Phelps' medal tally now up to five

Updated: August 17, 2004, 8:27 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Now this was a duel in the pool -- the world's two greatest swimming powers going head-to-head for more than seven minutes at the Olympics.

And it all came down to Klete Keller holding off Ian Thorpe and finishing off the Australians with a lunge for the wall that gave the Americans a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle relay.

By 13-hundredths of a second.

With Michael Phelps leading off Tuesday night, the United States bested its rival from Down Under in the most thrilling race of the Athens Games. Phelps earned his third gold medal of the Olympics, having won the 200-meter butterfly about an hour earlier.

The 19-year-old started things right for the Americans in the relay, building about a one-second lead, but this one will be remembered for Keller's gutsy swim against Thorpe that sent 10,000 fans into an uproar.

"This race will go down as one of the greatest in history,'' said Phelps, who helped the Americans avenge the loss to Australia four years ago in Sydney. "I knew Klete would come through. His swim was the reason why we won that relay. He held off the fastest 200 freestyler in history.''

Phelps and the other U.S. swimmers, Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay, hopped up and down on the deck as Keller dug for home. When he touched first -- his hand just ahead of Thorpe's -- Phelps showed more emotion than he has at the entire Olympics. The teenager threw up his arms and screamed "Yeaaahh!'' toward the jubilant American contingent in the stands.

"I don't think I've ever celebrated like that in my entire life,'' Phelps said. "They've owned that race for so long.''

Keller pulled himself out of the water and joined his teammates in a raucous hug. A dejected Thorpe walked over and shook hands with Keller.

"It hurt like hell,'' Keller said. "I could see (Thorpe) coming up. But when I was breathing, I saw my team going crazy -- and that really kept me going.''

A night earlier, the 200 freestyle -- a duel between Phelps, Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband -- was touted as the most anticipated race of the Olympics. It was the only head-to-head individual race between Phelps and Thorpe, but the American finished a distant third.

For pure drama, it didn't come close to matching up to this one.

Phelps led off against Aussie star Grant Hackett; Thorpe -- adorned in black from head to toe -- finished up with his furious pursuit of Keller. The Thorpedo came up short, the Americans winning with a time of 7 minutes, 7.33 seconds.

The Australians settled for silver in 7:07.46, while the Italians were more than four seconds back in third.

"I tried to put my head down,'' Thorpe said. "It was a good last 50 for me and a great one for Klete. Unfortunately, I didn't quite get there.''

In the 200 butterfly, Phelps held off Takashi Yamamoto to win in an Olympic-record 1:54.01. The hard-charging Japanese swimmer took silver (1:54.56), while Britain's Stephen Parry won bronze (1:55.22).

Halfway through the eight-day swimming meet, Phelps has three gold and two bronze medals. He had hoped to challenge Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals from the 1972 Munich Games, but that effort ended with third-place finishes in the 400 free relay and 200 free.

Thorpe is having another superb Olympics, with three gold medals and one silver.

The Americans added to their medal haul when Amanda Beard took silver in the 200 individual medley. The three-time Olympian earned the fifth medal of her career behind Ukraine's Yana Klochkova, who defended the title she won in Sydney with a time of 2:11.14.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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