U.S. men set world record in 400 free relay heats

Updated: August 10, 2008, 2:06 PM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- Michael Phelps was back resting at the athletes' village when his U.S. teammates created some waves at the Water Cube, setting a world record in the 400-meter freestyle relay preliminaries Sunday night.

Their performance gave Phelps a solid chance at claiming a second Olympic gold medal when he joins the team for Monday morning's final.

[+] EnlargeMens Swimming Relay Team
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesFrom left, Ben Wildman-Tobriner, Nathan Adrian, Cullen Jones and Matt Grevers, bottom, celebrate Sunday after setting the 400m freestyle relay world record.
"We definitely don't look at it like pressure on us," Ben Wildman-Tobriner said about keeping Phelps' bid for eight gold medals alive. "We look at it like being part of history."

Nathan Adrian, Cullen Jones, Wildman-Tobriner and Matt Grevers won their relay heat in 3 minutes, 12.23 seconds, erasing the old mark of 3:12.46 set by the U.S. at the 2006 Pan Pacific championships in Victoria, British Columbia.

Jones was part of the team that owned the previous record, becoming the first black swimmer to set a long-course world mark.

"A lot of people said this was the weaker of the two [freestyle] relays. The four of us set out to do something that not a lot of people thought we could do," he said. "We weren't afraid to feel the pain, which is why I'm so dizzy right now."

Besides qualifying first, Jones had the fastest 100 split of 47.61 seconds among his teammates and will join Phelps, Jason Lezak and Garrett Weber-Gale in the final.

The U.S. has not won the event at the Olympics since 1996, taking silver in 2000 and bronze in 2004. The Americans will be challenged by France, which qualified second in 3:12.36 and will be trying to win its first relay medal in 56 years.

Sprint star Alain Bernard and Fabien Gilot also were back at the village resting in preparation for joining Amaury Leveaux and Frederick Bousquet in the final.

Bernard was quoted as saying earlier in the week that the French would "smash" the Americans.

Merrill: True Golden Formula

Those "weak links" that were supposed to potentially derail Michael Phelps' run at history? Yeah, those guys. They set a world record and made the decision entering Sunday night's 400 relay much more difficult, writes Elizabeth Merrill. Story
"There were words said ... but we know they're a force to be reckoned with and we're going to have to go against them," Jones said.

Meanwhile, Phelps took it easy about nine hours after winning his first gold of these games with a world record in the 400 individual medley. That launched him on his way toward breaking Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in a single games.

The 23-year-old American superstar qualified fourth-fastest in the 200 free preliminaries, never leading his heat before touching in 1:46.48.

"Tonight was just a race to get into tomorrow," Phelps said. "I just try to conserve everything and make it into the semifinal. I try to bank as much rest as I can tonight -- recover and sleep and try to warm down and get out of here as fast as I can, so I'm not getting so run down."

Dominik Meichtry of Switzerland led the 200 free prelims in 1:45.80, pumping his right arm after winning Phelps' heat. Jean Basson of South Africa was second-quickest in 1:46.31, followed by Canadian Brent Hayden in 1:46.40. American Peter Vanderkaay also moved on to Monday's semifinals.

Like her pseudo older brother Phelps, Katie Hoff was back in the pool hours after earning a bronze medal in the 400 IM. She broke Janet Evans' nearly 20-year-old Olympic record in winning her 400 freestyle heat in 4:03.71.

One heat later, world recordholder Federica Pellegrini of Italy took the mark even lower, touching in 4:02.19 to qualify fastest for Monday morning's final.

Rebecca Adlington matched Pellegrini stroke-for-stroke heading into the finish and was second-quickest in 4:02.24. Hoff's time landed her the third spot. Teammate Kate Ziegler didn't make the final, finishing 14th.

Defending Olympic champion Laure Manaudou grabbed the eighth and last spot, qualifying 2.74 seconds behind Pellegrini's time.

Otylia Jedrzejczak of Poland, the silver medalist in Athens, didn't advance, finishing ninth. She also failed to make the 100 butterfly final four years after winning a silver.

Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe was the fastest qualifier for the 100 backstroke, where the top four women all swam under 1 minute.

The Olympic record set by American Natalie Coughlin four years ago in Athens was broken in each of the last three heats, with the mark eventually belonging to Coventry, who touched in 59.00. She was the silver medalist in Athens behind Coughlin.

Reiko Nakamura of Japan was second-quickest in 59.36, while Russian Anastasia Zueva also went under the old Olympic mark in 59.61.

Earlier Sunday, Coventry won a silver medal in the 400 IM.

"I was still running off the adrenaline and hyper from this morning," she said. "I didn't have to build up too much energy."

Coughlin, who won a silver medal earlier Sunday in the 400 freestyle relay, advanced to the semifinals in fourth, with a time of 59.69, well off her world record of 58.97.

"I definitely have my work cut out for me," she said. "The 100 back is probably the quickest progressing event in the past year in swimming. There's a lot of pressure on me, but I'm going to enjoy it as much as possible."

Laure Manaudou, the bronze medalist in Athens, was fifth. American Margaret Hoelzer qualified seventh, but her stronger event is the 200 back, where she owns the world mark.

The men's 100 back was fast, too.

Grevers took down teammate Aaron Peirsol's Olympic record, qualifying fastest in 53.41. Arkady Vyatchanin of Russia was second in 53.64.

Peirsol, like Phelps an old pro at conserving his energy while progressing through the heats, was third in 53.65. The defending Olympic champion is favored to repeat his 2004 sweep of the backstroke events, which the U.S. has won in each of the last three Olympics.

Leisel Jones of Australia qualified first in the 100 breaststroke with an Olympic record time of 1:05.64. She was the bronze medalist in Athens, but is now the world recordholder and the heavy favorite to sweep the breaststroke events.

"I'm quite shocked actually. I had a pretty crazy swim," she said. "That was a little faster than what I expected to do."

Yuliya Efimova of Russia was second in 1:06.08, followed by Mirna Jukic of Austria in 1:07.06. American Rebecca Soni advanced in fourth at 1:07.44. She got into the event when Jessica Hardy withdrew from the team after testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol at the U.S. trials.

American Megan Jendrick also made the semifinals in ninth. She is back in the Olympics after winning the event in 2000 and not making the team four years ago.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press