By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 13. THE slam-dunk victory that was a mere formality for the United States in the 800 freestyle relay still included a subplot of interest. Could the American quartet break the seven-minute mark? Like there was any doubt.
Shattering the world record by nearly five seconds, the foursome of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay obliterated the field and prevailed in a time of 6:58.56. The former standard – what seems now to be laughable – stood at 7:03.24 from last year's World Championships in Melbourne.
Coming off a victory in the 200 butterfly, his fourth of the competition, Phelps jumpstarted the United States with a leadoff leg of 1:43.31, the second-fastest in history, trailing only Phelps' world mark. Lochte followed with a time of 1:44.28 and Berens handled the third leg in 1:46.29. Vanderkaay, the bronze medalist in the 200 free, brought it home in 1:44.68.
Phelps increased his gold-medal record count to 11 and his overall medal total for his career to 13, the most in American history. Phelps still has the 200 individual medley, 100 butterfly and the 400 medley relay (finals or prelims) remaining on his schedule. If he medals in each event, he'll be the most decorated male Olympian in history in terms of total medals.
"We all knew we could go under seven minutes," Lochte said. "It was just a matter of time, and when, and where. We've been plugging at it since 2004, so to under is a good relief."
The Russian foursome of Nikita Lobintsev, Evgeniy Lagunov, Danila Izotov and Alexander Sukhorukov took the silver medal in 7:03.70, the third-fastest time in history. Sukhorukov anchored the Russians home in 1:44.65. Picking up the bronze medal, the Australian squad of Patrick Murphy, Grant Hackett, Grant Brits and Nick Ffrost clocked a time of 7:04.98.
Italy's Filippo Magnini closed with a split of 1:44.12, but the Italians settled for fourth place in 7:05.35, just ahead of Canada. Brent Hayden's split of 1:44.42 helped the Canadians go 7:05.77. Great Britain finished sixth in 7:05.92, Japan was seventh in 7:10.31 and South Africa was eighth in 7:13.02.