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Phelps, mates awed by Lezak swim to Olympic gold

August 10, 2008 | 10:09 pm

Lezak_300 BEIJING -- This situation was this: Jason Lezak dived into the water as the anchor leg for the U.S. men's 400-meter freestyle relay team far behind France's Alain Bernard. Bernard is merely the world-record holder in the 100 freestyle.

Lezak has no chance to catch him, right?

"When you put the world-record holder on the end of a relay, and you go in behind him, the chance of beating him is slim and none,'' U.S. Coach Eddie Reese said.

But Lezak turned in the fastest 100 ever recorded and hit the wall just ahead of Bernard.

"That's the kind of anchor you dream of,'' Reese said. "It shows what you can do when you don't think about it; you just go.''

Lezak, who is from Irvine, was still trying not to think about it afterward.

"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,'' he said. "I can't even explain it. It was unreal.

"I've been part of the two teams at the last two Olympics that came out behind (second in 2000, third in 2004), and I think I just wanted it more than anybody, not just for myself but to show that we are the nation to beat in that relay.''

As for French boasts before the race, Lezak said, ''They had talked a lot about it, and we would just rather do it in the pool.''

Cullen Jones, who swam the third leg for the United States, said, "I think this will be one of the races he'll never forget the rest of his life.''

Michael Phelps, who led off for the United States, won't forget it either. Lezak kept alive Phelps' hopes of winning eight gold medals here.

"Jason swam the fastest relay split of all time,'' Phelps said. ''His last 50 meters were absolutely incredible. He had a perfect finish.''

-- Randy Harvey, Lisa Dillman

Photo: Jason Lezak of Irvine accepts his gold medal after anchoring the U.S. men's 400-meter freestyle relay team to victory over the favored French team Monday in Beijing. Credit: Scott Strazzante / Chicago Tribune