August 10, 2008
If Michael Phelps breaks Mark Spitz's record of seven Olympic gold medals, he can thank 4x100-meter freestyle relay teammate Jason Lezak. Lezak swam a stunning 46.06 to anchor the U.S. in an unbelievable come-from-behind victory over France. It was one of the best relay races of all-time and keeps the dream of eight golds from Phelps alive. Wow, I can't stress how amazing that was.
Phelps led off the relay in an American record time, but France took a commanding lead during the third leg. When Alain Bernard -- he of the 'we'll smash the Americans' talk -- dove in to anchor the French relay, it looked as if Lezak and the Americans would be unable to prevail. (Bernard is the world's fastest 100 freestyler.) On NBC, Rowdy Gaines called the race for the French with 60 meters remaining and it seemed there was no reason to doubt him.
But with 30 meters to go, Bernard seemed to slow at the exact instant Lezak began to pick up speed. The Americans were behind by nearly half of a body length at the time. Over the last 25, Lezak gained on Bernard, who looked to be tightening, with every stroke. Inside the flags, the French still held the lead but Lezak, the oldest swimmer on the American team, reached for the wall a split-second ahead of Bernard, going ahead for the first time on the touch. The Americans ended up smashing the world record by more than three seconds.
The Americans were considerable underdogs heading into the race, as the French team featured four of the top-15 sprint freestylers in the world.
If you didn't see this race, make sure to seek it out on replay or on the Internet. And shame on you for not watching it in the first place. Fourth-Place Medal warned you that it was going to be one to remember.