LONDON — Nathan Adrian took out the Missile by a fingertip.
Adrian, a 23-year-old largely overshadowed by American stars such as Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, made a name for himself by winning the 100-meter Olympic freestyle Wednesday. He lunged to the wall to edge James "The Missile" Magnussen by one-hundredth of a second — the slightest margin possible — and again deny Australia its first individual swimming gold of the London Games.
"It's not who swims the fastest time this year," said Adrian, a not-so-subtle dig at Magnussen posting the best time ever in a textile suit back in March. "It's who can get their hands on the wall first here tonight."
Adrian pounded the water, then put his hands over his eyes while dangling over the lane rope, as if he couldn't believe the "1'' beside his name. Magnussen hung at the end of the pool, staring straight ahead at the wall in disbelief, the wall he got to just a fraction of a second too late.
"I had no idea, to be honest," said Adrian. "I'm a guy that has a lot of speed and I can go out fast and I die a little more than he does. It's a little nerve-racking the second 50. I just had to really focus on it and stay strong."
Adrian was on top of the world after touching in 47.52, giving the U.S. its first title in swimming's signature event since Matt Biondi at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Canada's Brent Hayden took silver in 47.80, his country's first medal ever in the furious down-and-back sprint.
"We were in the ready room and we watched it and just went nuts," Lochte said. "We were screaming and everything. That was one of the greatest finishes. We're so happy for him."
Adrian gave a glimpse of his potential in the 4x100 free relay, going faster than Magnussen on the opening leg, a stunner given the Missile had looked unbeatable at last year's worlds and set the fastest time ever in a textile suit (47.10) at the Australian trials in March.
Unfortunately for the Aussies, Magnussen hasn't been at his best when it really mattered, and these Olympics are turning into a bit of a bummer for the swimmers from Down Under.
"I just felt pretty much bullet-proof coming into this Olympics," Magnussen said. "It is very humbling."
The Americans are feeling good about themselves, producing more of a team effort after Phelps dominated the last two Olympics.
"We've had a great week so far," Phelps said. "We are just starting to pick up more and more steam, so hopefully we can finish it."