August 11, 2008. Location: Beijing National Aquatics Center, China. We are at the 29th Summer Olympics – Men’s 4×100 meter freestyle relay.
Not a single seat is empty. The US President is in attendance. Why? Two reasons: Michael Phelps (will he surpass Mark Spitz and win 8 Gold Medals at a single Olympic Games? The rumor mill says yes). And for the answer to this question: Can the US finally, after twelve years, win this race – often touted to be the ultimate event at the Olympics? The French Team seems unbeatable, and their clear goal is to “smash the Americans.”
1st leg – Phelps kicks things off. But Australia is instantly grabbing the lead with Eamon Sullivan, who sets a new world record for fastest split at 47.24. Not a good start for the US.
2nd leg – Garrett Weber-Gale (his first Olympic swim) is able to take the lead for the US – Australia is falling behind.
3rd leg – Cullen Jones enters as the lead, but France is finally pushing through. Frédérick Bousquet is able to hand the flying giant, Alain Bernard, a solid first spot.
THE LAST LEG
4th leg – France’s Alain Bernard is in the lead. By more than a half second. That is an eternity in swimming. The first 50 meters have been covered, the race seems decided. Then – on the last 25 meters – Jason Lezak is transformed. A miracle happens. He closes in – gets faster and faster – and SURPASSES Bernard.
The US wins – with Lesak ‘s anchor time at 46.06 seconds being the fastest split in the history of the race – beating the world record holding Frenchman.
THE HAPPY ENDING
A new world record for the US at 3:08.24. And another gold medal for Phelps, bringing him one step closer on his epic journey of becoming the most decorated Olympian of all times.