LONDON – Payback. This time, it was France chasing down the United States – and Ryan Lochte, no less – to win another riveting relay at the Olympics.
With Michael Phelps looking much stronger than he did the night before, the Americans built a commanding lead over the first three legs of the 400-meter freestyle relay Sunday and never really had to worry about the defending world champions from Australia.
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.
Agnel touched in 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds, having gone exactly one second faster than Lochte over the last 100 meters. 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.
Two records fall
American Dana Vollmer took down the mark in the 100 butterfly, then Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa broke another in the 100 breaststroke – denying Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima an Olympic threepeat.
Vollmer was third at the turn but powered to the wall for a time of 55.98, beating the record of 56.06 set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom at the 2009 world championships. Not bad for someone who didn’t even qualify for the last Olympics, her career sidetracked by injuries and illness.
Van der Burgh dominated his race almost as soon as his head popped out of the water for the first time. He was comfortably ahead at the turn and blew away the field on the return lap to touch in 58.46, knocking off a mark set at the 2009 world championships.