Well, a little over four hours after I missed the live 4 by 100 medley, NBC finally has it up, and I was able to watch the relay. As it turns out, the medley, despite the US never losing this event before, was much, much closer than I'd expected.
The event started off with Peirsol, a backstroker. He was a touch slow, perhaps due to an injury, but nonetheless had the lead leg on both ends (at 50m then at 100m). In the second leg, Brendan Hansen swam breaststroke. Actually, the Japanese swimmer, Kitajima, managed to take the lead.
At this point, as the best butterfly swimmer, Phelps swam the third leg. While Phelps is good at 200m, he is weaker on the 100m, and at 50m, the Australian, Lauderstein actually outtouched Phelps. But Phelps moved ahead and touched ahead of Australia.
That left the last leg to Jason Lezak who anchored the 4 by 100 freestyle medal to barely edge out France by 0.04 seconds, catching up to Alain Bernard at the very end squeaking out a victory for the United States, and at the time, giving Phelps his second gold medal (the 4 by 200m freestyle relay was far more comfortable, the US being stronger at the longer distances). He had to fight off Eamon Sullivan of Australia, with a half a body length lead, and kept this lead all the way to the end.
Let's take stock of how it actually happened to the second.
The United States lead off with Aaron Peirsol, who lead the leg with backstroke at 53.16 seconds. This was apparently half a second off his record. At this point, the Russians were closest, with Arkady Vyatachanin at 53.36 seconds or just two-tenths behind.
The next leg was Brendan Hansen, who was the slow leg for the Americans, in breaststroke. He had a time of 59.27 seconds for his leg. Meanwhile, Kosuke Kitajima won this leg at 58.07 or more than a full second ahead. He was clearly the class of the field for this stroke, and actually touched ahead of Hansen. The Australians, at this point, were just 0.03 seconds behind. The Japanese had actually gotten half a second ahead of the Americans, but most felt they didn't have the back two swimmers to mount a serious challenge.
The next leg was Michael Phelps, swimming butterfly. At the split, the Australians were ahead, lead by Andrew Lauterstein, who had a great start. Phelps, however, regained the lead, and finished his leg at 50.15 seconds, to Lauterstein's 51.03 seconds, thus gaining back that strong lead. Indeed, by being nearly a second back, the Japanese also managed to make up time, with Takuro Fujii swimming at 50.89, or about a tenth of a second ahead.
At this point, the Americans had a total time, over three legs at 162.58 seconds, the Japanese had 162.83 seconds, and the Australians had 163.39. Indeed, because Lauterstein had faded badly in the butterfly, it allowed the Japanese butterfly swimmer, Fujii, to finish with a better time then Australia, and because Japan had the overall lead after the breaststroke in the second leg, they would still have the lead over Australia in the third.
Finally, Jason Lezak anchored the last leg. He swam in 46.76 which was actually a tenth of a second slower than Eamonn Sullivan at 46.65 seconds. However, as I just noted, Australia about 0.8 seconds slower after the third leg and had to make up 0.8 seconds, and only made up 0.1 seconds.
Japan was the team that really suffered on the freestyle. At 48.35 seconds, Sato was not only slower than Australia's Sullivan and American Lezak, he was also slower than everyone else swimming the freestyle that didn't disqualify (Italy was disqualified). Even so, that means he only swam less than 2 seconds slower than Sullivan. Because of the strong three legs swam by the first three Japanese swimmers, even this dismal swim meant a reasonably comfortable bronze.
To be honest, if the Japanese had a decent freestylist, even someone that swam two or three tenths seconds slower than Lezak, they could have won silver (alas, that would be pretty quick, as only Cam Gibson of New Zealand had that kind of time).
The final time was Americans at 3:29.24, followed closely by the Australians at 3:30.04, and the Japanese team that faded badly at 3:31.18, which still had nearly a second cushion over Russia.
The margin of victory was just under a second, and while that looks very close, at this distance (400m), it's still a pretty comfortable lead (800 m can stretch those leads out even further).
Surprisingly, there is no 4 by 200m medley relay nor an 800m individual medley, which would probably favor the Americans and Phelps in both cases, as he's a stronger swimmer in longer distances.
Congrats to the American team for making a world record, and helping Phelps win his eighth gold (in the two close team events, Lezak anchored the last leg to help secure the win).
Although the video should have been up as quick as possible, a few hours, while painful, is reasonably quick. Obviously, in this age of instant gratification, they could have put something together quickly in 10-20 minutes, but preferred to stitch together everything (the swim, the interviews, the medals) and publish that instead.
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