US Gold: Phelps, Greatest of the Greats
Jul 31, 2012
Olympic Games, London, Day 4 finals:
Men's 4x200m freestyle:
Michael Phelps is the greatest of the greats: he brought the United States 4x200m quartet of Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens to gold in 6:59.70 (best ever in textile), France second in 7:02.77, China third in 7:06.30, 0.29 ahead of Germany, Australia fifth in 7:07.00.
The winning time was the best ever in textile, a fair way inside the 7:02.67 in which the US claimed the world title in Shanghai last year, and within coughing distance of the 6:58.55 world mark set by Americans in shiny suits in Rome. The 7-minute mark has been cracked by four men swimming unassisted.
Phelps, a towering record of 15 Olympic gold medals to his name, spat a plume of holy water into the air in celebration: 19 career medals, the latest a gold way out ahead of the field where he had got so used to being until this past Olympic cycle.
In response to his disappointing shut-out in last night's 200 freestyle, Lochte gunned away form his blocks and establish a strong lead on the way to a 1:45.15 finish nearly a second ahead of Australia's Thomas Fraser-Holmes. Conor Dwyer split 1:45.23 to extend the lead to over 2 seconds at the 400 for 3:30.38, by which time Germany had moved into second place thanks to Dimitri Colupaev (3:32.51). Ricky Behrens kept up the pace for the Americans, bringing it home for Phelps in 5:15.65 (1:45.27 split) - with France having now clawed its way back to second place.
It was in the bag now for the Baltimore Bullet, who flew through the water in 1:44.05 to give the US its 16th gold medal in the event - and himself the long-awaited record as most decorated Olympian in history, 1 medal pat Larisa Latynina, the Russian gymnast who won 18.
Latynina kindly offered to come and present Phelps with his 19th medal. But vanity got the better of the IOC and a man from Lebanon and the president of French swimming, Frances Luyce, turned up instead, perhaps in anticipation of a French victory. Not this time, no way, not even close.
No insult intended but the money would be good on a bet that Phelps would have preferred to shake hands with the lady who had held the honour for so long. And as for the vanity unfair, they would surely have had a far greater chance of having their snap seen far and wide had the Russian lady made it to the deck to do the honours.
Now 77, the winner of nine golds, five silvers and four bronzes between 1956-64, turned up anyway and rose to her feet with the rest of the almost capacity 17,500 crowd at the London Aquatics Centre.
While he's yet to become the first man to win consecutive golds in one event in three Olympics - Phelps has now managed it with the relay - a moment that had the US flags a-fluttering in the stands as the whole house celebrated his amazing feat - and that of coach Bob Bowman and the folk in Baltimore who made it all happen.
It took the American foursome a while to get past the end of the pool. "I've been in a huddle with them (his teammates in the relay) because they made it possible," said Phelps later. "If I didn't get a big enough lead then who knows what would have happened."
"It's very special," he added. "I saw my mum and I'm starting to pick out people in the crowd. It's pretty special."