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Associated Press, Published July 29 2012

France upsets Americans in 400 freestyle swimming relay

LONDON – Ryan Lochte grabbed at the edge of the pool, head down, staring at the water. Michael Phelps glared at the scoreboard, trying to digest the first silver medal of his Olympic career.

Right beside them, the French celebrated.

It was just like 2008 but with the roles reversed.

This time, it was France chasing down the United States – and Lochte, no less – to win another riveting relay at the Olympics.

“We got our revenge,” French swimmer Clement Lefert said.

With Phelps looking much stronger than he did the night before, the Americans built a commanding lead over the first three legs of the 400-meter freestyle relay Sunday and never really had to worry about the defending world champions from Australia.

When Lochte dove into the water on the anchor leg, he was a half-body length ahead of the field and looking to add another gold to his dominating victory Saturday in the 400 individual medley.

Not so fast.

Or, should we say, not fast enough.

Yannick Agnel, playing the chaser role that Jason Lezak did for the Americans four years ago in this same event, sliced through the water and was right on Lochte’s shoulder as they made the flip at the far end of the pool. With about 25 meters to go, they were stroke for stroke. But Lochte, who had already competed in 1,200 meters of racing over the first two days, simply didn’t have enough left to hold off the towering, 20-year-old Frenchman, one of the sport’s real rising stars.

“I gave everything in the last 50 until he cracked,” Agnel said. “In the last 10 meters, I saw that he was really cracking.”

Agnel touched in 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds, having gone exactly 1 second faster than Lochte over the last two laps. Lochte and the Americans dropped to silver in 3:10.38, while Australia – the favorite – didn’t even get a medal. Russia took the bronze in 3:11.41, edging the team from Down Under by 0.22.

Phelps settled for his 17th career medal and completed his collection of Olympic colors, adding a silver to his 14 golds and two bronzes. He also moved a step closer to becoming the most decorated Olympian ever, just one away from tying the mark for most career medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, and has five events to go.

“At least I’m in a medal today,” Phelps said ruefully, referring to a fourth-place finish in his first race of the London Games.

But silver was a bitter disappointment for the Americans, who know how the French felt four years ago.

France had the lead in Beijing and its best sprinter, Alain Bernard, going out on the final leg. But Lezak swam the fastest relay leg in history, drafting Bernard along the lane rope and beating him by a scant 0.08 seconds to keep Phelps on track for his record eight gold medals.

That was one of the greatest races in Olympic history.

This one wasn’t too shabby, either.

“I was just really excited and I think I overswam the first 50 and it hurt me for the last 50,” Lochte said. “But we were able to get a medal, so I guess that’s good.”