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France gets revenge for the U.S. in 4x100 free; America takes silver

By Matt Norlander | Staff Writer
Cullen Jones, right, reacts after Ryan Lochte, left, touched too late to give the U.S. a gold in the 4 x 100 free. (US Presswire)

The French actually won a fight.

After getting out-touched in one of the most dramatic Olympic swim moments in history (the one that gave us this iconic reaction) in 2008, the 4x100 freestyle French relay team got its revenge against the United States Sunday.

America took silver, touching in 3:10.98, bested by France's 3:09.93. In '08, this was the same relay that saw Jason Lezak swim to an incredible 46.06 split -- the best ever. And for perspective, the 2008 4x100 final between these two finished at 3:08.24 (USA) to 3:08.32 (France).

That was the closest finish ever for the 4x100 freestyle relay. Sunday's wasn't as tight, but it was nearly as dramatic and certainly brought the suspense -- and surprise, too, considering the country favored to take the event didn't even earn a medal.

Surprisingly, it was Ryan Lochte who couldn't hold off France's Yannick Agnel, and once Agnel pedaled past Lochte with approximately 30 meters to go, it was over. Lochte could still have a horde of golds waiting for him in these Games, but his inability to close here is surprising and unsettling for plenty of American swim fans who expected/hoped Lochte to sweep his races with golds down the line.

He won't do that, and so Michael Phelps will remain the world record holder for most golds in a Games, as well as the only American swimmer to sweep eight events with first-place finishes.

The race started really well for the U.S., which saw Nathan Adrian out-swim James Magnussen in the first leg. Magnussen was part of the Australian team that couldn't even medal. You want to know how nuts this race was? Australia was a heavy favorite to win it -- and it took fourth.

The Russian relay team took bronze with its 3:11.41 finish, beating out the Aussies by .22.

Adrian's start will bring controversy, though. He usually swims anchor, and so diehard swim fans will question the American coaches for switching up the lineup. What's in no doubt: Michael Phelps' inclusion. He swam a terrific 100 meters, giving the United States a plus-.51 split after the second leg. At that point, Russia and Australia were the big challengers for first. Even Cullen Jones, a special in the 50-meter free, gave the U.S. a decent lead heading into Lochte's anchor swim. Jones gave up some of the cushion, but it was Lochte who was responsible for most of the lag.

And that's not supposed to happen, of course. The anchor is the anchor for a reason, and for whatever reason, U.S. coaches ditched and switched Adrian on the back end for the front, putting Lochte in a place where he seldom goes. It cost the U.S. a gold, one it wasn't unquestionably expecting to win, by the way.

Still, what a sting. The fact the roles are reversed -- literally -- for the U.S. and France make for seemly storytelling. Don't get me wrong: silver here is really nice for Red, White and Blue, but when the U.S. has a sizable lead halfway through the race and a manageable one three-quarters into it, it's startling to see American swimmers give up the gold the way they did.

U.S. in '08. France in '12. Let's hope these two can build teams better than all other in four years so we can get a rubber match in the fastest swimming relay event the world gets.

If you missed the final, it will air on NBC tonight some time after 7:30 p.m.

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