By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 12. AS was the case in the 400 freestyle relay, the United States unleashed a B-squad in preliminaries that must have the rest of the world jealous. The American quartet of David Walters, Ricky Berens, Erik Vendt and Klete Keller registered an Olympic record of 7:04.66 to demolish the 7:07.05 by Australia in 2000.
Walters gave the United States a strong start with a split of 1:46.57 and Berens followed by churning through the water in 1:45.47. Vendt handled the third leg in 1:47.11 and Klete Keller closed the evening session in 1:45.51. It will be interesting to see whether it's Berens, the newcomer with the slightly faster time, or Keller, the veteran anchor, who will join Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay in the championship final.
Qualifying in the second slot was Italy, which relied on the foursome of Nicola Cassio, Marco Belotti, Emiliano Brembilla and Massi Rossolino for a time of 7:07.84 and a European record. The Italians were followed by Russia in 7:07.86 and Great Britain was fourth in 7:07.89. The Canadians, without Brent Hayden, were fifth in 7:08.04.
The Australians filled the sixth spot with a mark of 7:08.41 while the championship-final field was rounded out by Japan (7:09.12) and South Africa (7:10.91). Japan's time was an Asian record and South Africa set an African continental standard. There will surely be a number of lineup changes for the morning session, though it's nearly a guarantee that the U.S. will take the top spot and challenge breaking the seven-minute barrier.