Monday, August 11, 2008

Leave it to the French to Add Drama

I was tired last night. So tired I was no longer enthusiastic about watching the Olympics. I even said, "I just want this relay to be over so I can go to sleep." That was before the race. After the 4x100 free style relay I was literally jumping up and down yelling. If you didn't watch the race, then you missed out. I'm still pretty pumped about it.

First, let me set the scene. The American B team relay set a new world record in the semi-final heat. The French however, also had their B team swim. Both teams wanted to let their best swimmers rest up for the final. The world record holding Frenchman, Alain Bernard, added to the intrigue by talking trash before hand. When asked what he thought about the American team, he commented, "The Americans? We are going to smash them. That's what we came here to do." I mean its ok to be cocky, but you better be ready to back up strong words like that. Especially when the US B team broke the world relay record. Even the announcers seemed convinced that there was no team that could possibly compete with the French. They were just too good.

So here's a quick recap. Phelps led off for the US and broke the American record and was just one hundredth of a second from the world record without having the best split in the pool, that honor went to Australia, who set the new 100 free world record. (The world record can only be set on the first leg of the race or in an individual event.) Then, the Weber-Gale swam a great second split keeping pace. Cullins then had the slowest split on the American team, a tenth of a second slower than Phelps. But that was enough for the French to take a commanding lead. By the time the anchors hit the water, Bernard had a good lead on Lezak, and coming off the turn into the final 50 meters Bernard had almost a full body length on Lezak. Lezak, a seasoned 32 year old athlete, said the momentarily gave up hope. But then he dismissed those thoughts and dug deep. Really deep. He started to muscle back. And all of a sudden the announcers that had written him off, saying he was swimming for silver, started to change their minds. Lezak gained and gained and at the end Lezak and Bernard were separated by just a finger tip. Lezak finished 8 hundredths of a second ahead with the fastest split in relay history, 46.06 seconds.

And the crowd went wild, his teammates went wild, my brother and I went wild, everyone I talked to today said they went wild. We're talking about a swimming relay race at 11:30 at night. And yet, most of the people I know were watching it and cheering. The American underdog team broke the world record by over 4 seconds. In fact, the top 4 teams all broke the world record set only the night before. Imagine breaking a world record and not even medaling. This is what makes the Olympics special, the vast majority of the time, no one cares about swimming. But last night, it brought us together. So many people were glued to the TV routing on a few swimmers most people had never heard of before. We watched an impossible comeback and we cheered. We were united. This race was truly what the Olympics are about.