By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 24. POWERED by Libby Lenton's 53.42 leadoff, tied for the second-fastest 100 free in history, and anchored by Jodie Henry, Australia snared gold in the much-anticipated 400 freestyle relay. Henry, in second place when she entered the water, spit 53.21 to overtake the USA's Kara Lynn Joyce and give the Aussies the win in 3:35.48, a championship record and behind only Germany's world record of 3:35.22.
Lenton gave the Australian squad a huge jumpstart with her leadoff leg and was followed by Melanie Schlanger in 53.95 and Shayne Reese in 54.90. That set the stage for Henry, who loves to stalk the opposition and did just that. The relay win for Australia was huge, as this event was totuted as one of the premier races on the female slate.
"It's funny because we were defending champions and we still weren't considered favorites, and to tell you the truth we didn't consider ourselves favorites," Lenton said. "We were actually just hoping to win a medal and break the time we won at the Olympics in. We ended up doing both of those and so much more."
The United States' silver medal arrived in American-record time of 3:35.68, slightly faster than the 3:35.80 by the USA at last summer's Pan Pacific CHampionships. Natalie Coughlin led off in 54.13 and gave way to Lacey Nymeyer (53.50), Amanda Weir (54.02) and Joyce, who went a high-quality time of 54.03.
Expected to challenge for gold, Germany was edged out for the bronze medal by the Netherlands' grouping of Inge Dekker, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Femke Heemskerk and Marleen Veldhuis. The Dutch clocked 3:36.81 to topple the Germans, who went 3:36.94. Britta Steffen anchored for Germany in 52.65.
For the upcoming 100 free among the women, the hype will only grow after some of the relay efforts. Look for Lenton and Steffen to battle for gold, but don't count out Henry or Coughlin.