Swimmer Michael Phelps won his 17th Olympic medal to take him closer to the all-time mark, but his US freestyle relay team were upstaged by France as records fell in the pool on Sunday's second day of competition at the London Games.
South Africa's Cameron Van der Burgh and American Dana Vollmer set world records in the men's 100 metres breaststroke and women's 100 butterfly, Van der Burgh denying Japan's Kosuke Kitajima in his bid to be the first male swimmer to win gold in the same event at three successive Olympics.
Phelps won his first ever silver after swimming a storming second leg in the 4x100 freestyle relay to lift his overall medal tally to 17, just one shy of the all-time record held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
But a flying anchor leg from France's Yannick Agnel snatched the gold from the fingertips of Phelps's team mate and great individual rival Ryan Lochte.
Australia, the fastest qualifiers and looking to notch a famous victory against their traditional rivals for pool supremacy, were soundly beaten into fourth.
Camille Muffat of France also won gold in 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. Britain's Rebecca Adlington brought out the biggest cheer when she touched third -- the home country's first swimming medal of the Games.
France upset favored Australia and the United States to win the 4x100-metre freestyle relay in the last event of the night. The Americans led all the way until Yannick Agnel pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France clocked 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds, and the Americans settled for silver in 3:10.38. Russia took bronze in 3:11.41, with pre-race favorite Australia finishing fourth.
On a night expected to feature a relay duel between the Australians and the Americans, Vollmer got things started with a bang. She was third at the turn but powered to the wall for a time of 55.98 seconds, beating the record of 56.06 set by Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom at the 2009 World Championships.
Vollmer, who made the Olympics as a 16-year-old in 2004, was a huge disappointment when she failed to make the team in Beijing. She was slowed by injuries and health problems, making her question whether she even wanted to continue competitive swimming.
But her injuries healed, and a change in diet gave her a new outlook. She came close to breaking Sjostrom's record at the US Olympic trials last month, and set an Olympic record in the semi-finals to come in as the top qualifier.
Now, she's an Olympic champion.
"I kept telling myself that my strength is my second 50," Vollmer said. "I kept really calm."
Kitajima was trying to become the first male swimmer to win the same race at three straight Olympics. But, like Michael Phelps the night before in the 400 individual medley, 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.
Australia's Christian Sprenger took the silver in 58.93, and American Brendan Hansen claimed bronze in 59.49.
Photographs: Jamie Squire / Getty Images
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