By John Lohn
MONTREAL, Canada, July 24. THE drought is over. For so long, the 400 freestyle relay belonged to the United States. But, recent history has been a bit different. Heading into this week, the last time the U.S. won the 400 free relay in Olympic or World Championship competition was 1998. That all changed on Sunday night.
Establishing a championship-record time of 3:13.77, the United States routed the opposition at Parc Jean-Drapeau and took home the gold medal. More important, the American contingent of Michael Phelps, Neil Walker, Nate Dusing and Jason Lezak restored some tradition. At last summer’s Olympic Games, the U.S. managed only a bronze medal.
Coming off a poor performance in the 400 free, an effort that left him shy of qualifying for the final, Phelps started the United States with a 49.17 split. Walker followed with an eye-popping effort of 47.70 and Dusing checked in with a leg of 48.97. When Lezak entered the water, the outcome was not in doubt. A veteran anchor for the States, Lezak finished the night off with a swim of 47.93.
Much to the delight of the home crowd, Canada earned the silver medal with a time of 3:16.44, good for a national record. Yannick Lupien and Rick Say handled the first two legs for Canada while Mike Mintenko and Brent Hayden assured a place on the podium. Hayden anchored in 48.19. The bronze medal went to the Australians in 3:17.56, thanks to the performances of Michael Klim, Andrew Mewing, Leith Brodie and Patrick Murphy.
Lithuania (3:17.89) and Sweden (3:17.95) took fourth and fifth, respectively, and sixth place went to Germany in 3:18.12. Russia (3:18.44) and the Netherlands (3:19.34) finished out the top eight. Russia held the previous championship record from its 3:14.06 swim in 2003.