- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 17, 2008

BEIJING

Walking onto the deck before he would swim the anchor leg in Sunday morning’s 4x100 medley relay, Jason Lezak spotted basketball stars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

”I love basketball,” he said. “There was just no way I was going to let those guys down.”

And Lezak certainly didn’t want to let down Michael Phelps.

Lezak and teammates Aaron Peirsol and Brendan Hansen came through with history on the line, combining with Phelps to set yet another world record and give Phelps his eighth gold medal, a record for a single Olympiad.



“I literally wanted to do something that no one’s ever done before in this sport,” Phelps said. “Without the help of my teammates, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

Peirsol gave the Americans an early lead, but after Hansen’s leg, Phelps hit the water in third place. At the turn of his 100-meter butterfly, he remained in third. But as he did in Saturday morning’s come-from-behind win, he erased the advantage.

Lezak swam last and he touched .70 seconds ahead of the Australians in a record time of 3:29.34.

“I was thinking, ‘Don’t blow the lead,’” Lezak said. “I was really nervous going in because anything can happen in a one race. I knew Eamon [Sullivan of Australia] was definitely capable of catching me. I wanted to take it out hard and finish as strong as I could.”

For Phelps, it was the last of eight-day, 17-race program in which he swam 3,300 meters.

“The whole thing [was memorable]; every race, from one to another, from winning by one hundredth of a second to finishing it off with a world record,” he said. “It was a great experience for me and something that I’ll have forever.”

Said Lezak: “Every single athlete in the world right now needs to tip their hat to Michael Phelps.”

Phelps won his seventh gold medal on Saturday by .01 seconds. Dara Torres‘ improbable comeback from retirement couldn’t end with gold in her lone individual event, losing to Germany’s Britta Steffen by one hundredth of a second in the 50-meter freestyle.

Steffen’s time of 24.06 seconds was an Olympic record and Torres’ 24.07-second mark was an American record.

”I’m very happy that I took the lead from the beginning,” said Steffen, who won both of Germany’s swimming medals this week. “In the first 20 meters, I was watching Dara beside me and my coach told me the last 10 meters would decide the result.”

Torres gained on Steffen over the final couple strokes but was unable to touch first.

“I think I probably shouldn’t have filed my nails last night,” Torres said.

Minutes after the medal ceremony, Torres likely ended her Olympic career swimming the anchor leg for the U.S. in the 4x100 medley relay. The Americans trailed Australia by .87 seconds when Torres started her leg. She was unable to catch Libby Trickett, and the Aussies’ time of 3:52.69 shattered their own world record by more than three seconds.

The U.S., which also finished under the world record and set an American record, was second.

The 41-year old Torres, who was appearing in her fifth Olympics dating back to 1984, likely finishes her Olympic career with 12 medals, including four golds.

The star for the U.S. women during the meet was Natalie Coughlin, who finished with medals in all six of her events.

“It means a lot,” Coughlin said. “Going into this meet, I was so worried about having six events. I had never done it at a meet of this caliber.”

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