American swimming great Michael Phelps remains on track to win an unprecedented eight gold medals at a single Olympics. VOA's Jim Stevenson was at China's National Aquatic Center as Phelps relied on three other teammates Monday to win a thrilling relay event.
The American quartet clocked a world record time of 3:08.42 to win the men's 4 x 100 meter freestyle race. But obliterating the previous record by nearly four seconds was not the story, as five of the eight teams were below the previous mark (3:12.23).
The U.S. men found themselves trailing perhaps the strongest French team ever. Jason Lezak was the final American in the pool, and he was about a full body length behind former 100-meter freestyle world record holder Alain Bernard at the final turn.
Realizing he might not catch up, Lezak rose to the challenge.
"The thought really crossed my mind for a split second - 'there is no way' [I am going to catch up]. And then I changed," he said. "I said 'you know what, it is really ridiculous [to think that]. I am at the Olympics and I am here for the United States of America. I do not care how bad it hurts, I am going just to go out there and put it.' And honestly, in like five seconds I was thinking all these things. I just got a super charge, and just took it from there."
Touching the wall by a fingertip or less, Lezak and his teammates edged the French by .008 of a second to regain the Olympic title they owned from 1964 to 1996. The win gave Phelps his second gold medal in as many days.
Another world record fell in the men's 100-meter breaststroke when Kosuke Kitajima touched the wall in 58.91. Through an interpreter, the Japanese champion says he was thrilled to achieve in Beijing what he could not four years ago in Athens.
"It was a higher level fight for me. And in that sense I was able to break my record," he said. "I was able to race fast. And I am full of emotion compared to last time [in Athens]."
Rebecca Adlington became the first British woman in 48 years to win an Olympic swimming gold. American Katie Hoff was the favorite in the 400-meter freestyle race. But Adlington was inspired by a mental image.
"The medal around my neck. That really was my motivation," she said. "And I could not see anyone past Katie [Hoff]. I did not what was going over on that side of the pool. So I saw Katie, and I said let's just try and just catch her and keep with her."
Adlington's time of 4:03.22 edged Hoff by .007 of one second. Another British swimmer, Joanne Jackson, placed third (4:03.52).
Australian Lisbeth Trickett emerged the winner of the women's 100-meter butterfly final.
"To come in here and swim and personal best time at an Olympic final is more than I could have hoped," she said. "The best thing for me is that I have equaled what I have done at Athens."
Another world record was set in the pool during a preliminary heat. Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe set the 100-meter backstroke standard in 58.77, one-tenth of a second faster than the previous best.