LONDON – Nathan Adrian took out the Missile by a fingertip. Then Allison Schmitt dealt more heartache to the team from Down Under.
Adrian, a 23-year-old from Bremerton largely overshadowed by American stars such as Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, made a name for himself by winning the 100-meter Olympic freestyle Wednesday. He lunged to the wall to edge James “The Missile” Magnussen by one-hundredth of a second – the slightest margin possible – and deny Australia its first individual swimming gold of the London Games.
Adrian pounded the water, then put his hands over his eyes while dangling over the lane rope, as if he couldn’t believe the “1” beside his name. Magnussen hung at the end of the pool, staring straight ahead at the wall in disbelief.
“It’s not who swims the fastest time this year,” said Adrian, a not-so-subtle dig at Magnussen posting the best time in a textile suit in March. “It’s who can get their hands on the wall first here tonight.”
The Aussies took another bitter defeat in the final event of the evening, again to their U.S. rivals as Schmitt chased down Alicia Coutts for gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay.
Schmitt dived in the water about a half-second behind but passed Coutts on their first return lap and won going away in 7:42.92 seconds. The Australians settled for silver, while France took the bronze.
Schmitt is turning into one of the biggest American stars of the games, picking up her second gold to go along with a silver and a bronze. Missy Franklin claimed her second gold swimming the leadoff leg, and Dana Vollmer now has two golds in London. Shannon Vreeland rounded out the gold medal-winning quartet.
“Allison is a fighter and she can push through anything,” Franklin said. “We had total faith in her.”
Like the Aussies, the record book also took quite a beating.
Daniel Gyurta and Rebecca Soni both set world records in the 200 breaststroke. The Hungarian won gold, while Soni set her mark in a semifinal heat, further proof that it’s still possible to go really fast even without the now-banned bodysuits. Five records have fallen over the first five days at the Olympic Aquatics Centre, defying those who felt it would take years to take down some of the marks set with technology.
Adrian was on top of the world after touching in 47.52, giving the U.S. its first title in swimming’s signature event since Matt Biondi at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Canada’s Brent Hayden took bronze in 47.80, his country’s first medal ever in the furious down-and-back sprint.
“We were in the ready room and we watched it and just went nuts,” Lochte said. “We were screaming and everything. That was one of the greatest finishes. We’re so happy for him.”
“I just felt pretty much bulletproof coming into this Olympics,” Magnussen said. “It is very humbling.”
Australia, which normally battles with the Americans for pool supremacy, has eight medals but its only gold came in the women’s 4x100 free relay. The U.S. is pulling away in the medal table with eight golds and 18 medals overall.
“I have a lot more respect for guys like Michael Phelps who can come to the Olympics and back it up under that pressure,” Magnussen said. “It is a pretty tough time to learn you are human.”