Beijing Olympics – A Four By One-Hundred Relay For The Ages
Small dreams die hard for anyone who ever swam in competition as part of a team.
From Left to Right - Cullen Jones, Jason Lezak, Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale of the United States prepare for the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay held at the National Aquatics Center on Day 3 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 11, 2008 in Beijing, China. The United States finished the race in first place in a time of 3:08.24 and wins the gold medal and set a new World Record. Caption & Image Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Competitive swimming, by its very nature, is a sport of singular and personal pursuit. To draw a parallel, being a swimmer on a team is like being a golfer on a team … one is really by themselves with their own talent and thoughts. There is no place as in, say Rugby, for the members of the team to join arms in a scrum and through the force and effort of the whole … the team becomes the force of one.
The outside and inside skin is made of a Teflon-like material - ETFE (ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene). Composed of two layers, it's separated by an interior passage that allows the building to breathe like a greenhouse. Caption and Image Credit: dailymail.co.uk
What happened in the “Watercube” watersports stadium at the Beijing edition of the summer Olympics was a relay race for the ages. By any measure, all of the teams that had gathered for the finals of the Olympic competition were the very best to ever gather at any time in the history of humankind.
The proof of this statement was bared out when after the race had been held, all five teams broke the previous world record … and the Gold Metal winner, the team from the United States, bested the record by 3.99 seconds … an eternity of margin in the annals of swimming competition of the 4 X 100 meter Freestyle Relay, where timing margins are measured in one-hundredth's of a second.
The small dream that was vicariously brought to reality is the one lived out by the person who had to swim the anchor leg (the final swimmer of the team) of the race. The Walter Middy moment of the race held on August 11, 2008 came at the turn after the first of two fifty meter legs in the pool ... the final leg.
This is a tale of two stories.
Jason Lezak of the United States poses with the gold medal during the medal ceremony for the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay held at the National Aquatics Center on Day 3 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 11, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
This from Yahoo! Sports -
Lezak lifts U.S. in ‘best ever’ relay
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports - 13 hours, 27 minutes ago
Jason Lezak churned like an unstoppable nuclear submarine, redlining to complete an impossible mission.
He pummeled the last 50 meters of water, dilating fans’ pupils and scorching their veins with adrenaline and sucking their torsos forward in their seats. He churned straight for Garrett Weber-Gale, who was cursing and howling and pounding on the starting blocks. He charged toward Cullen Jones, who jumped so frantically that he almost slipped and fell into the pool. And he roared past U.S. coach Eddie Reese, who was being squeezed nearly to death by one of his assistants.
And in the last meter of the greatest relay race in the history of the Olympics, Lezak grazed his outstretched fingertip on the wall just ahead of France’s Alain Bernard, who last week boasted of “smashing” the Americans in this event. When Reese tried to capture the moment later, he thought for a second and shook his head.
“It would have to be in the unbelievable category,” he said. “That’s the biggest word I know.”
But this one had the feel of a Hollywood script – the kind that would never make it to the movie screen simply because it bent reality too far. From Phelps’ second gold hanging in the balance, to Bernard’s pre-race boast, to the United States struggling to regain supremacy in an event it once owned, this one had the makings of greatness before the swimmers took to the starting blocks.
And just when it seemed it couldn’t get any better, the Americans and French dueled in an epic final 100 meters. A final leg that pitted Lezak – who was the anchor on America’s disappointing 2000 and 2004 4x100-meter freestyle relay teams – against Bernard, who was the world-record holder in the 100-meter freestyle going into the event. Bernard lost that record in the first 100 of the race when Australia’s Eamon Sullivan opened with a 47.24 leg, grabbing Bernard’s record.
United States fell behind in the third 100 meters, with Cullen Jones touching the wall over six-tenths of a second behind the French. By the time Lezak made his final turn, that gap had grown to .82 seconds, a virtual eternity in a 50-meter sprint. But just when the race appeared to be over – NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines actually called the race for the French with about 60 meters left – Lezak pulled off the fastest 100-meter split in the history of the games: 46.06 seconds.
“It had to be the best ever and it was the best ever,” Reese said. “That’s the kind of anchor you dream of. … When you put the world-record holder in on the end of a relay and you go into the pool behind him, the chance of you beating him is slim and none. There’s never been (a 50 meters like that) in my memory – not running down somebody that holds a world record and that’s on their game. That was incredible.”
(L-R) Matt Targett of Australia, Jason Lezak of the United States and Alain Bernard of France compete in the final leg of the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final held at the National Aquatics Center on Day 3 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 11, 2008 in Beijing, China. The United States finished the race in first place in a time of 3:08.24 and wins the gold medal and set a new World Record. Eamon Sullivan of Australia set a time of 47.24 in the first leg, a new World Record. Caption & Image Credit: Adam Pretty/Getty Images
And when it came down to the last 50 meters, and Lezak had to do the unthinkable and make up a half-body length, Weber-Gale could only think the Americans had found the right person in the right moment.
“I was just thinking to myself, if there’s anyone on this team or in the world that is going to do it, it was going to be Jason,” he said.
Yet for a split second, when Lezak made his final turn and saw Bernard so far ahead, he said he briefly thought “there’s no way,” before deciding to just blow out his remaining energy and hope for the best. He pulled his body as close as possible to Bernard’s lane, drafting behind him for 25 meters, and then swiftly made up the last few inches, digging and kicking and reaching for the wall. And when it was over, the team exploded in unison, flexing and leaping and exorcising eight years of – as Reese put it – getting “spanked” in freestyle relays.
Did the French choke?
By Chris Chase - Monday, Aug 11, 2008 2:22 am EDT
After weeks of bluster, world record holder Alain Bernard had a chance to back up his bravado in the pool this morning in Beijing. Instead, the Frenchman collapsed in the final meters of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, enabling the United States to win one of the most thrilling swimming races in Olympic history. Did Bernard choke? Yes, but that's not the only reason he lost.
There were two main factors in the American's come-from-behind victory.
First, Jason Lezak swam the fastest relay leg of all-time. This is not to be overlooked or underappreciated. Without Lezak (and, for that matter, Michael Phelps, Garett Weber-Gale and Cullen Jones), Bernard would have been so far ahead he couldn't have given up the lead even if he was Greg Norman.
Secondly, Bernard swam a poor mental race. Call it whatever you'd like, but it had all the hallmarks of a choke.
It's impossible to know whether Bernard was nervous or overconfident during the race, but it's safe to say he was foolish. After swimming the fastest first 50 meters of any of the 32 competitors, Bernard came back with one of the slowest. By the 70-meter mark, he had slowed considerably.
At that point, Lezak began catching up, and Bernard made mistake #2. Instead of keeping a steady stroke, Bernard increased his turnover, which caused him to break his rhythm and led to the tightness that Rowdy Gaines described on NBC's broadcast.
To his credit, Bernard was gracious in defeat, clapping when the Americans received their gold medals and shaking the hand of Michael Phelps after the ceremony. Or maybe that was just his way of surrendering. The French are pretty good at that one too.
This was a small dream held by this swimmer, here at MAXINE, that was vicariously brought to reality by Jason Lezak and the rest of the Team USA four by one-hundred freestyle relay leg swimmers.
Small dreams can come true … and in a big way, Walter Middy lives.
Relay Finals Video Located Here>>