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Men's 4x100 Freestyle Relay: Some Numbers

So hopefully by now, you have seen the men's 4x100-meter relay from the Water Cube. If you haven't, get yourself to a DVR or a TiVo or some sort of sketch artist. It's ridiculous. (Or, you could just read about it, which of course does not come close to recreating it.)

Let's break this down a bit.

Michael Phelps swam the opening leg. Keep in mind: Phelps is not a sprinter. His individual events here consist of one 100-meter race (butterfly), three 200-meter races (medley, butterfly, freestyle) and one 400-meter race (freestyle). Though he could likely be a challenger for a sprint gold if he concentrated on it, he does not.

Phelps's leg was 47.51 seconds. On paper, that looks to be the second-slowest on the U.S. team. Garrett Weber-Gale followed with a sturdy 47.02, Cullen Jones struggled to a 47.65, and Jason Lezak brought it back with an astounding 46.06 to overtake Frenchman Alain Bernard, who entered the day as the world record holder in the 100 free.

Don't be fooled. That swim is the new American record in the event. Whose record did he break? That's right. Jason Lezak.

Phelps's swim was remarkable. Not only did it put the Americans ahead of the favored French - who had Amaury Leveaux open with the slowest leg of any team that won a medal, 47.91 - but it was beaten only by Australian Eamon Sullivan. What did it take to get ahead of Phelps? A world record in the 100 free, 47.24 seconds. It is why Sullivan is the favorite in that individual race later in the week.

In relays, the later legs are almost always faster than the opening leg because swimmers visually know when to leap, rather than waiting for the gun. Phelps's reaction time - the time between the sound of the gun and when he left the block - was .75 of a second. (Leveaux's, similarly, was .77, Sullivan's .71.) But the later swimmers on the U.S. team, able to watch when they're going to leave instead of listening and then reacting, were much better (as is typical) - Weber-Gale in .06, Jones in .38 and Lezak in .04.

The point: Anyone who thinks Phelps hampered this team is wrong. He shaved a half second off his time in a preliminary heat at trials - and helped win.

The other major question: What happened to Bernard, who was handed a lead of .59 of a second over the final 100 meters. He covered the first 50 meters in 21.27 seconds, which was the fastest opening 50 meters of anyone in the pool. Put that in perspective: Sullivan's world record time in the 50 free is 21.28 seconds. (Again, Bernard had the advantage of anticipating the start, but still.)

Bernard actually increased his lead over Lezak and the Americans. With 50 meters - one pool length - to go, the French lead was .82 of a second.

Making up more than eight-tenths of a second? In 50 meters? In the Olympics? Against the world record holder?

This race is going to be chewed upon for, oh, however long they continue to hold Olympics. And I'd like to be at any event that is more exciting - though I might not survive.

By Barry Svrluga  |  August 11, 2008; 5:27 AM ET
 
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Comments

I was really surprised that NBC did not show the splits live. I had no idea what was going on as the race unfolded. (In fact the NBC announcer called the race for the French before Jason began that incredible surge.)

Can someone analyze how much the draft could have helped? Did Bernard throw it away by racing too close to the rope, thus helping Jason?

Posted by: Vijay Saraswat | August 11, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Great stats, Barry. But even not knowing these numbers, it was the most exciting swimming event I've ever watched.

Posted by: NoVaSnow | August 11, 2008 7:56 AM | Report abuse

Unbelievable event. Jason Lezak dug deep on his leg. Pure gut check for Lezak and an inspiration for all. Great job.

Posted by: Pete | August 11, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

of course the french surrendured at the end

Posted by: poop | August 11, 2008 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately I was unable to watch the race. I found reading this article very difficult. Maybe Barry should have written it after he stoppped jumping up and down?

Posted by: MHS | August 11, 2008 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Ah Yes, another French/American story where the French run their mouths, can't back it up and the Americans get the job done. It's amazing how the swimming teams have represented there countries so well.

At the end of the day who were getting the "victory" medals?

I am very proud to be an American today!

Go Team USA!

Posted by: Norman D | August 11, 2008 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for explaining. I watched the race, read some writings, had many questions and you answered my exact questions. Great job!

