Payback is a bitch. Everyone who gives even a single hoot about swimming remembers the 2008 men’s 4x100m freestyle relay in which Jason Lezak became a hero in the United States by overtaking Alain Bernard of France, keeping Michael Phelps in the running for a potential record eight gold medals in a single Olympics (which as you know he did pull off). Today, France returned that favor for that historic relay, by winning the gold medal in this afternoon’s 4x100m race. This was a great race, but in the end it was a different combination of red, white, and blue that ended up with the gold medal as Ryan Lochte was out-kicked by Yannick Agnel, whose anchor leg was almost as good as Lezak’s famous swim.
Australia was favored in this relay, but the people who know swimming and know competition in general knew it was the French team that was worth worrying about. Nobody likes to be shown up in the Olympics, and Lezak’s incredible swim in Beijing is a split that will forever be shown on highlight reels across the world. Today the French got a slight bit of redemption for that race.
This 4x100m started off with Nathan Adrian. Adrian is America’s best 100-yard swimmer, and in this 100-meter race all he had to do was keep it close. Adrian more than exceeded expectations, as he beat Australia’s James Magnussen and the rest of the field and gave Michael Phelps a nice lead to work with for the second leg.
Phelps did what everyone thought he would do in this race: he increased the lead. When Adrian “passed the torch” to Phelps, there was about a half a body length lead for USA, but after Phelps’ split USA was leading the race by about a body length. There’s not too much else to say about that, Phelps did well enough to give the rest of his team a chance to win and things were still looking good when he finished his two lengths of the pool.
Cullen Jones, an African-American who started a charity that gives minority children free swimming lessons (thanks to Jones himself being clinically dead after a drowning accident that he was lucky to survive as a child), swam the third leg of this race. Jones may have lost a bit of ground for his leg, but the team was still in a very decent position to pull it off and win the gold medal.
Then came Ryan Lochte’s leg. Lochte earned the gold medal yesterday in the men’s 400m individual medley, but today was a totally different story. After already swimming two races earlier in the day as Lochte qualified for the 200m freestyle today (he’ll compete in the finals tomorrow night), he was asked to anchor this relay team. That may not have been the best decision, as Lochte certainly looked fatigued towards the end of this relay, and unfortunately during the final quarter of the last lap of the relay Team France overtook Lochte. France would hold on to win this relay, giving the United States some payback for the 2008 race that the US won.
After the race, Michael Phelps was still all smiles. I hate to say it, but I think Phelps has checked out a little bit mentally and is ready to live off the fame and bankroll that being the most decorated Olympic athlete in the world provides. Even just winning a silver medal Phelps said, “we knew it would be tough…France swam well, they swam a great race. Being able to be on the medal stand isn’t too bad though”. Maybe Phelps is getting older and growing up, or maybe he’s lost a bit of his edge. I know as a competitor it’s typically gold or bust, but for some reason I feel like Phelps is satisfied with the silver here today. He did smile a bit after also when he finally realized it was the first silver medal of his incredible career.
Ryan Lochte had a similar reaction to the race. He said, “we went out there and raced tough, we just came out a little short”. Does that sound like what France said in 2008?
Even if the ending of this race was far from ideal, it was still a fantastic race to watch. Since this race was such an important one in the grand scheme of USA Swimming, I watched it live streaming on NBCOlympics.com and then again when NBC decided to tape delay it in primetime tonight. This race captivated me both times, and I think that’s all you can really ask from a sport that I only care about for two weeks every four years.
With how great the races have been in the pool, I cannot wait until the Olympics head to my element, the track and field portion of the Games. If those events are anything like what we’ve seen in the Aquatic Centre they are going to be awesome, and I have a feeling that track and field will be even better than this swimming. No point in looking too far ahead though, there is plenty of swimming left, and both Phelps and Lochte will win more medals this summer. Let’s see if that happens tomorrow with Lochte bouncing back in a big way.
And for happier times, let’s relive that 2008 race. Sorry for the video quality, but if that audio doesn’t get you pumped up then the Olympics are just not for you.