ATHENS, Greece -- Jenny Thompson usually overhauls her
competitors on the anchor leg of Olympic swimming relays. Not this
Thompson gave up the lead to Australia on the final lap of the
400-meter freestyle relay Saturday night, costing the Americans a
gold medal. She had a chance for her ninth gold when she dove into
the water with an edge of nearly four-tenths of a second but, at
age 31, the most successful relay swimmer in U.S. history just
couldn't hold it.
Jodie Henry passed Thompson after they made the final turn
almost together. The Australian reached the wall in 3 minutes,
35.94 seconds to break the world record of 3:36.00 set by Germany
two years ago.
"It was a change of pace for me to be passed by someone,"
Thompson said. "It's usually the other way around."
The American women had won the last three 400 free relays at the
Olympics -- each time with Thompson swimming the anchor leg. And
things were looking good after the first three legs by Kara Lynn
Joyce, Natalie Coughlin and Amanda Weir.
"When I stepped up on the box, I had this tremendous sense of
competitiveness and willing to want my team to win," Thompson
said. "I can't deny I very badly wanted to win that race."
She swam her 100 in 53.77 -- fastest of the Americans and enough
to give the team a silver medal and a national record of 3:36.39.
The Netherlands took bronze in 3:37.59.
"We were so close," Thompson said. "Getting a new American
record is amazing. I think that's pretty cool."
Henry followed teammates Alice Mills, Lisbeth Lenton and Petria
Thomas and completed the final 100 in 52.95 -- nearly a second
faster than Thompson.
"She passed me and I didn't like it," Thompson said.
"I've watched a lot of relays," she said. "I've seen people
catch up to her. It's just a matter of diving in and believing in
yourself. It doesn't matter who you swim."
Coughlin said she wasn't disappointed in her teammate.
"I thought we would pull it through and Jenny is such a great,
great teammate, I wouldn't want anybody else to be anchor," she
said. "No matter how she's swimming in a meet, she always has a
really, really good relay split. Jenny was hurting at the end. But
she still did a really good job and I'm proud of her."
Thompson still managed to tie the record for most career
swimming medals. She's now got 11 -- including eight golds from
relays -- equaling the mark shared by Mark Spitz, Matt Biondi and
"The medal count doesn't really matter," she said. "Thirty or
10, it's a lot of medals."
Thompson has never won an individual gold medal, however, and
most of her medals have come in relays. Her only individual prizes
are silver and bronze, both in the 100 freestyle.
She has two chances for individual glory in Athens, earning
spots in the 50 free and 100 butterfly, but isn't considered a
strong threat in either race.
"I feel very blessed to be here. I'm just really eating it all
up," Thompson said. "I came back in 2002 and didn't really know
if I'd be here. Being able to be part of this team with Michael
Phelps and Erik Vendt, it's an amazing feeling."