Missy Franklin and relay team finish third, Natalie Coughlin ties medal record

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

America's swimming sweetheart will have to wait for her first gold medal, while one of the sport's leaders earned an Olympic milestone of her own in absentia.

Despite a stellar lead-off leg from teen star Missy Franklin, Team USA finished in third place in the 4x100 freestyle relay, losing to Netherlands and Australia in the opening relay of the London swimming competition.

The 17-year-old Franklin gave Jessica Hardy a lead after her opening swim and Hardy, the favorite in the 100 freestyle, maintained it. But Australia's Brittany Elmslie quickly passed Lia Neal in the third leg and Allison Schmitt, a teammate of Michael Phelps at the North Baltimore Aquatic Center, fell to third in the anchor leg.

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The Americans finished 0.45 seconds out of a silver medal. The healthy defeat will likely prevent questions about why U.S. women's coach Teri McKeever left Natalie Coughlin off the four-woman finals team. Coughlin swam the fastest leg of the four swimmers in preliminaries and figured to be one of the two swimmers from that race to join Hardy and Franklin in the final. But McKeever went with Neal and Schmitt instead, the two women who gave up the American lead.

[ Related: Natalie Coughlin's exclusion from the women's freestyle relay was tough but correct choice ]

Coughlin gets a bronze medal for swimming in the prelims. It's her 12th medal overall, tying her with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most ever won by an American woman at the Olympics.
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