"We will smash them up!" France's Alain Bernard boasted on Sunday after the heats of the men's 4x100m freestyle relay.

He had reason to be confident as he didn't even have to don his suit for the heats after substitute Boris Steimetz had taken care of his responsibilities in a time of 49.83 seconds.

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When you consider world-record holder Bernard can go two seconds faster from a flat start, everybody knew the French had a three-second drop in the bag, putting them on course for a world record by at least two seconds.

So, after seeing the performance of the French, America's Michael Phelps must have been worried about the chance of winning eight gold medals slipping away.

We have learnt to have confidence in all the victories under his control but the relays still remain vulnerable. Would his team-mates keep his dream alive?

In traditional fashion Phelps led off in the final, swimming the first leg in a time of 47.51 seconds, only 1/100th of a second off the Frenchman's world best.

However Australia's Eamon Sullivan showed his sprinting class by breaking the world record for the 100m free in a time of 47.24 to put them in front at the first change, with America diving in second and the French following closely behind in third.

The lead went to the Americans on the second leg with Garrett Weber-Gale holding off the charge from France's Fabien Gilot to keep the USA head by half a second at the half way stage.

But then Frederick Bousquet, a well-renowned relay swimmer, took a whole second out of Cullen Jones to hand a healthy lead of a couple of metres to fastest man in the world this year for the final leg!

The victorious US 4x100m relay team (l-r) Garrett Weber-Gale, Jason Lezak, Michael Phelps and Cullen Jones

It was obvious to all in the press tribune that there was no way 32-year-old Jason Lezak from the US could catch Bernard on this last stretch.

Phelps' dream looked dead.

But coming down the second length Jason Lezak appeared to surf the bow wave Bernard was producing and with five metres to go drew level.

It was a blanket finish but the board read 3.08.24 to the Americans followed by 3.08.32 to the French.

For a number of reasons this was possibly the greatest relay race in history.

The world record had gone by four seconds on the most prestigious relay event on the aquatic program.

The world record for the blue riband event had switched from Bernard to Australia's Sullivan.

Phelps' dream of eight medals was still alive.

Jones had become the second black man in history to win an Olympic gold medal in the pool.

Even though the British team finished eighth, they did so in a time that would have won them gold in Athens, which just shows you what a race this was.

I've heard the odd comment about the atmosphere at certain venues in Beijing being subdued. That certainly wasn't the case down at the iconic Water Cube where we had a sensational morning.

We were treated to a world record in the 100m breaststroke when Japan's Kosuke Kitajima defended his title from four years ago.

Lizzie Trickett nearly broke the world record in the 100m butterfly on the way to winning the gold for Australia and put to bed the demons of four years ago.

I felt physically sick before the 400m freestyle final for women but settled down into the race when Great Britain's' Becky Adlington and Jo Jackson romped home to win the gold and bronze respectfully.

It was a really formidable achievement and one which will really excite the whole team and could be just the start for Britain.

Steve Parry is a former Olympic medallist. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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  • 1. At 09:50am on 11 Aug 2008, LondonMadHead wrote:

    well done girls, lets hope this spurs the whole GB team on.

    i can imagine sitting down and telling my grandchildren all about when Phelps won 8 gold medals at 1 olympics!

    2 down, 6 to go! come on the yank!!!!

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  • 2. At 10:56am on 11 Aug 2008, andrewvive wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 3. At 11:03am on 11 Aug 2008, RandyRascal wrote:

    steve, the term is 'blue riband' not 'blue ribbon'

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  • 4. At 11:32am on 11 Aug 2008, levdavidovich wrote:

    At last some excitement from Beijing. Phelps is brilliant. How many did Mark Spitz get - I can't remember.

    More, importantly, I've just spent all my virtual money on Phelps on Sportdaq, so he'd better keep going.

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  • 5. At 11:45am on 11 Aug 2008, darkvalleysboy1978 wrote:

    Cooke was the first person to win the Gold medal for Team GB so hopefully both of these victories can spur on the rest. Remember not all of the action is in the pool at the moment

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  • 6. At 12:29pm on 11 Aug 2008, Ellie400 wrote:

    I watched the race live and in the last 25 meters was actually jumping up and down screaming "Go, Go, GO!". Probably the most exciting relay I've ever seen! Michael Phelps owes his second gold medal to Jason Lezak.

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  • 7. At 1:44pm on 11 Aug 2008, GraemePuskas wrote:

    Fine article, Mr Parry - it was rare to be cheering for the USA at the end, but it's always great to see a dramatic comeback like that. The question is - how much did the French guy choke, or was it purely an extraordinary effort from Lezak?

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  • 8. At 1:56pm on 11 Aug 2008, tea-cup wrote:

    what was Lezak's time? sounds as if his leg saved the day but wasn't as quick as the first australian?

