Day 7 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai
Women's 4x100m medley
The USA took the crown in 3:52.36, 0.17sec shy of the world record but the best ever in textile suits, with holders China second in 3:55.61 and Australian taking bronze in 3:57.13.
Perfection can wait but meanwhile the American quartet came as close as they could to it tonight, each rocket firing on cue in a dance with time warped and stretched by suits but pulled into shape by human talent and toil. After Natalie Coughlin got off to a 59.12 start, 0.01sec ahead of Anastasia Zueva in times that would have won them the gold and silver ion the solo event, Rebecca Soni produced the only sub-1:05 breaststroke split of the final, her 1:04.71 delivering a classic spearhead in lane 4.
Next up, 100m 'fly champion Dana Vollmer, a woman who followed Coughlin Down under to seek out the wisdom of water whisperer Milt Nelms, an expert doing devilish work in Tasmania. Vollmer's split: 55.74. Only a false start or the roof crashing in could stop the crown passing from China in Rome to the US in Shanghai.
Still beaming from a 2:05.10 victory in the 200m backstroke, Melissa Franklin, 16, took to her blocks in readiness for a second title for self and the swimming sorority who had made it possible for her to warm down a little on the way to driving the Stars and Stripes up the tallest pole once more - had she chosen to do so. She didn't, not an inch, not a fingernail given: she brought the title home in 52.79, ensuring that the US claimed the best split on every stroke from go to gold.
"It's been such an incredible meet," said Franklin, winner of two golds at the helm of five medals so far. "Everything was run perfectly - the pool was incredible," she said. "The crowd were so energetic and honestly, I couldn't ask for anything better. I'm so thrilled right now."
The Chinese team of Zhao Jing, 59.24, Ji Liping, 1:06.27, Lu Ying, 56.77, and Tang Yi, 53.33, for 3:55.61, moved into second butterfly and never looked back as the impossible quarry ahead raced through stars and stripes.
Australia moved up from 5th to 4th and then to 3rd for the second half of the race, Belinda Hocking on 59.91, Leisel Jones on 1:06.18, Alicia Coutts on 56.69 and Merindah Dingjan on 54.35.
Russia, closest to the Americans on backstroke and breaststroke, Yuliya Efimova producing a 1:05.91n effort, will be looking to boost their flyers before London 2012, Irina Bespalova on 58.61 before Veronika Popova clocked 53.75. Japan and Britain took fifth and sixth, with Canada and Germany disqualified for flying starts.
From the archive:
The 2009 world championships marked the first time in the history of medley relays, at Olympic level since 1960 and world level since 1973, that the USA did not manage to reach the podium. The problem was a 3:59.01 effort in heats by Elizabeth Pelton, Kasey Carlson, Christine Magnuson and Julia Smit. The time was decent enough (in 2008, Britain became the first European quartet inside 4mins, for example) but non-textile suits set new standards and the US found themselves in 10th place - and out of the final.
Eleven nations and five provincial teams from China beyond its national quartet raced inside 4 minutes in 2009. In 2008, Australia clocked a world record of 3:52.69, while the Rome 2009 world title went to China in a world mark of 3:52.19. In 2010, The USA led the world rankings, on 3:55.23 for the Pan Pacific crown, with Australia on 3:56.96 for silver and Japan on 3:57.75 for bronze. China took the Asian Games crown in 3:57.80, while the European title went to Britain in 3:59.72. Sweden and Germany are on the edge of the battle.