Beijing-On the final morning of swimming here at the 2008 Olympic Games, there were upsets and glory, a fitting end to what has been a tremendous 9 days of swimming here in Beijing. It has flown by; as have the times: 25 World Records and 100s of National Records were broken in what has to be the greatest Olympics of all time.
Mellouli won Tunisia's first Olympic gold and Cochrane won Canada's first medal here in the pool this morning. Torres' storybook ending did not materialize, but the 41 year old still made history winning 3 silvers in her 5th Olympic Games. And in awe-inspiring fashion, Michael Phelps won his 8th gold, capping a perfect Olympic Games.
Women's 50 Free
Upsetting the perfect fairytale of Dara Torres (USA), Britta Steffen (GER) got her hand on the wall to win her second gold of the Games in 24.06 to Torres' 24.07. Cate Campbell (AUS) won bronze 24.17.
Of course, 3 silver medals, is still impressive. "It's been awesome," said Torres as she broke down in tears, overcome with emotion. "This is my 5th Olympic Team and each time it has been more fun, and better and better. It has been an unforgettable experience. We have been together for 5 weeks and to come together and be part of this team, it has been an unforgettable experience."
Torres' coach Michael Lohberg did not make it to Beijing after becoming ill just after the US Trials, "I wouldn't be here without him; it's not about 'I' over these last 2 years. We wrote this story together. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be here to finish this story with me."
Men's 1500 Free
It was a battle fit for a king; the reigning monarch in the lead until the 1100 and coming back for a sprint finish. Grant Hackett (AUS) was going for his 3rd Olympic win in 3 successive Olympics. Only 2 women have done it, no man ever has. He set the early pace with Ryan Cochrane (CAN) right with him. The 2 men set Olympic Records in the heats and were the favourites, however they were racing each other and did not take it out the way they each had in winning their heats.
At the 1000 mark, Ous Mellouli (TUN) attacked and passed Hackett and Cochrane with ease. He held on for the victory in 14:40.84, slower than Hackett's heat swim and the same as Cochrane's. Hackett blasted the last 100 but he was too far behind. He touched in 14:41.53, with Cochrane holding off a fast finishing Yuriy Prilukov (RUS) 14:42.69 to 14:43.21 for Canada's first medal in the pool.
"I was expecting to win a medal in the 400. It was what I prepared for all year," said Mellouli. "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."
"It was tough going into prelims in the first heat," said Cochrane. "So the race plan was to win the heat. The time was unexpected, but it was what I had to do to make the final. I knew it was going to be hard to come back today, but that the other guys would have the same problem. I took it out hard. I paid a bit in the second half, but it's what I needed to do to get onto the podium. I think everyone was a competitor, it was the fasted final I had ever seen, and all knew they could win. I tried to keep up [when Mellouli went], but I couldn't."
Cochrane won Canada's only medal in the pool, despite dozens of Canadian records and some great swimming. "There seemed to be lots of questions about medals and that is not what I was focusing on. This has been a very positive Canadian Team. We came in here and did what we wanted to do, and I came here to do what I wanted to do and I think I made the team proud."
Hackett said, "It's tough to swallow it all, for me going for my third gold, in no doubt the toughest race on the program, 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 did not say when he will retire, but that he will not be in London. Hackett, along with Ian Thorpe, has changed the face of freestyle swimming technique. Years ago they were the only swimmers doing front quadrant swimming in the long events, today the majority of the final swims exactly like Hackett. "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."
Women's 4x100 Medley Relay
Dropping a blazing 3 seconds from their World Record set last year at Worlds, the Aussie women defeated the Americans again, 3:52.69 to 3:53.30. In for bronze was China in 3:56.11. American Natalie Coughlin took it out well in 58.94, but the Americans dropped from there as Leisel Jones took over for Australia. On the breast leg her 1:04.58 split was no match for Rebecca Soni in 1:05.95. Jessicah Schipper and Libby Trickett took it home. Even though the Americans had faster splits on the back end, it was the breast leg that won it. Dara Torres split a 52.27 and Christine Magnuson a 56.14 for the fastest free and fly legs.
"It has been a very long week for all of us and we are all feeling the 9 days of racing," said Trickett, "but for us, we just wanted to swim well for each other, and I really wanted to put in my all for the girls and bring the team home well. One advantage is we were having so much fun in the ready room, I had a bit of a disappointment with my 50, but all the girls propped me up and I was trying to enjoy it and it really, really helped us."
"It has been an amazing week," Trickett continued. "It is such an emotional journey this 9 days, whether the huge high or disappointing swims and having to refocus for your next swim, it's so hard, it can get challenging at times. But there are so many people helping us, not just here, but back home as well. I can't believe it's been 4 years and another Olympics done, I'm just so proud of the Australian team, we did a fantastic job and really stood up under pressure."
Men's 4x100 Medley Relay
There was a lot riding on this race. While the Americans were the favourites on paper, relay takeovers, off swims, and stunning comebacks were all occurrences that could ruin the writing of history. After the 200, the Americans were not in the lead, but Michael Phelps took care of that. Coming from behind he put the Americans ahead with a 50.15 split. Lezak brought them home to win in a new World Record of 3:29.34 over Australia in 3:30.04 and Japan in 3:31.18.
"To be honest I was thinking not to blow the lead," said Lezak. "I was really nervous going into this, I knew anything could happen. Going into the other race, I didn't except to beat [Alain] Bernard, so obviously I knew Eamon [Sullivan] could do the same to me."
"Before the race we were thinking we've had a great meet so far, so build off the momentum. We knew we had a strong team to put Lezak in a good enough lead," said Peirsol who led out in 53.16. "We wanted to do it for Michael but also ourselves."
"We weren't thinking of beating Michael Phelps," said Brenton Rickard of Australia, "but just putting good races forward ourselves. For me personally I am very happy to walk away with 2 silver medals and something I will cherish for the rest of my life."
In his final press conference at the pool, Phelps summed up his week. "Everything was accomplished," said Phelps. "What else can I do. Doing all best times, wining very race, everything was accomplished that we wanted to. It's something I was looking forward to the last 4 years, and it's been 1 fun week."
While reflecting on the journey he stopped to think of how he will cherish it all, "I have everything to remember this by, I have the memories, pictures, I will have the medals forever. I have every suit and cap and pair of goggles that I wore here, my awards sweats. Some of the greatest memories from meets like this are spent with your teammates. There are a lot of rookies on our men's team and some I didn't know as well as others; its been fun getting to know them…and it’s one of the greatest memories I will have of this."