Another question: how much was Lezak benefit from "riding the wave" behind Bernard?

Posted by: MSH | August 11, 2008 8:25 AM | Report abuse

400-meter race (freestyle) should be 400-meter race (medley) for Phelps; however, WHAT A RACE!!!

Posted by: Kit | August 11, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Great analysis Barry, but after reading your blog and all the comments I still don't know who won the Gold Medal.

Posted by: notaduck | August 11, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

I saw the last leg live. It was one of the most amazing finish in an Olympic swimming event. Go Team USA!

Posted by: Gator1 | August 11, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Races as evenly matched as this one are won by deep emotion. Take one look at Phelps' reactions as the last leg unfolded, and you'll see the same level of extreme emotion that must have powered Lezak.

Posted by: mig | August 11, 2008 8:31 AM | Report abuse

That was as good a written evaluation that can fit in a concise article. There is too much leading up to this event to fully explain it. Phelp's medal run, the last two Olympic defeats of the Americans, the French hype. As for the race itself, you just have to watch it, it was undescribable! What a come from behind story!

Posted by: Lee | August 11, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse

WWW.NBCOLYMPICS.COM is by far my favorite sight this month. I've watched this race four times now and it hasn't got old yet!

Posted by: Russell | August 11, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I got a chance to watch it, I've never seen a more amazing relay.

The first *5* teams broke the existing world record (3:12:23) and 6 of the 7 fastest 4x100 relay times were recorded in this 8 team race. That world record (WR) was shattered by 3.99 secs, which equates to the largest percentage improvement of a WR free relay in the modern era.

To add to split numbers perspective, it's also worth mentioning that the Garrett Weber-Gale "sturdy" performance of 47.02 was the *fastest* 2nd leg of all-time to retake 1st place after the WR (47.24) opening leg by Australian Eamon Sullivan. The French team had the fastest 3rd leg of all time by Frederick Bousquet (46.63) where they took the lead and set up the final leg showdown.

There have only been a handful of splits timed under 47 secs. Alain Bernard of France had what would have been considered (on any other night) an amazing performance (46.73) but was overtaken by the fastest closing (or any) leg in history by Jason Lezak (46.06). Not only was this the fastest 4x100 free relay of all-time, a record was broken in each leg of the relay.

Posted by: Mike | August 11, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

The best race ever.
I still wonder if the new swimsuits are actually helping or not.....

To the French... if you do the talking you have to do the swiming, take that one.

I like the classy US team, congratulating the French at the podium,

A job well done.

Posted by: 4everold | August 11, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

most amazing relay ever! True Olympic spirit, Lezak! Go Team USA!

Posted by: ivan | August 11, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Great article! Thanks for the clarity on how great EACH swim was by the American men!

I've been swimming for for 18 years, through college and actively today, and that was hands down the BEST RACE EVER. Aside from the mind-blowing times, that was the most heart I've ever seen. They left their message in the pool, I'm still marinating on the big win.

My note is primarily geared towards the "swimming analysts" of NBC. I watched this relay on mute. Someone at the network needs to begin the search for new swimming "analysts", ASAP.

I've never been so agitated with a sports commentators on TV. Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines REPEATEDLY said on live TV that the US men could not win this relay before it even started, if I'm not mistaken, they did the "math" and the "numbers don't add up." Who says that when you have another team guaranteeing a win and a world record? Can't they just say its going to be a fast race instead of the negative and ignorant comments? Honestly. I am just baffled as to why NBC continues to let these two continue talking. I would've rather unbeknownst spectactors to the swimming world, Chris Collingworth and Barbara Bush provide commentary throughout that relay instead of these other tools from NBC.

Even earlier in the night, another announcer put their foot in their mouth with Natalie Coughlin. This deckside NBC correspondent asked Natalie why she hit the lane lines throughout her race earlier in the night. Who is that lady, I've never heard of her... and what's her authority on the swimming world? In my experience, I am not a fan of talking about my races when I just got out of the water. If someone asked me why I hit the lane rope throughout my Olympic race, and I was a backstroker, I would consider roundhouse kicking them in the face. Natalie chose the higher road and simply said that it wasn't on her mind. Who are these swimming analysts?!!!!!!

