Aug. 11, 2008
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Former UC Santa Barbara swimmer Jason Lezak recorded the fastest anchor leg in history on Monday to lead the U.S. to the gold medal in the 4x100 freestyle relay at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Lezak was nearly a body-length behind France's Alain Bernard, the world record holder in the 100 meter freestyle entering the race, at the outset of the final lap, but the Irvine, Calif., native tracked him down and touched first.
The U.S. team of Lezak, Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, and Cullen Jones won the event in a world record time of 3:08.24. The French squad won the silver in a time of 3:08.32. Australia placed third.
Phelps swam the first leg for the American team, going 47.51 and narrowly missing Bernard's world record time of 47.50. Australian Eamon Sullivan, however, was in front at 47.24, breaking Bernard's world record. Weber-Gale swam the second leg and pushed the U.S. into first place. France's Frederick Bousquet surged ahead of Jones in the third leg, setting the stage for Lezak's heroics.
At 350 meters, Bernard was .18 of a second ahead.
"I'm not going to lie," Lezak said after the race. "When I flipped at the 50, I still saw how far ahead he was, and he was the world-record holder 'til about two minutes before that, when Sullivan led off with the world record, I thought, it really crossed my mind for a split second, there's no way.
"Then I changed. I said, you know what, that's ridiculous. This is the Olympics. I'm here for these guys. I'm here for the United States of America. It's more than -- I don't care how bad it hurts, or whatever, I'm just going to go out threre and hit it. Honestly, in like five seconds, I was thinking all these things -- you know, just got like a super charge and took it from there. It was unreal."
Lezak's split was 46.06, the fastest split of all-time.
Prior to Sunday, the closest finish in the event in the Olympics had been in 2000 in Sydney, when the Aussie's beat the U.S. by .19 of a second.
Lezak, who graduated from UCSB in 1999 and was a two-time Big West Swimmer of the Year, is participating in his third Olympics for the United States. He also medaled at the 2000 Sydney Games and the 2004 Athens Olympics. He will continue his pursuit for Olympic gold in the 100-meter freestyle and 4X100 medley relay later this week.