The 4x100 freestyle relay played out in the opposite fashion of 2008, as the United States blew a massive lead on Sunday night in London and was caught from behind in the final 15 meters by a rallying French team.
Ryan Lochte entered the water with a lead of 0.3 seconds but couldn't hold off Yannick Agnel in the final lap of the race. The French avenged their stunning loss in Beijing, when Alain Bernard was caught from behind by Jason Lezak in a thrilling relay finish that is replayed every night at the top of NBC's Olympic coverage.
Nathan Adrian and Michael Phelps swam scintillating legs to give Team USA a 0.76 lead midway through the race. Phelps' performance puts to rest any concerns about his physical state that were brought up after his dismal performance in the 400 IM on Saturday.
Cullen Jones gave back a few tenths but still touched in first, setting a clear path to victory for the Americans. The 400 IM champion couldn't hold on to the lead. Agnel, favored in Monday's 200 free final, caught up quickly after the dive. As usual, Lochte's flip turn and streamline were the best in the pool, and when he broke the surface at the 350-meter mark it appeared that he would be able to hold off the Frenchman.
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It was not to be. Agnel continued to rally and passed Lochte with ease in the final 25 meters.
Lochte, who didn't swim the 100 free at U.S. trials, isn't generally known as a sprinter. He was still awarded the anchor leg by Team USA coach Gregg Troy in a move that seemed questionable when it was announced on Sunday afternoon. Lochte swam the slowest leg of the final three Americans and was barely ahead of Adrian's opening time even with the benefit of a relay start.
Team USA had won every 4x100 relay ever swum at the Olympics until getting out touched by Ian Thorpe and the Australians in 2000. The thrilling comeback win in Beijing has been their only Olympic title since then.
Michael Phelps, who had been on a 13-race winning streak at the Olympics, is now o-2 in London. In a way, Ryan Lochte played a role for both losses.
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