Phelps wins second Olympic gold; Lezak saves
BEIJING -- You can marvel all you want at Michael Phelps, AquaMan or SquidMan or whatever you want to call him, and he deserves every bit of the glory.
But the hero for the United States, and for Phelps, in the Blue Cube pool Monday was Jason Lezak of Irvine.
Phelps' attempt to win eight gold medals and surpass Mark Spitz's record of seven in a single Olympics stayed alive by a fingertip when Lezak came from far behind on the anchor leg and beat France's Alain Bernard to the wall in the 400-meter freestyle relay.
Phelps won his first gold medal here in the 400-meter individual medley Sunday. That was supposed to be the most difficult of his individual races because of competition with U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte. But Phelps set a world record and Lochte finished third.
As for challenges, though, the 400 relay was expected to be the most daunting. First, Phelps had to swim in the semifinals of the 200 freestyle earlier Monday. Second, the 100 freestyle, which he would have to swim in the relay, is not his strongest distance. Third, France has a formidable team. Fourth, he couldn't do it alone, having to depend on three teammates.
It turned out that he could count on the other U.S. swimmers, especially Lezak. He was more than four-tenths of a second behind when he hit the water and didn't appear to make up much distance in the first 50 meters. But he came on strong in the final few meters, overtook Bernard and touched out just .08 ahead of him.
Lezak's leg of 46.06 would have shattered the world record for the 100-meter freestyle, which belongs to Bernard at 47.50.
"Before the race we all new the way the French had swum in the prelims
that when they added their best two guys," Lezak said.
It was going to be tight race. They had talked a lot about it, and we would just rather do it in the
pool. They pulled that time off without their best two guys. I knew it was going to come down to the end, and I was hoping to be ahead, but I never lost hope. I don't know how I was able to take it back that fast, because I've never been able to come anywhere near that for the last 50."
Lezak savored the moment when he reached the wall noticing the U.S. had won.
"I can't even explain it, it was unreal. I've been a part of the two teams at the last two Olympics that came out behind, and I think I wanted it more than anybody, not just for myself, but to show that we
are the nation to be beat in that relay."
The U.S. team, which set the world record without a resting Phelps in Sunday's semifinal, broke it by almost four seconds Monday, this time in 3:08.24. France was second in 3:08.32. Australia was third in 3:09.91.
Phelps led off in 47.51 seconds, but that was good enough only for second place behind Australian sprinter Eamon Sullivan, whose 47.24 was a world record for a relay. Garrett Weber-Gale moved the United States into first place on the second leg, just ahead of France, but the French overtook Cullen Jones on the third leg and gave Bernard what appeared to be a comfortable cushion.
Phelps now has eight gold medals, including two from Sydney. Two more and he will become the most successful Summer Olympian of all time, surpassing Spitz, Carl Lewis, Paavo Nurmi and Larissa Latynina.
In another final Monday, Katie Hoff, who, like Phelps, is from Baltimore, again was disappointed, although she did get a silver medal in the 400 freestyle. She was upset by Great Britain's Rebecca Adlington. Hoff was third Sunday in one of her specialties, the 400 individual medley.
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima defended his gold medal in the 100 breaststroke and Austalia's Libby Trickett won the 100 butterfly. The United States' Christine Magnuson finished second to Trickett.
Photo: Jason Lezak is embraced by Garrett Weber-Gale, left, Michael Phelps, second from right, and Cullen Jones, right, after winning the men's 4-x-100m freestyle relay. Credit: Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images