Ryan Lochte learned that you can’t take anything for granted in Olympic swimming.
The 27-year-old, who took Michael Phelps’s 400-meter individual medley title two days ago, was overhauled by Yannick Agnel in the last lap of the 400-meter freestyle relay final in London yesterday as France turned the tables on a U.S. team that came from behind to clinch victory in Beijing four years ago.
“We went out there to win, but we came up short,” Lochte said. “I think I overswam the last 50 meters. Sprinting definitely takes it out of you.”
Lochte’s time of 47.74 seconds was the fastest leg he’d ever swum in the event and he couldn’t do any more, Eddie Reese, a coach on the U.S. team, said in an interview. He was exactly a second slower than Agnel, 20.
“Yannick was faster than he’s ever been in his life,” said Reese. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Nathan Adrian, Phelps and Cullen Jones combined to give the U.S. the lead going into the final leg, when Lochte was outpaced by Agnel to give France, a 7-1 outsider with U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc (WMH), the victory. Russia took the bronze medal ahead of world champion Australia.
France and the U.S. swam a similar race in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when the Americans got the victory after Jason Lezak out-paced 100-meter individual freestyle gold medalist Alain Bernard to give his team the win. Bernard was left off France’s relay team this time around.
“It makes a change,” Amaury Leveaux who led off for France last night, told reporters. “It’s a form of revenge for four years ago.”
Lezak, 36, didn’t do enough in the heat to justify a place in the final, Reese said.
“He had to put it up to be considered for the night relay,” Reese said. “He wasn’t quite fast enough.”
Lochte has entered seven events, the same number as Phelps, who moved within one of matching ex-Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina’s record of 18 Olympic medals.
The first silver medal for Phelps, 27, in four Olympics means he has still to add to his record haul of 14 golds after two events at the London games.
The Baltimore-based swimmer said he was able to put his fourth-place finish in his first final, the 400-meter individual medley, behind him.
“I felt a lot better,” said Phelps, who swims again today in the 200-meter butterfly heats.
Lochte yesterday also qualified fifth fastest for today’s 200-meter freestyle final. China’s Sun Yang was quickest in 1:45.61, 0.70 seconds better than the American.
Also in the pool today, medals will be decided in the men’s 100-meter backstroke and the women’s 100-meter breaststroke, while Missy Franklin swims in the women’s 100-meter backstroke final. Franklin, a 17-year-old from Colorado who is competing in seven events, has the fastest time in the world this year in both the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke.
For host Britain, the wait for a first gold medal continues after Camille Muffat of France took Rebecca Adlington’s 400- meter freestyle swimming title.
Muffat, 22, touched the wall in an Olympic record 4 minutes, 1.45 seconds, ahead of Allison Schmitt of the U.S. in 4:01.77. Adlington clocked 4:03.01 for the bronze medal. World record holder Federica Pellegrini of Italy, the only woman to complete the event in less than 4 minutes, finished fifth.
The 23-year-old Adlington has been the face of U.K. swimming since she won the 400 and 800-meter freestyle titles at the last games. Fans in the 17,500-capacity Aquatics Centre in London had hoped she would kick-start Britain’s climb up the medals table on the second day of competition.
Cyclist Elizabeth Armitstead won silver in the women’s road race yesterday for Britain’s first medal of the games.
Adlington said the country’s high expectations of her weren’t realistic and a bronze medal was beyond what she’d thought she could take from the final after she qualified eighth.
“Everyone’s been saying to me ‘hey are you going to get a gold?’,” Adlington said. “Like I’m just going to pick up a drink like it’s so easy. Swimming is one of the hardest sports to medal at.”
Dana Vollmer, a 24-year-old American, broke the world record to take the 100-meter butterfly gold. Her time of 55.98 seconds was the first below 56 seconds in the event.
Vollmer trailed at halfway to Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen before storming to victory ahead of China’s Lu Ying, who finished in 56.87 seconds, and Alicia Coutts of Australia.
While Sarah Sjorstrom, whose three-year-old record Vollmer broke, was in tears after finishing fourth, the champion had a wide smile throughout the medal presentation.
“Being the Olympic champion is more important,” said Vollmer. “The world record is just icing on the cake.”
South African Cameron van der Burgh, 24, followed Vollmer into the history books by winning the men’s 100-meter breaststroke gold medal in a world record 58.46 seconds.
“I’ve been working towards this goal,” van der Burgh said. “It’s amazing. I’ve been doing so much hard work over the last four years.”
Women’s gymnastics individual all-round world champion Jordyn Wieber of the U.S. failed to qualify for the final. Wieber, 17, was bested by American teammates Gabrielle Douglas and Alexandra Raisman for the two berths in the final. Raisman, 18, scored 60.391, ahead of 16-year-old Douglas’s 60.265 and Wieber’s 60.032.
“It is a bit of a disappointment,” Wieber said. “It has always been a dream of mine to compete in the all-round final of the Olympics. But I’m proud of Aly and Gabby and happy that they reached the all-round and that I was able to help the team get to the finals.”
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