By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 10. IT entered as the favorite, thanks to a world record at the European Championships. And, the Dutch lived up to their billing. The quartet of Inge Dekker, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Femke Heemskerk and Marleen Veldhuis stole the show with an Olympic record of 3:33.76, not far off their world mark of 3:33.62.
Seventh after Dekker's leg, Kromowidjojo pulled the Netherlands into second, allowing Heemskerk the chance to move into the top spot. She obliged with a split of 53.42 and handed the anchor duties to Veldhuis, who cruised in 52.58, the third-fastest split of the event.
The United States, buoyed by Dara Torres' split of 52.44 (second-fastest ever), grabbed the silver medal in 3:34.33, ahead of the Australians, who were carried by Lobby Trickett and her split of 52.34, fastest in history. The Aussies were clocked in 3:35.05 and were followed in fourth by China (3:35.64).
Natalie Coughlin led off for the U.S. in 54.00 and Lacey Nymeyer (53.91) and Kara Lynn Joyce (53.98) followed before Torres took to the pool. The way the 41-year-old opened her meet, maybe a gold medal is doable in the 50 free. Trickett, meanwhile, rounded out a relay that included Cate Campbell (54.43), Alice Mills (54.43) and Melanie Schlanger (53.85). Campbell has been more than a second faster and Coughlin has been .70 quicker.
Germany occupied the fifth spot in 3:36.85 and was followed by France (3:37.68), Great Britain (3:38.18) and Canada (3:38.32).