Teammates bask in Phelps’ golden glory
Looming in the imposing shadow of Michael Phelps are his teammates, 16 swimmers without whose help in the relays the American wouldn’t have won an historic eight Olympic gold medals.Updated: Aug 18, 2008 00:24 IST
Looming in the imposing shadow of Michael Phelps are his teammates, 16 swimmers without whose help in the relays the American wouldn’t have won an historic eight Olympic gold medals. Phelps especially needed Jason Lezak, who swam clutch anchor legs on both the 400-metre freestyle and 400m medley relays. At 32, the old man of the U.S. men’s team out-touched Alain Bernard of France at the wall in the first of three relays to preserve Phelps’ run at taking down Mark Spitz’s vaunted record of seven gold medals.
Lezak was called on again Sunday morning, with gold No. 8 on the line if the Americans could finish off a relay sweep. Phelps gave Lezak the lead for the final two laps, and Lezak powered home in the second-fastest 100 split of the race.
“I was thinking not to blow the lead,” he said. “I was really nervous. I wanted to take it out strong and come home as strong as I could.”
Aaron Peirsol, the 100m backstroke champion in Beijing, led off and had the U.S. in first. Brendan Hansen, going against double breaststroke gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima of Japan, made it interesting, as the U.S. fell behind Japan and Australia on his leg. But Phelps picked him up, going 0.74 seconds faster than anyone else on his split to get the U.S. back in first. That set up Lezak to take on 100m free silver medalist Eamon Sullivan of Australia. He got within a half-body length of Lezek, who then put a golden ending on Phelps' swimming competition.
“Certainly, it would have been something if we didn’t do it,” Peirsol said. “But it’s not like we were getting pressure to swim for Mike. We wanted to do this not just for Mike, but for ourselves.”
Phelps only competes in the finals, so he relied on his teammates to swim strongly enough in the preliminaries to qualify and secure a spot in coveted lane 4. No false starts, no illegal strokes. They came through flawlessly.
Matt Grevers, Mark Gangloff, Ian Crocker, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, Nathan Adrian, Ben Wildman-Tobriner, Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens, Peter Vanderkaay, David Walters, Erik Vendt and Klete Keller are leaving Beijing with gold medals, knowing they played a role in Phelps’ epic feat.