By 0.023sec a length, Grant Hackett (AUS) has been denied membership of the triple crown club by Oussama Mellouli (TUN): 14:40.84 to 14:41.53 in a 1,500m freestyle final that saw six men swim slower than they had in the blistering heat of prelims. The bronze went to Ryan Cochrane (CAN) in 14:42.69. The minor medallists from Athens 2004, Larsen Jensen and David Davies were locked out.
Dawn Fraser (AUS) and Krisztina Egerszegi (HUN) wait yet for male company in the triple crown club. It looked for a while - until the 1,100m mark - as though Grant Hackett (AUS) would cut the mustard, make the grade, sign up for membership. He raced with Ryan Cochrane (CAN) at his side, the leaders ready to back up on Olympic records from the heats - Cochrane with a 14:40.84. and Hackett a 14:38.92. They hadn't needed to go quite so fast - and when it came to the crunch in the final, the edge belonged to Oussama Mellouli (TUN), who flew past his opponents just after two-thirds into the race, and maintained a strong surge until the end, managing what no man had done to an in-form Hackett throughout his senior international career: when the Australian fired, the African fended him off.
Hackett roared ahead of Cochrane in the closing 100m but Mellouli was too strong. The gap at the end was 0.69sec, or 0.023sec a length. Mellouli was crowned in 14:40.84 to 14:41.53, with Cochrane third in 14:42.69. The minor medallists from Athens 2004, Larsen Jensen and David Davies were locked out. The world record of 14:34.56 remains. Cochrane won Canada's only medal in the pool.
Let's be clear: Hackett was amazing. He came closer to the triple than anyone ever has in pure time terms: Kieren Perkins and Alex Popov take silver and bronze by a whisker.
Melloul said: "I was expecting to win a medal in the 400. It was what I prepared for all year. It was my best ranking and we were planning to get a medal, not necessarily gold, but a medal. Then a month and a half before the Olympics I had a herniated disc and psychologically I was a bit tense and nervous. In the 400 I got 5th and I was really disappointed and didn't want to come in 5th again. But I remained calm and concentrated. Despite the fact that the week was long and I was seeing people on the podium while I waited, I remained patient and even in this race I remained patient to the 800, I was able to win."
Hackett said: "It's tough to swallow it all, for me going for my third gold, in no doubt the toughest race on the programme, I am feeling a lot of things. I feel relieved, I feel a bit of disappointment knowing I gave it everything. I think it took a bit too much out of me after the 1500 heat, but I spent every last cent that I had. That I came within millimetres over 12 years of doing it [winning 3 Olympic titles], I have raced some great competitors over the years who have pushed me, so it is amazing."
Hackett added: "When you come out and swim fast times, people try to emulate your stroke and training so they can match you. Certainly, I've been swimming a long time, and competitors aged 13 or 14 who are swimming when you are swimming internationally at age 18 or 19, will copy that strategy and I was able to take myself and distance swimming forward. If you set that bar high, people are going to come with you. People were saying after heats that the race was so much harder, but that's how I wanted it to be. I wanted to race the best and see what I could get out of me and it was a great."
The former champion will take a break before deciding whether to race on. He expressed an interest in the Commonwealth Games in 2010 but it would be surprise if Australia has not found a replacement for Hackett by then.