It one of the most improbable, amazing, and utterly incomprehensible comebacks in not just the history of swimming, but the history of swimming, US swimmer Jason Lezak kept Michael Phelps’ dream of eight gold medals in one Olympics alive Monday morning. It was the final of the 4 x 100 meter and Phelps was going for his second gold medal of the Olympics. Many forecasted that this would be the race that would stand between Phelps and history. The US team consisted of four world-class swimmers in Phelps, Lezak, Garret Weber-Gale, and Cullen Jones. Phelps led off for the US team, but when he finished his 100 meters, the United States sat in second behind a strong showing by Australia. As Weber-Gale finished off his 100 meters, the US had taken the lead by a slim margin, with the French coming on fast. Then came Jones, who lost significant time in his swim and left the US with almost no chance at gold.
Lezak entered the pool six-tenths of a second behind French swimmer Alain Bernard, who had stated earlier that the French were going to “smash” the Americans. The fast swimmer in the world at the 100m freestyle and with a big lead, Bernard was all but certainly going to make that promise come true. Bernard even began gaining ground on Lezak until he was a full body-length ahead of him, an insurmountable distance in swimming. Then, like a switch was turned on, Lezak started to fly. Bernard tightened up and the arena grew louder with people muttering “could he actually do this”. Ten meters to go and Bernard still held a significant lead on Lezak, but Lezak was not about to give up. He continued gaining ground and reached his hand out to the wall as far as possible, touching it just eight-hundredths of a second before the Frenchman, giving the US the victory. Lezak and his teammates erupted, screaming at the top of their lungs and pumping their fists into the air. Phelps was ecstatic, realizing that he had just won gold in his toughest event and the path was now clear for him to make history.
In the end, the US finished the relay in a time of 3:08.24, smashing the world record by just under 4 seconds. The top five teams all broke the world record in what will go down as one of the greatest swimming races of all time. The race was shown live on NBC at nearly midnight eastern time and those that were lucky enough to see it live were treated to an unbelievable showing of heart, courage, and strength. It was a fairy tale finish. Lezak, the captain and anchor of the American team, coming from way behind to overtake Bernard, the arrogant captain of the French, and keep Michael Phelps hopes alive. You couldn’t have written a finish any better.