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Feature by David Rieder
CHARLESTON, South Carolina, July 31. IF you watched day four of swimming finals, you witnessed history. Michael Phelps came up short in his signature event, taking a stunning silver medal when he faltered at the bitter end, but he returned less than 90 minutes later to anchor the U.S. 800 free relay to gold. That makes 15 career Olympic golds for Phelps, 6 more than anyone else has ever won — and 19 total medals, surpassing Larisa Latynina for the most all-time. Sure, Phelps has every right to be disappointed after losing the 200 fly at the wall, but his final time of 1:53.01 beats anything he has swum in the past three years.
The American men stepped up on the 800 free relay. Ryan Lochte looked great on the leadoff leg before falling off slightly at the end, touching in 1:45.15. No one could have asked for more from Conor Dwyer (1:45.23) or Ricky Berens (1:45.27), and the pair built a huge lead for Phelps to hold off Yannick Agnel. Agnel outsplit Phelps, 1:43.24 to 1:44.05, but Phelps couldn't have asked for much more on a double. After his impressive times tonight, Phelps looks strong for his next two events, the 200 IM and 100 fly. Sure, the three-peat curse has interfered in so many attempts, including tonight, but Michael Phelps has his confidence back.
Chad Le Clos, meanwhile, swam the race of his life tonight. Le Clos pushed past Takeshi Matsuda on the final lap and then touched on the right stroke to take his first Olympic medal, a gold, in 1:52.96. Having never won a gold in a men's individual event before this week, South Africa has now won two. Le Clos splashed the water like a madman after seeing the “1″ beside his name, and his eyes teared up as he accepted his award. Phelps, meanwhile, offered his full congratulations to the man who took his crown, handling the most crushing loss of his career with some serious class. Props to the greatest of all time.
In Beijing four years ago, the American women won just two gold medals, both individual. In London, three different women have already won gold. After Dana Vollmer in the 100 fly and Missy Franklin in the 100 back, Allison Schmitt absolutely dominated the women's 200 free final with a new American and Olympic record time of 1:53.61. Camille Muffat took second, while Bronte Barratt touched out Missy Franklin by just one one-hundredth of a second for bronze. Muffat, who ranks second in the world in the 200 free at 1:54.66, could only manage a 1:55.58. Schmitt destroyed her.
Barratt, meanwhile, stunned the field to finish third, leaving Franklin shut out with a slightly-disappointing 1:55.83. Franklin, remember, led the world rankings last year with a 1:55.06. While her 200 free may not be quite where she may want to be, the Americans have established themselves as a big favorite in the women's 800 free relay tomorrow. Schmitt and Franklin will team up with Vollmer to lead the Americans. Other than the Stars and Stripes, only Australia had two representatives in the 200 free final, with Kylie Palmer finishing eighth. Still, those Aussies will have a tough time hanging with those Americans as they hope to reclaim the gold they lost four years ago.
Check out David Rieder's blog for more of his thoughts on the Olympic Games, including a look ahead to the fifth day of swimming action in London.