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Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, August 3. THE Bible says that God rested on the seventh day, but that is definitely not true at the Olympics, where day seven of swimming has generally been the most memorable day of the meet. I will only go as far back as 1988 for evidence of this.
That was the day the 50 freestyle debuted at the Olympics in Seoul, the Berkoff blastoff fizzled and Janet Evans cemented her reign in distance freestyle. In that first 50 free Olympic final, it was the usual duo of Matt Biondi and Tom Jager that everyone was certain would take gold and silver. Biondi was on a roll, having won the 100 free and two relay golds. Jager was the world record holder and had yet to win individual gold. The race did not disappoint, as Biondi rolled to gold and a new world record.
Shortly after that, Evans won the 800 free decisively over old rivals Astrid Strauss and Julie McDonald. Much was made of McDonald's surprise win over Evans at the 1987 Pan Pacific championships, and Evans wanted revenge. Much like her monumental win in the 400 free a few days earlier, Evans took the race out quick, leaving Strauss and McDonald to fight for the minor medals.
In the next event, everyone was certain Berkoff was assured of winning the 100 backstroke. He had the world record and made it look so easy in prelims. But a quick start left Berkoff on the wall and attempting to catch up quickly. Perhaps he used too much energy to catch the field, and paid for it in the end. It was Japan's Daichi Suzuki who took the gold medal, with Berkoff .13 seconds behind.
Skip ahead to 1996, and we're watching Amy van Dyken become the most decorated athlete of the Games as she won the 50 freestyle ahead of archrival Le Jingyi for her fourth gold medal. The session had started with the new Madame Butterfly, Susie O'Neill of Australia, finally winning Olympic gold in the 200 fly after winning bronze in 1992. It was a good day for the Australians, getting their second gold of the meet later on as Kieren Perkins gutted out a fantastic 1500 free from lane eight to repeat as champion.
The American men weren't too shabby, either. Brad Bridgewater and Tripp Schwenk went 1-2 in the 200 back, and the medley relay sliced two seconds off the world record.
In 2004 and 2008, it was Michael Phelps who created the biggest stir on day seven, winning the 100 butterfly by centimeters. First, he beat longtime friend and rival Ian Crocker by .04 in 2004, then miraculously got to the finish ahead of Milorad Cavic by .01 seconds, prompting protests and appeals and countless replays on TV stations all over the world.
In 2008, that almost overshadowed the remarkable accomplishment that was taking place immediately afterward in the women's 800 free. From start to finish, Rebecca Adlington was on a mission to break Janet Evans' 18-year-old world record, and she did it by two seconds. Techsuit or not, it was a performance to behold.
Back to 2004 for another memorable seventh-day performance, and it came in the men's 50 freestyle. Gary Hall Jr., against all odds, repeated as 50 freestyle champion, becoming the second-oldest swimming gold medalist at age 29. His antics were widely reported, especially his public anger over not being included on the 400 free relay. The anger must have been put in the pool, as he was able to get to the wall by .01 seconds ahead of Duje Draganja.
Everyone was waiting to see if Dara Torres could make it to the final of the 50 freestyle in 2008 at 41 years old. If she did, she could win a medal to match the bronze she won in 2000. But Torres made headlines that day for an entirely different reason. As the swimmers in the second semifinal paraded out, Torres rushed to talk to the referee to ask for a brief delay. Sweden's Therese Alshammar was still in the ready room, putting on a swimsuit after the first one ripped. The media applauded Torres' sportsmanship, and no matter what happened in the final, everyone was still praising Torres for looking out for a fellow competitor.
Now, we are looking back at today's events and realizing how all four of the finals swims reached monumental proportions. Missy Franklin's world record, while expected, was still astonishing. Michael Phelps' double-triple accomplishment in the 100 fly only further launched his athletic career into the stratosphere. Katie Ledecky's 800 freestyle, one of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen, will become legendary as her career continues. And Florent Manaudou upsetting Cesar the Great and Cullen Jones was what the Olympic Dream is all about. Imagine if the French swimming federation had decided to replace him with Fred Bousquet, as was rumored a few months ago.
I'm already looking forward to Rio 2016. Days 1 through 6 will be exciting in Brazil, but Day 7 is bound to be another one for the ages.