Olympics 2012: France stuns United States to capture gold in 4x100 relay

U.S. ends up with silver

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Two more world records fell earlier in the evening.

American Dana Vollmer took down the mark in the 100 butterfly, then Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa broke another in the 100 breaststroke — denying Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima an Olympic threepeat.

Not even through the second night of the London Games, three world records had already been set.

So much for those dire predictions of marks standing for decades after high-tech bodysuits were banned.

This was quite a night for France, and not just because of the relay. Camille Muffat won a riveting 400 freestyle duel with American Allison Schmitt, the two virtually stroke for stroke the entire way. Muffat held on to win by about half a stroke with an Olympic-record time, while Schmitt settled for silver — a sign of things to come.

Britain’s Rebecca Adlington brought out the biggest cheer when she touched third, the home country’s first swimming medal of the games.

Vollmer was third at the turn but powered to the wall for a time of 55.98, beating the record of 56.06 set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom at the 2009 world championships. Not bad for someone who didn’t even qualify for the last Olympics, her career sidetracked by injuries and illness.

“I kept telling myself that my strength is my second 50,” Vollmer said. “I kept really calm.”

She dropped back her head when saw the time, then broke into a huge smile, slapped the water and pumped her fists.

“I’m on top of the world right now,” said Vollmer, who qualified for Athens as a 16-year-old but was a disappointment in 2008. “I still know I can go faster.”

Kitajima was trying to become the first male swimmer to win the same race at three straight Olympics. But, like Phelps the night before in the 400 IM, the Japanese star didn’t come close.

Van der Burgh made sure of that, dominating the race almost as soon as his head popped out of the water for the first time. He was comfortably ahead at the turn and blew away the field on the return lap to touch in 58.46, knocking off another of the marks set at the 2009 world championships.

Brendan Rickard’s time of 58.58 was among the astonishing 43 world records established at that meet in Rome, when rubberized suits took the sport to times that bordered on absurd. The suits have since been banned, with some predicting that it might take decades to go faster in textile suits.

Only two records fell at last year’s worlds in Shanghai, but the Olympic meet has already beaten that number with three over the first two days.

Australia’s Christian Sprenger took the silver in 58.93, and American Brendan Hansen claimed bronze in 59.49, providing a bit of salve for past Olympic disappointments. Hansen was so disgusted with his performance in Beijing that he retired from the sport, saying he was totally burned out. After giving triathlons a try, he returned to the pool and got back up to speed.

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