Olympic Games, London, Day 5 Finals
Men's 100 Freestyle Final
It was a fingertip - and a perfectly timed touch - that made an Olympic champion of Nathan Adrian (USA). The 23 year-old from Berkeley edged out Australia's James "the Missile" Magnussen by .01sec to take the gold in 47.52.
Adrian pounded the water, then put his hands over his eyes while hanging over the lane rope, as if he could hardly believe the "1" next to his name.
Magnussen hung at the end of the pool, staring straight ahead in disbelief at the wall that had eluded him by a fraction. Silver in 47.53 was a disappointment for the man who had been top of the world rankings all year - holding 5 of the 10 all time performances since last year in Shanghai.
Despite a nerve-wracking day and several back adjustments, Canada's Brent Hayden made the most of his first Olympic final to power strong into the 50 - keeping France's 200 metre Olympic champion Yannick Agnel at bay to take the bronze medal in 47.8 - Canada's first in the pool - and first podium in this event at an Olympics.
The final and splits:
That marked the 14th title for the USA since 1896, Australia on 3 wins shared with Hungary, from the early years, the closest to the superpower at the helm.
Adrian had given a glimpse of his potential in the 4x100 free relay on Sunday, when he swamped Magnussen in the opening leg, a stunner that left the rest of the Australian team seemingly powerless to charge back. He told reporters in the mixed zone that this time he had conserved a bit of energy on the first 50 so he had that little bit left to pour into the last ten metres.
"It was pretty unbelievable," he laughed. "I don't like to put pressure on myself so I don't like to think of it as the Olympics. So you could probably tell on my face that at first I realised, I won the heat! And then it kind of took a minute, and I was like, whoa - this is the Olympics!"
Magnussen was at a loss as to why he hasn't lived up to expectations. "I just felt pretty much bullet-proof coming into this Olympics," he said. "It is very humbling." With an attitude like that, Magnussen is a man we will see gunning for gold again one day: his willingness to say "I want to win and believe I can" and then accept a 0.01sec defeat in the spirit he showed today knowing that his self-confidence may well be turned as a weapon against him, contrasts to the many comments of folk who emerge from finals in 5th and 6th and say "I'm happy with that" - and if they mean it probably always will be happy to miss the mark.
Hayden, meantime, said he'd woken up at 6:00 am with his heart pounding at the prospect of his first Olympic final and thinking, "The best day of my life feels like the worst day of my life right now."
He kept his calm though and credited his support staff for a great team effort in getting him through some severe aches and pains.
"I think tonight was just digging down deep right into my soul," he said of this swim, the fastest he's ever been in textile, "because physically I probably wasn't actually that fast but emotionally and spiritually, you know I had that extra push to push me beyond what I was capable of.!
He added, "I kind of had the urge to kiss the starting block because I never knew that I could love lane 7 so much!"
Hayden’s coach Tom Johnson said his star pupil had his race plan set. "I knew he had to go out fast and get out on the front," Johnson. "He’s been saving that front end all through the meet, not really showing his hand. I knew the speed was there and I just impressed upon him that he had to use it."
"It's experience," he added, referring to the fact that this was Hayden's third Olympics. "He’s been one of the best 100 freestyle swimmers the last six years and to fight back after the disappointments of the last two Olympics shows that if you believe in yourself great things can happen."
To top his day, Hayden was presented with his medal by Canada's Dick Pound, IOC member and 1960 Olympian and former Commonwealth 100m freestyle champion.
Fastest field: Beijing 2008: 47.21 - 48.33, final (semi-final top 8: 47.05wr - 48.07)
Comparison fields (finals):
To qualify for the final it took:
Reports by Craig Lord and Karin Helmstaedt