Thompson, U.S. team settle for silver

Updated: August 14, 2004, 8:21 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Jenny Thompson usually overhauls her competitors on the anchor leg of Olympic swimming relays. Not this time.

Thompson gave up the lead to Australia on the final lap of the 400-meter freestyle relay Saturday night, costing the Americans a gold medal. She had a chance for her ninth gold when she dove into the water with an edge of nearly four-tenths of a second but, at age 31, the most successful relay swimmer in U.S. history just couldn't hold it.

Jodie Henry passed Thompson after they made the final turn almost together. The Australian reached the wall in 3 minutes, 35.94 seconds to break the world record of 3:36.00 set by Germany two years ago.

"It was a change of pace for me to be passed by someone," Thompson said. "It's usually the other way around."

The American women had won the last three 400 free relays at the Olympics -- each time with Thompson swimming the anchor leg. And things were looking good after the first three legs by Kara Lynn Joyce, Natalie Coughlin and Amanda Weir.

"When I stepped up on the box, I had this tremendous sense of competitiveness and willing to want my team to win," Thompson said. "I can't deny I very badly wanted to win that race."

She swam her 100 in 53.77 -- fastest of the Americans and enough to give the team a silver medal and a national record of 3:36.39. The Netherlands took bronze in 3:37.59.

"We were so close," Thompson said. "Getting a new American record is amazing. I think that's pretty cool."

Henry followed teammates Alice Mills, Lisbeth Lenton and Petria Thomas and completed the final 100 in 52.95 -- nearly a second faster than Thompson.

"She passed me and I didn't like it," Thompson said.

"I've watched a lot of relays," she said. "I've seen people catch up to her. It's just a matter of diving in and believing in yourself. It doesn't matter who you swim."

Coughlin said she wasn't disappointed in her teammate.

"I thought we would pull it through and Jenny is such a great, great teammate, I wouldn't want anybody else to be anchor," she said. "No matter how she's swimming in a meet, she always has a really, really good relay split. Jenny was hurting at the end. But she still did a really good job and I'm proud of her."

Thompson still managed to tie the record for most career swimming medals. She's now got 11 -- including eight golds from relays -- equaling the mark shared by Mark Spitz, Matt Biondi and Carl Osburn.

"The medal count doesn't really matter," she said. "Thirty or 10, it's a lot of medals."

Thompson has never won an individual gold medal, however, and most of her medals have come in relays. Her only individual prizes are silver and bronze, both in the 100 freestyle.

She has two chances for individual glory in Athens, earning spots in the 50 free and 100 butterfly, but isn't considered a strong threat in either race.

"I feel very blessed to be here. I'm just really eating it all up," Thompson said. "I came back in 2002 and didn't really know if I'd be here. Being able to be part of this team with Michael Phelps and Erik Vendt, it's an amazing feeling."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press