Case in point: the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay.
During the heats it was obvious that the Americans would have to swim pretty and hard (and pretty hard) if they wanted to get the gold in this event (which they had dominated from 1964 to 1996 but had proved elusive as of late).
The French team felt confident. And they talked a lot of smack. Like Alain Bernard, the French 100 meter world record holder, saying “The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for” when asked about his feelings on the relay. And for three quarters of the race it seemed that he would be right.
Thank American anchor Jason Lezak (who at 32 is the oldest man on the U.S. swim team and trains mostly by himself without a coach) for unleashing the swim of a lifetime. France had taken a big lead on the third leg, going up by 0.59 at the 300 meter mark with anchor Alain Bernard, he of the shit talk, looking smooth and powerful and increasing his lead even more at 350 meters.
With 50 meters remaining even Lezak thought he didn’t have a chance. Then he said ‘this is ridiculous…it’s the Olympics and I’m here for the USA’ and got a supercharge. Lezak swam the fastest 100 meter relay split ever in 46.06 inching ahead of Bernard during the last 5 feet. The U.S. relay team won in a world record 3:08.24 seconds, to France’s 3:08.32; a win by 0.08. In doing so they also broke the previous world record of 3:12.23 set by the Americans during the preliminaries the day before.
In helping his team secure the gold, Lezak also secured Phelps chances of winning 8 gold medals at one Olympics which if achieved will smash the 7 gold medal record set by Mark Spitz in the 70s. Had the US finished second, Michael Phelps’ phenomenal quest would have ended and the entire American Olympics would have been diminished. Not quite. Thank the French for the drama and the Americans for the grit.
This is the Olympics!