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Archive for Sunday, August 22, 2004

Swimmers Phelps, Thompson make history

August 22, 2004

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— Michael Phelps won another gold medal, this time wearing khaki shorts and flip-flops.

From a front-row seat at the Olympic pool, Phelps watched his teammates do all the work in the 400-meter medley relay Saturday night. When they won with a world-record time, Phelps received a gold, too -- his record-tying eighth medal of the Athens Games.

"It felt like I was part of that race," said Phelps, who earned his gold by swimming the event in the preliminaries.

Phelps led the U.S. contingent in cheers, pounded the side of an "Athens 2004" sign, waved an American flag and screamed "Go Jason!" as Jason Lezak completed the rout, easily retaining the lead built up by Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker.

When the scoreboard flashed "WR" -- world record -- Phelps threw up his arms to celebrate.

"I can't tell you about how exciting it is to be on the other side of the sport," he said.

Jenny Thompson had to swim for her spot in the Olympic record book, but it was another forgettable performance.

Looking her age, the 31-year-old Thompson lost the lead in the women's medley relay but still gained a silver -- the 12th medal of her career, more than any other U.S. Olympian.

Phelps earned a spot in the medley final by winning the 100 butterfly Friday night. But he ceded his place to Crocker, wanting to give the silver medalist a chance to make up for a poor showing in the 400 free relay.

Before the race, Phelps signed autographs and posed for pictures with swimmers from other countries. After the medal ceremony, he hugged Crocker.

"I'm proud of giving someone like Ian another chance," said Phelps, whose eight medals tied Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin's record at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games.

Jenny Thompson swims the butterfly leg of the women's medley relay.
Thompson won a silver medal -- the 12th Olympic medal of her career
-- Saturday in Athens, Greece.

Jenny Thompson swims the butterfly leg of the women's medley relay. Thompson won a silver medal -- the 12th Olympic medal of her career -- Saturday in Athens, Greece.

The United States never has lost a men's medley relay at the Olympics, and it didn't really matter who swam the fly -- Phelps or Crocker. The Americans dominated the race, setting a world record of 3 minutes, 30.68 seconds, nearly three second ahead of runner-up Germany. Japan won the bronze, its first medal in the event since 1960.

Thompson's medal made her the most decorated U.S. Olympian, breaking a tie with swimmer Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi and shooter Carl Osburn. But the record seemed rather empty for the four-time Olympian.

Thompson couldn't hold on in the fly when given a lead by Natalie Coughlin (backstroke) and Amanda Beard (breaststroke), who covered the first 200 under world-record pace.

Petria Thomas was more than two seconds faster than Thompson, giving Australia a half-second lead, and Kara Lynn Joyce had no chance of catching world-record holder Jodie Henry in the freestyle.

"This is my last Olympics, so tonight was a little bittersweet," Thompson said. "The whole week has been a little nostalgic, so I've been trying to soak up as much as possible. I had hoped to do a little better here, but I'm pretty proud just to be here at all."

The Aussies, who also used Giaan Rooney and Leisel Jones, took the gold with a world record of 3:57.32, breaking the mark of 3:58.30 set by the United States at the 2000 Sydney Games. This time, the Americans settled for silver in 3:59.12, with Germany taking the bronze.

Coughlin won her fifth medal of the games, tying the record shared by Shirley Babashoff and Dara Torres for the most swimming medals by an American woman at a single Olympics.

Thompson's fourth -- and final -- Olympics certainly won't be remembered as one of her best. She was overtaken by Henry on the anchor leg of the 400 free relay, relegating the United States to another silver.

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