LONDON – Ryan Lochte had exactly one day to enjoy being recognized by many as the “World’s Greatest Swimmer.”
Team USA’s newly crowned champion in the 400-meter individual medley relay on Saturday, Lochte quickly transformed from hero to goat Sunday when France’s Yannick Agnel jetted past him over the final 50 meters of the 4 X 100-meter freestyle relay at the Olympic Aquatic Centre.
A French Connection anchored by Agnel struck for gold with a time of 3:09.93 in the final, roughly a half-tick ahead of the American silver-medal crew (3:10.38), which was led-off by Nathan Adrian (47.89 for his 100-meter split) followed by Michael Phelps (47.15), Cullen Jones (47.60) and then Lochte (47.74). Russia won the bronze (3:11.41), while pre-race favorite Australia finished fourth.
“At least I’m in a medal today,’’ reasoned Phelps, who before finishing fourth in Saturday’s 400 IM had won medals in 16 consecutive Olympic events dating back to the 2000 Sydney Games.
Lochte, his seemingly ever-present swagger turned suddenly sullen in defeat, attributed his inability to hold the lead to poor strategy and inexperience.
“The 100 free, I don’t really swim it; I haven’t swam it in a long time,’’ he said. “So I think I was just really excited, and I over-swam the first 50, which kinda hurt me for the last 50.
“You would think doing distance events I wouldn’t get tired, but sprinting takes a lot out of you, and I made that mistake.’’
Agnel seized the moment, reeling in Lochte with the fastest split of the race, 46.74.
Adrian gave the Americans a lead that Phelps built on en route to the first silver medal of his Olympic career. The Americans led by 0.76 of a second at the halfway point when Jones entered the pool.
The advantage was down to 0.55 when Lochte dived in for the anchor leg, a role Team USA Men’s coach Gregg Troy – who is also Lochte’s personal coach – determined would be best for the team.
Predictably, none of the Americans were ready to publicly second-guess the order or selection for the relay team, instead rallying to the defense of the popular Lochte.
“Ryan is like any of us, he doesn’t like to lose,’’ Adrian said. “But we don’t look at it as a loss. We look at it as we won the silver.’’
Others view it as turnabout being fair play; in the same race at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, American Jason Lezak came from behind during the anchor leg to edge the French.
With Sunday’s loss (or, silver medal win), U.S. men have failed to win gold in three of the past four Olympic 4 X 100 freestyle relays. Before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, U.S. men had never lost this race in Olympic competition.
The relay was the second time Sunday that France swimmers got the better of Team USA.
Earlier, Camille Muffat beat Allison Schmitt in the 400-meter freestyle. Muffat set a new Olympic record, finishing in 4:01.45, while Schmitt won silver despite swimming an American record time of 4:01.77.
Dana Vollmer delivered America’s only gold medal at the pool on Sunday, butterflying her way to a 100-meter world record, 55.98, after establishing herself as the heavy favorite throughout the preliminaries and semifinals.
Brendan Hansen delivered Team USA’s feel-good story of the day, winning the bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke by 0.04 of a second.
“I had a gutsy swim,’’ said the 30-year-old Hansen, who took a three-year hiatus from competitive swimming after Beijing before making a last-ditch comeback. “It’s the shiniest bronze I’ll ever have.’’
South Africa’s Cameron Van der Burgh won the event with a world-record time of 58.46.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics and is part of Scripps team covering the London Olympics. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32
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