Get these people off the AIR! I think its time for some new blood on the pool deck with microphones. Does anyone have Summer Sanders phone number? Honestly!

Posted by: Patti R. | August 11, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I agree that the interview with Natalie Coughlin was bad - very stupid question about the lane markers. On a par with "Tell, me sir, do you enjoy beating your wife?"

Posted by: Old Swimmer | August 11, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

This was a great race, unfortunately understated by your article with too much Michael Phelps and not enough on the hero who actually won it, Lezak.

Phelps swam 47.51 seconds, slow considering that this is the so-called king of the pool right now. You stated that he is not a sprinter when he's actually a 100m butterfly sprinter as well. Middle distance swimmers are capable of any distance, just ask Ian Thorpe. And unlike Thorpe, Phelps did not anchor the American team home the way Ian did for Australia in 2000. Thorpe isn't a short course sprinter but read it again, he ANCHORED his team, Phelps didn't.

Sullivan swam a world record lap, but it seems like you are underestimating this guy. He is the world record holder for the 50m free, no wonder he swam the time he did. In any case, Australia got their strategy mixed up, Sullivan should have swam the last leg. Nevertheless, Phelps was at his mercy.

"The point: Anyone who thinks Phelps hampered this team is wrong. He shaved a half second off his time in a preliminary heat at trials - and helped win."

Unfortunately you missed the point altogether, Lezak won the race for America in a superhuman effort. If it wasn't for him, Phelps would be holding a silver medal at best. What Lezak did was just simply amazing.

He beat a record holder from behind. I don't think anyone is giving him any credit, its all Phelps apparently. Lezak looked like he gave 10 years of his life in that single race alone.

If this is what it takes to make Phelps into some swimming legend by feeding off the efforts of those who deserved it, then I think most people might just add a * for assisted next to his name and medal tally.

Posted by: Sam | August 11, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

This was a great race, unfortunately understated by your article with too much Michael Phelps and not enough on the hero who actually won it for America, Lezak.

Phelps swam 47.51 seconds, slow considering that this is the so-called king of the pool right now. You stated that he is not a sprinter when he's actually a 100m butterfly sprinter as well. Middle distance swimmers are capable of any distance, just ask Ian Thorpe. And unlike Thorpe, Phelps did not anchor the American team home the way Ian did for Australia in 2000. Thorpe isn't a short course sprinter but read it again, he ANCHORED his team, Phelps didn't.

Sullivan swam a world record lap, but it seems like you are underestimating this guy. He is the world record holder for the 50m free, no wonder he swam the time he did. In any case, Australia got their strategy mixed up, Sullivan should have swam the last leg. Nevertheless, Phelps was at his mercy.

"The point: Anyone who thinks Phelps hampered this team is wrong. He shaved a half second off his time in a preliminary heat at trials - and helped win."

Unfortunately you missed the point altogether, Lezak won the race for America in a superhuman effort. If it wasn't for him, Phelps would be holding a silver medal at best. What Lezak did was just simply amazing.

He beat a record holder from behind. I don't think anyone is giving him any credit, its all Phelps apparently. Lezak looked like he gave 10 years of his life in that single race alone.

If this is what it takes to make Phelps into some swimming legend by feeding off the efforts of those who deserved it, then I think most people might just add a * for assisted next to his name and medal tally.

Posted by: Sam | August 11, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Hey Sam,

You're extremely wrong about Phelps. Phelps swam a 47.51 from a standing start, not a relay start. He swam the 3rd fastest time EVER. He in fact is not a sprinter. He doesn't train the 50 or 100 freestyle like those other guys. His body has nowhere near the muscle mass that the sprinters do. He's able to swim so fast because of his incredible stamina. Both he and Jason Lezak threw down monster swims. You have no idea what you are talking about.

Posted by: Phil | August 11, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

3 BRILLIANT swims and 1 SUPERHUMAN one.

Lezak was hurling his body through the water trying to atone for his part in the only losses the US 400 free relay ever had(South Africa 2004 and Australia 2000).