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  • 9. At 2:17pm on 11 Aug 2008, greatFoster wrote:

    As far as Micheal Phelps is concerned,Beijing water cube belongs to him....neither french or anyone can take that away from this great and excellence swimmer.This guy is faster than shark.

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  • 10. At 2:29pm on 11 Aug 2008, brentwoodhammer wrote:

    Fair play to the guy - looks like a great achievement in the making - but is it not a bit unfair that any one person can get this number of medals in the pool - you could be the greatest thing ever in track n field and not be able to get more than 2 or 3 Golds.

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  • 11. At 2:32pm on 11 Aug 2008, Milsom75 wrote:

    What an amazing 90 mins of swimming finals, well worth waking up at 2.30am on a Monday morning and the hassle from a girlfriend who was woken up by my shouting.

    A remarkable relay, I'm not a fan of the French and I'm desperate to see Phelps create history, so the outcome was perfect. It had everything, an unsung hero swimming the most stunning anchor leg in history (he was a length down to the second fastest 100m swimmer ever), two world records and a great time by the British boys.

    All this and I was just getting over the amazing 400m freestyle. Congratulations to Adlington and Jackson. Even watching the replay I still can't work out how she won.

    We just need the men to start matching the girls of GB and get amongst the medals.

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  • 12. At 2:36pm on 11 Aug 2008, Bergerac81 wrote:

    Lesak swam a 46.06, riding the lane rope and sucking a big tow off of Bernard.

    Fastest relay leg in history, won't stand as a record tho.

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  • 13. At 3:10pm on 11 Aug 2008, ruicosta10 wrote:

    Wow! as you say, this one will go down in history. i cannot believe they caught them on the last lap and in such incredible style! this is what great sport is all about and let's all hope phelps can go on and make further history in the pool.

    and what a performance by Adlington. This is what the Games are all about and long may it continue. i'm off for a cat nap...

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  • 14. At 3:42pm on 11 Aug 2008, BrucieB wrote:

    one other thing about this race: i believe the first FIVE teams all went under the old world record.

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  • 15. At 3:48pm on 11 Aug 2008, gruffaloburger wrote:

    Great article Steve. Last night's swims were fantastic displays of extraordinary performances and textbook lessons of how to race. Adlington's swim was superb! Seeing how she kept focus and raced Hoff to reel in the gold was brilliant. Lezak's swim was monumental! No, he isn't the fastest off the flat start and has a history of underperforming in the big (individual) race, yet he showed the fortitude to dig deep and raced to win in overhauling the behemoth Bernard with the fastest ever 100m swim!

    Great for Great Britain, great for swimming, great for the Olympics!

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  • 16. At 4:50pm on 11 Aug 2008, BigShifty wrote:

    Forgive me if this is stupid, but why was the Australian guys time a world record but the race winning American time was not? Even though it was a second faster.

    Isnt it great to laugh at the cocky French chap throwing away a lead going into the last stretch. I'm not xenophobic sir, I just hate the French!

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  • 17. At 4:55pm on 11 Aug 2008, Lee wrote:

    That's all well and good, but where's Eric the Eel..,eh?

    Seriously, whatever happened to, clearly, the fastest and most technically gifted swimmer of the last 10 years?

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  • 18. At 5:04pm on 11 Aug 2008, bigrich201 wrote:

    Milsom75 said: "A remarkable relay, I'm not a fan of the French and I'm desperate to see Phelps create history, so the outcome was perfect. It had everything, an unsung hero swimming the most stunning anchor leg in history (he was a length down to the second fastest 100m swimmer ever), two world records and a great time by the British boys."

    Actually, Lezak was racing the world record holder and fastest man in the world Alain Bernard...that is until you realise Eamon Sullivan took the individual blue ribbon freestyle world record in this race!

    Unbelievable. Truely the most exceptional piece of swimming ever from Lezak. Amazing from Sullivan. 4 seconds off the world record is unheard of. Amazing story before (French ribbing), during (Sullivan, Lezak) and after (Phelps losing it) and I'm sure it will be remembered for years to come (if not as the greatest moment of these games).


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  • 19. At 5:20pm on 11 Aug 2008, bobmcconn wrote:

    18. Correct - Lezak's split of 46.06 iirc was the fastest relay split yet recorded; so Lezak won. Bernard's split was the 3rd fastest (i think) ~ 46.63 (Bosquet had split .1 faster) and Cullen Jones had a bit of a bad turn to maybe lose .1 second on that (relatively) slow 3rd leg. So a VERY well earned win and i had to wait till this morning for useless NBC to get the video replay up.

    By the way, at the end of the race i was defn. tickled at seeing the GB women take 1/3 in the 400m free. It had been a LONG time for the Brit girls and both swam a great race, as did Hoff. I was a little disappointed that Oen couldn't pull off a 1st for Norway.

