Stephanie Rice of Australia went out extremely fast and held on at the end to win the women's 400 IM in 4:29.45 -- nearly 2 seconds faster than the world record of 4:31.12 set by Katie Hoff at the U.S. Olympic trials.
"I sort of turned around and thought I saw 4:31 and I was thinking, 'That hurt a lot for a 4:31,'" Rice said. "But when I walked over and saw the 4:29, I thought, 'That's amazing.'"
For Dara Torres, a silver felt pretty good.
The 41-year-old mom picked up another Olympic medal by anchoring
the Americans to a second-place finish in the 400 freestyle relay.
She dove in the water too far behind to catch the winning team from
the Netherlands, but had no complaints after capping an improbable
comeback by climbing the medal stand with three teammates -- all in
their 20s and probably younger than the old-fashioned goggles
Torres was wearing.
Katie Hoff couldn't match her performance in the 400 IM at the
U.S. trials, settling for bronze.
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe also went under Rice's old mark, but only got the silver for the second-fastest swim in history, 4:29.89.
"It was a tough race, but I can't really be mad," Hoff said. "I was only like a half-second off my best time, so I'm happy to get my first medal of the Olympics."
She was a frightened 15-year-old when she competed at her first Olympics in Athens, actually throwing up after her first event. She failed to win a medal in either of her two races.
This time, nerves weren't a problem. She simply couldn't keep up with Rice.
"I was trying," Hoff said. "I didn't have it at the end."
The Dutch won the 400 free relay with an Olympic-record time of
3:34.33, beating the old mark of 3:35.94 set four years ago by
Australia. The Germans led at the midway point, but Femke Heemskerk
and Marleen Veldhuis rallied over the final 200. Inge Dekker and
Ranomi Kromowidjojo also swam on the winning team.
Natalie Coughlin, adding to the five medals she won in Athens,
took the leadoff leg for the Americans, and was followed by Lacey
Nymeyer and Kara Lynn Joyce.
But all eyes were on Torres, the oldest swimmer in U.S. history
and an inspiration to middle-agers everywhere with her return to
the pool, just two years after having a child.
She swam the second-fastest 100 of anyone, but it wasn't enough
to catch Veldhuis. The Americans were second in 3:34.33, while the
Australians took bronze in 3:35.05. Swimming in her record fifth
Olympics, Torres picked up her 10th medal -- four golds, two silvers
and four bronzes.
"Everyone did a great job and we're really happy with silver
because I don't think we were even expecting that," said Torres,
who climbed from the water with a big smile, waved to the crowd and
then joined the rest of the team for a group hug.