BARCELONA, Spain — For Ruta Meilutyte, a gold medal would merely be a bonus.
She’s already grabbed what she came for at these world swimming championships.
A breakout star at last year’s London Olympics, the 16-year-old from Lithuania set the first world record of the meet Monday night — in the semifinals of the 100-meter breaststroke, no less.
Meilutyte will be an overwhelming favorite in the final Tuesday, but she considers the record a bigger accomplishment than a world championship. She nearly broke the mark during the morning preliminaries, then returned in the evening to go even faster.
The youngster touched in 1 minute, 4.35 seconds, beating the record set by American Jessica Hardy in 2009 at the end of the rubberized suit era.
“My biggest aim is accomplished now and I’ll give it my best shot in the final,” said Meilutyte, who trains in Britain. “It’s one of the steps, one of the dreams. Obviously, a gold medal would be a cherry on top.”
The kids are doing all right at these worlds, that’s for sure.
Eighteen-year-old Missy Franklin cruised into the final of the 100 backstroke as the top qualifier, despite a tough start in the semifinals when her right leg slipped while pushing off the wall. Another young American, 16-year-old Katie Ledecky, followed up her gold medal in the 400 freestyle by easily qualifying for the 1,500 free final.
“It’s so incredible to see the youth that the sport has and that it will continue to have,” Franklin said. “It’s so awesome watching it and kind of being a part of this whole experience as it’s happening.”
There were no American golds on the second night of swimming at the Palau Sant Jordi.
Christian Sprenger made sure the Australian men won’t endure another gold-medal shutout like the one in London, edging South African world-record holder Cameron van der Burgh in the men’s 100 breast.
“To finally have the Australian anthem played for me, it’s an extraordinary feeling, and after a swim I couldn’t be prouder of,” Sprenger said. “Our team had some setbacks last year, but we came through stronger. We are going to be back and going to be stronger.”
Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom knocked off another world-record holder, Dana Vollmer of the U.S., in the 100 butterfly. For Sjostrom, the victory came four years after she won the same event at the world championships in Rome, which was followed by the bitter disappointment of fourth-place finishes at both the 2011 worlds and the Olympics.
“It’s hard to believe because my confidence hasn’t been that good after lots of fourth places,” she said. “Now I am so happy. My confidence is so much better now. I know I can swim so much faster.”
Vollmer, who took an extended break after the Olympics and came into the event battling an illness, settled for the bronze with a time more than a second off her gold-medal performance in London.
“The goal is to always try and win, but with where I am right now I am really happy with the bronze,” Vollmer said. “I needed the fall off to recharge looking to 2016. It is disappointing now, but it lights that fire to get back in the pool and keep working hard for Rio.”
Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu ran away with a dominating win in the women’s 200 individual medley, with Ye Shiwen among those in her wake. The 17-year-old from China, another of the young stars at the last Olympics, was last at the final turn and settled for fourth — not even making the medal podium in Barcelona.
Ye swept the IMs in London, setting a world record in the 400.
“That was slower than expected but I did everything I could,” she said through a translator. “After the Olympics I couldn’t sleep, so I couldn’t prepare like I had done before. I’m five kilograms heavier than I was at the Olympics. I need to go back and train harder and hopefully I’ll do better next time. I was happy with my butterfly but nothing else.”
Hosszu made it look easy, leading at every stroke change and cruising to the wall nearly 1.5 seconds ahead of the field.
“That was kind of my plan to go out and be aggressive from the beginning,” she said. “I saw nobody was coming, so I just wanted to touch the wall and start celebrating.”
Hosszu finished nearly 7 seconds behind Ye in the 200 IM at London, and just missed a medal with a fourth-place finish in the 400 IM.
This time, it was Ye coming over to shake hands with the winner.
“I was really surprised,” Hosszu said. “I wasn’t sure of the order after me. It was only later I saw she wasn’t on the podium. I am sure she will be back on the podium. She is a great swimmer.”
Longtime Brazilian star Cesar Cielo took gold in the 50 fly — a non-Olympic event — with Eugene Godsoe of the U.S. grabbing the silver.
But Meilutyte was the star of the night without even winning a medal.
She just keeps getting better after upsetting American Rebecca Soni for the Olympic gold in the 100 breast last summer. With Soni taking the year off, there’s no doubt that Meilutyte is the new queen of the breaststroke — at the moment and perhaps years to come.
“It’s a new breed of swimmer coming up,” van der Burgh said. “The 100 has become more of a sprint than it was before. If you are too slow than you can never catch up, and I think that’s the big change.”
Australia’s Alicia Coutts didn’t win gold but deserved a shout-out for pulling off a grueling double. She finished second in both the 100 fly and 200 IM, one night after anchoring the Aussies to silver in the 400 free relay.
Coutts was in tears after getting caught by American Megan Romano in the relay, feeling she let her team down, but the Aussie is piling up quite a medal haul in Barcelona.
The home crowd got a thrill when Mireia Belmonte of Spain won bronze in the 200 IM.
Meanwhile, Ryan Lochte put himself in position to take a run at his first individual gold of these championships. He was the second-fastest qualifier in the semifinals of the 200 free behind Russia’s Danila Izotov.