You know, it seems that every time the Summer Olympics roll around, there’s an American swimmer who is supposed to break Mark Spitz‘ record of seven gold medals. Then, invariably, that swimmer fails. Michael Phelps was supposed to do it in Athens back in 2004, and came up with eight medals - but “only” six golds. Well, after watching last night’s 4×100 freestyle relay, I’m starting to think that Spitz’ record is finally going to fall.
While Phelps’ pursuit of eight gold medals is still the story in men’s swimming this year, it was Jason Lezak who stole the show for one night. As the anchor for the United States men’s team, things looked over before Lezak even entered the pool. The French team, which had been talking smack about the race all week, had a rather large lead in the race. World record holder Alain Bernard - the man who said France would “smash” the Americans - entered the pool long before Lezak, and it didn’t look like Lezak had any chance of catching him.
Not even Lezak thought so:
“The thought really entered my mind for a split second,” Lezak said. “There’s no way.”
As Bernard hit the wall to turn and head back for what was going to be a French victory, he had a half-body lengthy lead over Lezak, which is a huge margin in swimming. Yet, somehow, with each stroke Lezak appeared to close the gap on Bernard. As his teammates cheered him on from the deck Lezak finally closed the gap, and touched the wall .08 seconds before Bernard did, as the Americans shattered the world record in the event and took home the gold.
Although I always watch the Olympics, I never really get into them that much. Last night, though, as Lezak was chasing down Bernard I was out of my seat and cheering him on as though I was standing on the deck of the pool next to Phelps and Garret Weber-Gale. It was truly one of those moments that only the Olympics can bring, and was one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever seen.
Also, I know that there will be plenty of Americans this morning giving the French a lot of crap over the way they blew the race last night after so much talk, but I’m not going to be one of them. I mean, they’re the French. The fact that they were able to complete the entire race without surrendering or having an American save one of them from drowning is a remarkable achievement for their country. They should be proud of themselves.
As for Phelps and his pursuit of eight golds, the 400m individual medley and this relay were supposed to be his two toughest tests in Beijing. So far he’s broken two world records and took the gold in both of them. Barring something crazy happening in the next few days, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s going to do it.