also a swimmer. Originally a gymnast, Soni began swimming at the age of ten. Soni is a 2005 graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North in Plainsboro Township, New Jersey. Soni attended the University of Southern California and graduated in 2009. She majored in Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication. At USC, Soni was a six-time NCAA Champion, having won the 200-yard breaststroke in 2006 through 2009 and the 100-yard breastroke in 2008 and 2009.Soni currently swims for the Trojan Swim Club in Los Angeles with coach Dave Salo, who also coaches breaststroke world-record holder Jessica Hardy. In July 2010, in an interview, Soni admitted that she was having a relationship with fellow 2008 Olympian, Ricky Berens. In August 2010, Soni became a spokeswoman for the United Nations Foundation's Girl Up campaign. The organization focuses on improving the lives of the world’s adolescent girls.
As a 17-year-old at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Soni finished 15th overall in the 100m breaststroke and 11th overall in the 200m breaststroke. The following year, at the 2005 World Championship Trials, Soni just missed a spot on the 2005 World Aquatic team after finishing third in the 200m breaststroke behind Tara Kirk and Kristen Caverly. Soni also placed 4th in the 100m breaststroke.
At the 2005 Universiade, Soni earned her first international medals by winning silver in the 100m and 200m breaststroke and gold in the 4×100 m medley relay. At the 2006 FINA World Swimming Championships, Soni finished in 4th place in the 200m breaststroke. Just a few weeks before the 2006 USA Swimming National Championships, Soni underwent a procedure called radiofrequency ablation to help regulate her heartbeat. Although it was not health-threatening, Soni would sometimes experience a high heart rate which sometimes interfered with her training. At the 2006 National Championships, the selection meet for the 2006 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships and the 2007 World Aquatics Championships, Soni finished 10th overall in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke.
2008 Beijing Olympics
At the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Soni competed in two events, the 100m and 200m breaststroke. In the 100m breaststroke, Soni finished fourth in a time of 1:07.80. Usually, the top two finishers would qualify for the Olympics. However, after second-place finisher Jessica Hardy withdrew from the team and third-place finisher Tara Kirk missed the entry deadline, Soni was chosen to swim the event. Soni earned her berth by being the swimmer already on the team with the fastest time in the event since 1 January 2006. In the 200m breaststroke, Soni won with a time of 2:22.60, the third-fastest finish as of that date.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Soni won a silver medal in the 100m breaststroke, finishing behind world record holder Leisel Jones of Australia 1:06.73 to 1:05.17. In the 200m breaststroke, Soni upset the heavily favored Jones, winning the gold medal and breaking Jones's world record with a time of 2:20.22. Jones finished second with a time of 2:22.05. After the race, Soni said, "It's been a long road to get here, I can't believe what just happened." Soni then combined with Natalie Coughlin, Christine Magnuson, and Dara Torres in the 4×100 m medley relay to finish second behind Australia. Soni had the second best split time in the field (1:05.95) behind Jones (1:04.58).
At the 2009 USA Swimming National Championships Soni competed in two events, the 100m and 200m breaststroke. In the 100m breaststroke, Soni easily won with a time of 1:05.34. In the 200m breaststroke, Soni again exhibited dominance by finishing first with a time of 2:20.38, just off her world record pace.
At the 2009 World Championships held in Rome, Soni set a meet record in the heats of the 100m breaststroke, with a time of 1:05.66. In the semifinal, Soni recorded a time of 1:04.84 to set a new world record and become the first female to finish under 1:05 for the event. In the final of the 100m breaststroke, Soni won the gold with a time of 1:04.93. Despite being the favorite in the 200m breaststroke, Soni went out too fast in the first half of the race and faded in the final meters, ultimately placing fourth. In the 50m breaststroke, Soni was narrowly beaten for the gold and the world record by 2/100 of a second by Russian swimmer Yuliya Yefimova.
Soni then competed at the 2009 Duel in the Pool, a short course meet held in December at Manchester. In the 200m breaststroke, Soni broke Leisel Jones' world record with a time of 2:14.57. One day later, Soni swam a 1:02.70 in the 100m breaststroke to break Jones' world record of 1:03.00.
For her performance in 2009, she was named the American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine.
At the 2010 USA Swimming National Championships, Soni qualified to compete at the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in the 100m and 200m breaststroke. In the 100m breaststroke, Soni won in a time of 1:05.73. In the 200m breaststroke, Soni easily won with a time of 2:21.60, almost five seconds ahead of second place finisher Amanda Beard.
At the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, Soni won a total of three gold medals. In the 100m breaststroke, Soni recorded the third fastest time in history with a 1:04.93 to win the gold medal ahead of Australians Leisel Jones and Sarah Katsoulis. Her time was also the fastest ever recorded in a textile swimsuit. Two days after the 100m breaststroke, Soni then competed in the 200m breaststroke and the 4×100 m medley relay. In the 200m breaststroke, Soni dominated the field with a time of 2:20.69. Leisel Jones came in second in 2:23.23 and world record holder Annamay Pierse came in third with a time of 2:23.65. Less than an hour after the event, Soni competed in the 4×100 m medley relay with Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer and Jessica Hardy. Performing the breaststroke leg, Soni recorded a time of 1:05.35, the fastest in the field; the American team went on to win the gold in a time of 3:55.23.
At the end of 2010, Soni competed at the 2010 FINA Short Course World Championships in Dubai, where she won three gold medals and one silver. Soni swept all the breaststroke events and individually set four championship records.
At year's end, Soni was named the World Swimmer of the Year and American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine.
Soni is a spokesperson for Underwater Audio.
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