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September 20, 2000
US women take relay goldThe Rediff Team
The pre-race favourites for the women's 4x200m freestyle just had to be the US team -- but then, their men's team had just been drubbed in the two relays by the Australians, a fact that hung in the air, mingling with the smell of chlorine, as the teams lined up.
The US, as fastest qualifiers, lined up in lane four, with Samantha Arsenault, Diana Munz, Lindsay Benko and Jenny Thompson. For Australia in lane 5, the lineup read Susie O'Neill, Giaan Rooney, Petria Thomas and Kirsten Thompson.
Canada in one, Germany led by Franziska Von Almsick in two, Romania in three, the Italians in six, the French in seven, and the British in eight completed the lineup.
Van Almsick was first off the starting block, and led for the first 50 metres -- but the power of Susan O'Neill proved too much for her as Madame Butterfly, as Susie is known in Australia, pulled it back and, by the 100m mark, went into the lead. From then on, it was all Susie, as she led the field home for the first changeover.
Incredibly, the Americans were in fifth place at the changeover.
Rooney maintained the lead, fighting off a strong challenge from the Germans, and touched base half a bodylength ahead of her nearest rival. But this was where Australia, with Kirsten Thompson swimming, was most vulnerable -- Thompson was the weakest of the four Aussies, and by the halfway stage of this leg, Benko swimming a blistering leg for the US had cut down the lead to about half a fingernail.
Petria Thomas on the anchor leg had the slenderest of leads over Jenny Thompson -- but Jenny, queen of the relay racers with six golds in relays to her name (incredibly, she doesn't have a single individual gold) was too powerful for Thomas. Catching up to the Aussie ahead of the 100m mark, Thompson powered easily away from her rival to bring the US home in a new Olympic record time of 7:57.80. Australia took the silver, while Germany just about managed to pip Romania to bronze.
Post race analysis could centre around the fact that Susie O'Neill, the Aussie lead swimmer, and Petria Thomas, on the finishing leg, had both been drained by their individual efforts earlier in the programme. And that is definitely a factor -- an Ian Thorpe the other day could swim a blistering race, then come back and reprise with a stunning final leg on the relay, but not everyone is an Ian Thorpe.
If in fact tiredness was a factor for the Australians, then it makes a bit of a point about the home side's bench strength or lack thereof. Note, please, that the US had the champion over the distance, in Hyman who had beaten the two fancied Aussies earlier in the programme -- but chose not to swim her, depending on its strong bench to see it through.
The relay, thus, topped off a great night for the US in the pool, after the drubbing it had been taking thus far. Australia, which anticipated a golden evening in the pool, had to rest content with two silvers and one bronze out of four finals -- a distinct let-down.
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