U.S. continues domination in 800 free relay

Updated: August 18, 2004, 5:12 PM ET
Associated Press

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.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press