M 4x100m Free: Strain Of Aussie Guitars
Jul 24, 2011 - Craig Lord
Day 1 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai
Men's 4x100m freestyle
There was a faint strain of smashing guitars audible as the sprint relay came to a crashing, thudding, rattling finish, Australia's Eamon Sullivan, the two Matts, Abood and Targett, and a young gun built to break his blocks, James Magnussen, whistled ahead of the favourites to take the crown for only the second time in history ahead of the French and an American quartet that goes down as one of only three of 14 not to take gold since the championships were born in 1973.
The winning 3:11.00 is the fastest ever by any quartet wearing textile-only suits.
Lead-off James Magnussen had the better of Michael Phelps 47.49 (the gauntlet laid for the solo battle with the fastest time ever by a swimmer wearing textile, the first past Pieter Van Den Hoogenband) to 48.08, with Olympic champion Alain Bernard on 48.75, before Matt Targett took it on for the Dolphins with a 47.87, against 47.78 for Jeremy Stravius and American Garrett Weber-Gale's 48.33. Next up, Matt Abood was the third Australian inside 48sec, on 47.92, good enough to keep a 47.39 from William Meynard, of France, at bay, Jason Lezak - the American who kept alive Phelp's golden eight in Beijing by crushing Bernard with an all-time (in a suit now banned) fastest relay split of 46.06 on the way to the relay gold - on 48.15. Up until then, South Africans, Graeme Moore (48.15), Darian Townsend (47.76) and Gideon Lowe (47.91) had fought among the top three and confined the USA to fourth with one man (newcomer Leith Shankland, set for a 49.56) to go.
By then, Gaul's fastest gun of the season, Fabien Gilot, had left his blocks in chase of Eamon Sullivan, the Olympic silver medallist whose form was talked down this year when two 19-year-olds, Magnussen and James Roberts, up in the stands, got the better of him at Aussie trials in the 100m solo. Whoever called it for Sullivan - turned out to be a good one: a 47.72 did not match Gilot's 47.22 but the damage had been done and the gatekeeper kept the intruder at bay by 0.14sec, Australia taking gold in 3:11.00. The USA, brought home by Nathan Adrian on 47.40, kept Italy's Filippo Magnini (47.31) at bay, 3:11.96 to 3:12.39, with Russia, South African, Germany and Britain following on.
Phelps was a 15-year-old with a huge future ahead of him when Ian Thorpe and Co played air guitar on deck at Sydney 2000 after defeating the USA. Defeat one year out from London 2012 may be just what the doctor ordered, he indicated: "It's frustrating. As we all said after the race, it's not how we want to start it (the championships). We know what we have to do to get back, and we all said standing up on the podium it's clearly not the spot we want to be in. So this is really going to be a motivation."
Asked if the American quartet was angry, coach Eddie Reese said: "I don't know if angry was the right word but they weren't happy. This is something we need to take care of now. It's over. All we want to do is try and get these guys to swim on that relay and get them better for the next event."
American will fight back, as will France, Russia, Italy and 2004 Olympic champion nation South Africa but tonight the Australians with age on their side, speedy and youthful reserves up in the stands and Thorpe away preparing for battle, look like a might likely to get mightier still. Thorpe has one of the best 100m relay splits ever, a 47.20 from 2002, while the best ever in a textile suit still belongs to Pieter Van Den Hoogenband (NED), on 46.70 from 2003, that time 6th best ever in any suit.
Meanwhile, weep for all that bowing at the altar of shininess in 2008 and 2009: today may well have witnessed at least three world records. Cheer though for what is a truly thrilling sport.
History in the making
From the archive
Eleven out of 13 victories since 1973 have gone to the United States, one of those misses dependant on disqualification in 2001, which gave Australia the crown. The most dominant world-title victory in history unfolded at West Berlin in 1978, when Jack Babashoff, Rowdy Gaines, Jim Montgomery and David McCagg defeated West Germany by almost seven seconds. Dream team was an apt description for them: at the time they were the four fastest 100m freestyle swimmers in the world - and together they set the relay world record.