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U.S. continues domination in 800 free relay

8/18/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- The record stood for 17 years, a despised
symbol of a cold-hearted regime that systematically drugged its
athletes in the pursuit of Olympic glory.

Finally, it's been knocked off the books.

The American women completed a sweep of the 800-meter freestyle
relay with a dominating performance at the Olympic pool Wednesday
night, taking down the oldest -- and most tarnished -- world record
in swimming.

Kaitlin Sandeno swam the final leg and cruised to the wall in a
time of 7 minutes, 53.42 seconds, easily beating the mark of
7:55.47 set exactly 17 years earlier by East Germany.

"It burned people a lot, and we all know the reason why," U.S.
women's coach Mark Schubert said. "We're very proud to have that
record back."

The East Germans set the relay record at an Aug. 18, 1987, meet
in France. Two years later, the Berlin Wall came down and communism
collapsed, bringing to light evidence of massive cheating by a
country that viewed athletic success as a validation of its
oppressive way of life.

Even those left in the American wake were glad to see East
Germany's mark wiped out.

"It was a pretty old one and perhaps a little bit tainted,"
Australia's Petria Thomas said. "It's great it's been broken."

How long did the record hold up? Sixteen-year-old Dana Vollmer,
who swam the third leg for the Americans, wasn't even born when the
East Germans set the mark.

Natalie Coughlin led off for the Americans, swimming a faster
time than the gold-medal performance in the 200 free. Carly Piper
took over next, followed by Vollmer and Sandeno, who didn't look
the least bit tired after finishing fourth in the 200 butterfly
just 45 minutes earlier.

"We're tough chicks," Sandeno said, adding there's nothing
tainted about this record. "We're clean as we can be."

The victory came 24 hours after a thrilling U.S. victory in the
men's 800 free relay in which Klete Keller held off a hard-charging
Ian Thorpe to win gold over Australia by 13-hundredths of a second,
one of the greatest races in Olympic history.

Clearly inspired by that performance, the American women blew
everyone away. China, more than 2½ seconds behind, took the silver,
while Germany edged out Australia for the bronze by just
five-hundredths of a second.

The Americans remained perfect in the women's 800 free relay,
winning their third straight Olympic title. The race became part of
the Olympic program at the 1996 Atlanta Games, long after East
Germany fell apart.