There was little doubt as the swimmers entered the pool area that this race was to be US all the way. This relay team was just too strong to miss Gold, but Australia and Japan may have a bit to say about that. Aaron Peirsol was to start, and the weak link was Brendan Hansen, who failed to medal in his heat. How would it play out?
If the team won this race, then Phelps would get Gold #8 and pass Mark Spitz. The key word there is “team”. For any man to break the record Spitz had set 36 years ago, he would have to depend on the rest of his team. The relay is a team effort. If Jason Lezak had not chased down braggart Frenchman Bernard in the 4×100 Meter Freestyle Relay, Phelps chance at history could not have been possible.
Once again, Phelps could contribute on his leg and without him the US could not win, but it required that the entire team perform for Olympic Gold!!
Peirsol started off the race in the backstroke. Peirsol was ahead at the turn, but not by much. Peirsol had been out-touched in the 200, and his injured elbow was a concern even though the coaches said it should not impact his performance. He was on World Record Pace, and in the lead, so it looked good so far.
Hansen leaped into the pool for the breaststroke ahead of world record pace. He maintained the lead at the turn, but Kosuke Kitojima of Japan was on the hunt. Now as they neared the next leg, Australia and Japan had pulled ahead of the World Record and Kitojima once again asserted his dominance over Hansen taking the lead. Brendan Hansen was behind at the touch, and Phelps was slow to leap into the pool not wanting to take the chance of any disqualification ruining the team’s chance at Gold.
Phelps entered the pool behind, but by only a hair. Australia, the US and Japan were all kissing the world record line, and it was way way too close to call. Michael’s pursuit of #8 could all go down the drain right here.
Phelps once again demonstrated that he is the strongest swimmer in the world. On the turn, he established his lead. Michael was ahead of world record pace and the other swimmers were starting to fall behind. But it all came down to our hero of these Olympics and the swimmer that made the win in the 4×100 Meter Freestyle Relay possible, Jason Lezak.
Jason made the surface of the water a hair in the lead, but he had the lead, and it was up to him to lose it. This is where Lezak does not lose. When it is just Jason on the line, he does not seem to have the strength to take Gold, but when it is the team on the line and history on the line, this man excels. “Team” is what Jason is all about and he once again rose to the occasion expanding the lead at the turn.
Australia and the US were both ahead of the world record, and Australia was coming on fast. But Lezak was an incredible body length ahead of the World Record and just as in his prior anchor leg, he was not about to lose. He touched first and made history for America. Phelps would now have GOLD #8. And he has his team to thank!!
16 medals, 14 GOLD!! 8 in this Olympics alone, taking the historic record away from Mark Spitz.
The team embraced and they knew they were all part of history, the Olympic tattoo on Hansen’s shoulder accentuating all that Olympic competition is all about.
Michael said after the race, “It’s the help from these guys that made it all possible, you know? It’s the relays and putting four guys together that really made it possible. This shows how much teamwork and how much togetherness we have. It is amazing to be a part of, and I am..honored.”
Michael, you are a champion, because you recognize that so many factors go into your achievement and we love you for proving once again that greatness is the sum of its parts.