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On the blocks: Rebecca Soni preps for World Championships

July 21, 2011 |  1:04 pm

Soni_640 The soft Salo ended up working.

Multi-medalist Rebecca Soni was warned about the post-Olympic lull, fully anticipated the concept and braced for it.

All that knowledge, still, didn’t prevent her from toying with the idea of stopping, having reached the summit with three medals (one of them gold) and a world-record performance in the 200-meter breaststroke at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Soni, now 24, said she “crashed and burned” after soldiering through the subsequent NCAA season with USC and then discussed her next move with her longtime coach, Dave Salo of the Trojan Swim Club.

“He said, ‘You’ve already achieved the top thing you can achieve,’” Soni said in a recent interview. “So if you want to quit, I think I would understand.’ I’m like, ‘Coach, come on. You’re supposed to make me want to get back in.’”

Reverse psychology?

“I think he was,” Soni said. “He didn’t want to push me into it, wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do. If I had stopped swimming, I probably would have missed it.

“…All through that last season until the [2009] World Championships, every day was back and forth. ‘Yes, I want to. No, I don’t want to. Yes, I want to.’ Four years seemed like a long time.”

Soni was talking with a couple of reporters during a meet last month in Santa Clara, the last competition of significance before the World Championships, which begin Sunday in Shanghai. It almost represents a full circle for Soni, who rediscovered her lost swimming mojo at the last Worlds, two summers ago in Rome.

“It was the year of the suits, so everything was really exciting,” she said. “I just had a lot of fun at that meet and I also wouldn’t really know what to do if I wasn’t swimming.”

Ah, the suits.

Those helped result in a dizzying scene in Rome, where world records seem to tumble with a mind-numbing regularity, 43 in all. It was almost like a sugar rush of records.

It also represented an end of a brief, but wild, era. Soni told us some funny stories about spending more than 30 minutes trying to wiggle her way into the ultra-tight (and now outlawed) polyurethane suits. Kitchen gloves, she said, were the best way to get them on.

Too bad no one scored an endorsement deal for Playtex Living Gloves.

“We had to share the two pairs [of gloves] that we could find,” she said.

On the women’s side, Soni is perhaps the safest bet in Shanghai to break a world record in this return to the low-tech, textile-material suit era. She wore the high-tech suit in only a couple of meets and, interestingly, did not break her best 200 breaststroke time.

“They were fun while they lasted,” she said, smiling.

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--Lisa Dillman

Photo: Rebecca Soni trains at the Gold Coast Aquatic Center on the Gold Coast, Australia, on July 15. Credit: Steve Holland / Associated Press

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