France pulls off upset for gold
LONDON -- Ryan Lochte grabbed at the edge of the pool, head down, staring at the water. Michael Phelps glared at the scoreboard, trying to digest the first silver medal of his Olympic career.
Right beside them, the French celebrated.
It was just like 2008, but with the roles reversed.
More From ESPN.com
At the last Summer Games, it was the U.S. that pulled off the improbable victory in the 4x100 relay. Sunday in London, France got its revenge, writes Jim Caple. Story
This time, it was France chasing down the United States -- and Lochte, no less -- to win another riveting relay at the Olympics.
"We got our revenge," French swimmer Clement Lefert said.
With Phelps looking much stronger than he did the night before, the Americans built a commanding lead over the first three legs of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay Sunday and never really had to worry about the defending world champions from Australia.
When Lochte dove into the water on the anchor leg, he was a half-body length ahead of the field and looking to add another gold to his dominating victory Saturday in the 400 individual medley.
Not so fast.
Or, should we say, not fast enough.
Yannick Agnel, playing the chaser role that Jason Lezak did for the Americans four years ago in this same event, sliced through the water and was right on Lochte's shoulder as they made the flip at the far end of the pool. With about 25 meters to go, they were stroke for stroke. But Lochte, who had already competed in 1,200 meters of racing over the first two days, simply didn't have enough left to hold off the towering, 20-year-old Frenchman, one of the sport's real rising stars.
"I gave everything in the last 50 until he cracked," Agnel said. "In the last 10 meters, I saw that he was really cracking."
Agnel touched in 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds, having gone exactly 1 second faster than Lochte over the last two laps. Lochte and the Americans dropped to silver in 3:10.38, while Australia -- the favorite -- didn't even get a medal. Russia took the bronze in 3:11.41, edging the team from Down Under by 0.22.
Phelps settled for his 17th career medal and completed his collection of Olympic colors, adding a silver to his 14 golds and two bronzes. He also moved a step closer to becoming the most decorated Olympian ever, just one away from tying the mark for most career medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina. Phelps has five events to go.
"At least I'm in a medal today," Phelps said ruefully, referring to a fourth-place finish in his first race of the London Games.
But silver was a bitter disappointment for the Americans, who know how the French felt four years ago.
France had the lead in Beijing and its best sprinter, Alain Bernard, going out on the final leg. But Lezak swam the fastest relay leg in history, drafting Bernard along the lane rope and beating him by a scant 0.08 seconds to keep Phelps on track for his record eight gold medals.
That was one of the greatest races in Olympic history.
This one wasn't too shabby, either.
"I was just really excited and I think I overswam the first 50 and it hurt me for the last 50," Lochte said. "But we were able to get a medal, so I guess that's good."
Lochte's reaction was much different than the one he had the night before, when he finished more than 3 seconds ahead of the other medalists and more than 4 seconds ahead of Phelps in the 400 IM.
Even though Phelps got a medal this time, he didn't look much happier. He lingered at the edge of the pool right above Lochte, before going over to congratulate the French.
Phelps put up the fastest time among the American swimmers, covering the second 100 in 47.15 and showing he still intends to be a force at these Games after his disappointing start. Nathan Adrian swam the leadoff leg in 47.89, going out faster than Australian star James "The Missile" Magnussen to give the U.S. an early lead. Cullen Jones was solid, too, in the third spot (47.60).
Lochte was handed a lead of more than a half-second, but he couldn't hold it. Agnel covered the final leg in 46.74, while Lochte labored home in 47.74.
Agnel's anchor wasn't quite as spectacular as Lezak's 46.06 at Beijing, but the French had no complaints.
"It's magical, simply magical," Agnel said. "We didn't have too much pressure. We did what we know how to do. Now, Olympic champions. It's brilliant."
They climbed to the top step of the podium to receive their medals, looking down at the Americans.
"It's tough," Phelps said. "We'd like to be on top, but Yannick has been swimming well all year and those guys put together a great relay. We tried to get ourselves into as much open water as we could. We had four great guys to get up there and swam as fast as we could. We were the ones that the coaches thought were going to have the best shot. We went out there and raced. That's all you can ask."
The U.S. coaches surely will come under scrutiny for going with Lochte, who had little experience in the 100 free and had never competed on this relay at the Olympics. But, coming off his dominant showing the first night, it's hard to argue about going with a swimmer who appeared to have the hottest hand of all.
"The 100 free, I don't really swim it. I haven't swum it in a long time," Lochte said. "You would think doing distance events, I wouldn't get tired. But sprinting takes a lot out of you."
In an interesting twist, Bernard will get a gold medal even though he didn't swim the final. Amaury Leveaux and Fabien Gilot took the first two legs, but Bernard will be rewarded, too, for taking part in the morning prelims. Maybe that will soothe some bitter feelings from four years ago.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
MORE OLYMPICS HEADLINES
- Durant, USA pull away from Spain to win gold
- Clippers' Paul has successful surgery on thumb
- Schmitt back to school after Olympic stardom
- Olympian Raisman, Poland Spring sign deal
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
All the information you need for swimming rules, athletes, schedules and history.