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  • 20. At 9:29pm on 11 Aug 2008, beutelsguese wrote:

    Obviously we've got to cheer Michael on but it's really amazing to watch everyone. I love the shots of the parents as well....all of them, no matter what country they are from....worked unbelievably hard to get to this moment.

    It was worth the late night wait to watch an amazing bit of history to see the US men win this definitely wasn't 'just about Michael'........this was a team effort all the way. Well done men, well done.

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  • 21. At 10:30pm on 11 Aug 2008, steely2600 wrote:

    In reply to comment 16... The world record can only be set on the first leg as that is the only leg where they race under normal conditions.
    The other legs have no start signal so can't be accurately measured.

    Not sure if that helps maybe someone else can put it better

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  • 22. At 01:08am on 12 Aug 2008, kkelley1954 wrote:

    The time difference between the starting leg of a relay and the other legs is around .7 to 1 sec, so add that to the times. However, its not precise so only the first member of the relay qualify for world records.
    Does anyone have the video of interviews with the French team after the relay?

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  • 23. At 03:56am on 12 Aug 2008, thefrogstar wrote:

    I agree with comment #10.

    I don't doubt that Phelps is an exceptional athlete.

    But if as well as a long-jump and triple-jump, there was also a double-jump and a quadruple-jump and a quintuple-jump etc etc,
    then we might also see one athlete winning a whole bunch of medals in track and field.

    How does swimming come to have so many "styles" each worthy of medals?

    Could we have an athletics event with a different style, such as the 100 meter sprint, but run backwards?

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  • 24. At 12:45pm on 12 Aug 2008, blueTonyS wrote:

    I think that the BBC are in danger of over-broadcasting the Michael Phelps progress to 8 gold medals.
    I think that you will find that the general British public are more interested in hearing about the British athletes achievements, no matter how small, rather then the progress of the latest American super star.

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  • 25. At 6:16pm on 12 Aug 2008, mightymike99 wrote:

    I agree with comment 23!

    As good as Phelps is, for a single man to win 8 medals in one sport means that swimming has way too many events. And swimming is not like track and field where is there's a far broader range... and far more popular around the world, i.e. more competitive. I personally think the Olympic reduce the number of swimming events.

    In response to comment 24, I think the opposite. for Britain to become far more competitive, we need to have far more awareness in all sports and not just the ones the Brits are in! We need to be less insular and more competitive... and that means youngsters being inspired by all great athletes! Even though I want less swimming events, we are seeing a man making history. Our youngsters are going to be inspired by him and not the brit who came in 8th!!

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  • 26. At 4:01pm on 14 Aug 2008, squarejohnregis wrote:

    I've no doubt that this is the greatest swimming relay race of all time, but the greatest relay of all time has to be the men's 4x400m at the Tokyo world athletics championships in 1991.

    Who can forget hurdles specialist Kriss Akabusi storming past individual gold medalist Antonio Pettigrew on the anchor leg?

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  • 27. At 8:52pm on 14 Aug 2008, StuEaling wrote:

    Hi Steve,

    I'm confused! Either my maths isn't very good or there's been a mistake. When watching the video of the sensational men's 4x100 freestyle relay final, it's stated that Eamon Sullivan of Australia broke the world record with a time of 47.24.

    However, when Jason Lezak took over the final leg for the US, the French leaders posted a split of 2'21.59 with the Americans 0.59 behind (2'22.18).

    When I work out the Americans' final time of 3'08'24 less the 2'22.18 US split, Jason Lezak's final leg is 46.06. Surely smashing the former and very recently set (!) world record of Eamon Sullivan.

    Am I right or have I missed something?



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  • 28. At 10:03am on 15 Aug 2008, MIRADORDELMAR wrote:

    I notice Lochte won 2 medals and had to swim twice in one night without a rest !!!!

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  • 29. At 05:09am on 16 Aug 2008, adrianl wrote:

    What is going on in the Olympic swimming pool? I've just seen Men's 100m Butterfly Final and it is obvious that the Serbian guy won the race. It is outrageous that the gold was stolen from him just so that Michael Phelps breaks Games record. What a shameful decision! I am utterly appalled. It seems that the American meddling knows no limits. Can anyone do anything about it? Someone ought to complain and try to correct the injustice.

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  • 30. At 05:48am on 16 Aug 2008, smellslikesalmon wrote:

    #27 - you can only set a world record in the first leg, as that is the only one that can be timed properly. In the other legs they practice to anticipate the touch of the previous swimmer, so take off JUST after the touch. With a proper start they have to hear the gun and then you have a slight delay (length depending on reactions) before diving. Only first leg times are official.

    #29 - think that's a bit over the top. Was very, very close (with butterfly it's all in the timing of strokes), but not sure how 'the Americans' can interfere with an electronic touch-pad in China!!

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