Lezak's Record Lap Snags Gold No. 2 For Phelps

Olympics Roundup

Competing For Gold

The U.S. Olympic swim team struck gold in the 400-meter freestyle relay, beating the French team by a fingertip. The victory lets Michael Phelps continue his quest to win a historic eight gold medals, but it was teammate Jason Lezak who clinched this medal with the fastest relay lap ever.

The race rose above the rest of Sunday's Olympic competition for its sheer drama and remarkable finish. It was one of those moments that elite athletes carve into our memories, and it shows how years of preparation can be reduced to a fraction of a second.

Here's how it began, 3 minutes and 8 seconds before the fingertip finish: American Michael Phelps and seven other swimmers hit the water for the relay. Each swimmer had three teammates cheering from the deck and waiting for their turn at a single 100-meter lap. It was fast right from the start. At one point, six teams were under world record pace, close to 4 seconds faster.

After the race, American Garrett Weber-Gale said the intensity of the moment fed the blistering pace.

"We had an awesome race, and we were pushed by the French and the Australians. I think we all just came together, and that's how we were able to go so fast," Weber-Gale said.

Weber-Gale followed Phelps for another 100 meters, and then came Cullen Jones. The French swimmers right next to them took the lead, but the Americans stayed close. It was the last lap that made history, with France's Alain Bernard holding the amazing pace, and American Jason Lezak trying to catch him. Bernard stayed ahead into and after the flip turn and down the stretch to the finish.

Bernard still led a few feet from the wall, but Lezak suddenly closed in. Neck and neck, stroke for stroke, lunging for the wall — it was a fingertip finish, just 0.08 seconds apart. And it was the fastest relay lap ever.

At 32, Lezak is the oldest swimmer on the American team. After the race, he described that final mad struggle for speed.

"When I flipped at the 50 and I still saw how far ahead he was, and he was the world record holder, a thought really crossed my mind for a split second: There's no way," Lezak said. "And then I changed. I said, 'You know what? That's ridiculous. It's the Olympics and I'm here for the United States of America. And I don't care how bad it hurts or whatever. I'm just just gonna go out there.' ... Honestly in like 5 seconds, I was thinking all these things and just got like a supercharge and just took it from there. ... It was unreal."

Lezak had won it for the Americans, and teammate Weber-Gale couldn't believe what he had seen.

"It was a crazy thing to watch," Weber-Gale said. "I just knew that last 15, 20 meters was going to be out of control. I just remember sitting there just pounding on the blocks, saying the F-word, just like 'Come on!' I just remember looking at the finish, and it was a perfect touch, and I looked up at the block and then I was just ecstatic."

So was Phelps, who danced and pumped his chest on the deck after the race. It was his second gold medal of the games. He is entered in six more events, and if he finishes first in all of them, he'll be the top gold medal winner in a single Olympics in any sport. Phelps described one motivating factor for the race.

"The French team was talking a little trash, and, you know, it fired me up more than anything else," he said.

Phelps' historic quest was not a motivating factor for the rest of the team. Lezak and his teammates embraced their own historic moment.

"I think Michael knows we did not do this for him. He was just a part of it. And we were a part of it," Lezak said.

And anybody who watched was a part of it — an unforgettable Olympic moment.

China's Olympic Swimming Pool: Redefining Fast

Until Sunday, the Olympic "Water Cube" in Beijing was best known for being blue and bubbly and bright at night. Now the Olympic swimming pool inside may get more attention.

A dozen world and Olympic records fell at the pool Sunday, most in preliminary heats. American Michael Phelps started the record run with a new world mark in the 400-meter individual medley event. That won him his first gold medal of the 2008 games.

Ten hours later, the U.S. men's 4-by-100 freestyle relay team also set a world record.

Records often fall at the Olympics, because athletes spend four years preparing and their performances often peak at the games. But the pool itself may deserve some credit.

"It's by far the fastest pool in the world," says Rowdy Gaines, an Olympic medalist and swimming commentator for Olympic broadcaster NBC. "If you step into this arena, you'll see a thing of beauty. ... It's really a thing of absolute beauty."

Gaines is not referring to the futuristic exterior. He focuses on the design of the pool, which discourages turbulence and encourages speed.

"I'm talking about deep water," Gaines explains. "It's a perfect depth because if it's too deep, you lose your sense of vision and where you're at in the pool. But it's just deep enough to where the waves dissipate (and) the turbulence dissipates down to the bottom."

The Water Cube pool also has 10 lanes instead of eight. Waves churned up during races don't bounce back into the swimming lanes. Waves that reach the sides are siphoned off by perforated gutters.

"It's physics and it's not sports, but it makes sense," says Christine Brennan, a veteran of 13 Olympics and an Olympics columnist for USA Today. "You make a deeper and a wider pool, and you ... give all of those waves and all of that splashing and all of that moving water a chance to move away from the swimmers and get out of their way, which makes them go faster. It's as simple as that."

The Water Cube pool is close to 10 feet deep. That's 3 feet deeper than the pools of the past. The lane lines that separate swimmers are called wave eaters because they dissipate turbulent water. The goal is to make the water as flat and clear as possible, despite the churning that swimmers create.

An indoor setting also helps, along with temperature, humidity and lighting control. Wide decks with seats sharply cascading back give swimmers an uncrowded sense of space. That can energize athletes, like American Dara Torres, who calls the pool "awesome."

"Everything is just fantastic about this pool. I've never seen such a big facility in my life. And you get a great feeling walking into that facility, knowing that this is where the Olympic Games are (held)."

The technology used in the Water Cube pool is standard now for competitive pools. Gaines believes the pools have reached their technological limits.

"Technology has really kind of tapped out as far as the building of these kinds of facilities," Gaines says. "I can't imagine them getting better."

All that's left, Gaines suggests, is making the water faster, perhaps by changing its chemical composition. Competitive pools, for example, once contained salt water, which increased buoyancy and speed. But Gaines doubts whether water can actually be altered in a way that would help swimmers swim faster.

"It's not like track and field, where the types of tracks ... just get faster and faster because, I guess, there is more spring to them," Gaines says. "But I don't know how you make fast water. It's just not possible."

In fact, new technology lately has focused on high-tech swimming suits that decrease resistance. Those suits and a fast pool and the intensely competitive atmosphere of the Olympics mean more records are likely to fall in Beijing.

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