His last 15 meters will be legendary and no one has mentioned the fact that he accomplished the fastest relay split ever at the age of 32. Granted, that isn't 41 like Dara Torres but swim sprints are generally a young man's sport.

Greatest team swim race I have ever seen.

Posted by: Mike | August 11, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

This brings two very powerful words two my mouth. Seeing the french stunned, and the americans as amazingly pumped as they were....

france...GET SOME....GET SOME.....

You have been OWNED PWNED AND DESTROYED by the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA b

Posted by: Joseph | August 11, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

What were the times of the first four US swimmers in the 4X100 relay team that broke the World Record in the round before the finals? How was the person from that team chosen to swim in the finals?

Posted by: Andy Horn | August 11, 2008 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Incredible race. Great stats. But I think it would also be very intersesting to know the times of the French, especially those ones of Bousquet and Bernard.

Posted by: Markus | August 12, 2008 6:17 AM | Report abuse

Amazing article. I didn't get to see the race live, but I did get to see it on the net the next day. I'm very upset that I didn't get to see it. To go along with what everyone else said, yes this article truly understated how exciting this race was that night. One thing I want to comment on is people like Sam and...actually just Sam commenting about Phelps and the NBC news reports. The team as a whole did a fantastic job and I believe most of the article was about Lezak. But, he didn't win that race alone. The rest of the team helped, he just put it away in the most dramatic comebacks I've ever seen in my life. Anyway, complaining about NBC news reports at the Washington Post is like going to a zoo and complaining about the penguins to the tiger trainer.

Overall, GREAT article GO USA!

Posted by: Brent | August 12, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Sam - I agree with you.
While the whole team was amazing, I think Lezak is the real hero of this race.

Posted by: Alexis | August 12, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

To Andy ... the prelim relay splits were: Nathan Adrian - 48.82, Cullen Jones - 47.61, Ben Wildman-Tobriner - 48.03, Matt Grevers - 47.77. I'm assuming Eddie Reese chose Jones for the final because he had the fastest split.

To Marcus ... Leveaux - 47.91, Gilot - 47.05, Bousquet - 46.63, Bernard - 46.73.

And finally, to Sam (who must be Australian)... Michael Phelps will go down in history as the greatest swimmer in WORLD. If Ian Thorpe would have swum something else than freestyle, maybe you could speak of these two in the same breath. He has swum his first two individual events uncontested and will continue his domination and shatter the world record in the 200 free this evening. God I love watching Olympic swimming!

Posted by: Tom | August 12, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Apologies ... I meant 200 fly instead of 200 free (because he already owns the world record in the 200 free)

Posted by: Tom | August 12, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Question - what happened to the other 3 men who swam in the semi? Did they get medals too? After all, they helped put the US team into the finals.

Posted by: Jo | August 12, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Jo ... yep, they sure do. If you remember back in Athens, Phelps swam the fly in the prelims of the 4 x 100 medley relay, then gave his spot in the final to Ian Crocker, yet Phelps still received a gold medal for their performance in the finals.

Posted by: Tom | August 12, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I just pointed out the inconsistencies in this article.

Thorpe participated in a number of events other than the freestyle, he actually was a backstroker. He is not a sprinter at all, but a 400m middle distance swimmer who just happened to break his own world record 4 times.

So why was he selected for the last leg of that infamous 100m relay race in Sydney 2000?

Its his finishing power.

He had one of the strongest finish I have ever seen in a swimmer (equivalent to what Lezak did).

Lets jog some memories, the Americans said they would smash the Australians like guitars, remember? Instead America lost to the Aussies in world record time. Later he and the 200m relay team beat the Americans by 5 seconds. It was the first time the Americans would lose the 100m relay in its entire history.

If Kieren Perkins was the Super goldfish, this guy was the shark. His "hunt you down" style was spectacular. Nobody would've thought he could pull off a 100m sprint as it was so different to the 200m, 400m and 800m he usually does.
He is no longer the golden boy, Phelps now takes the helm, but he too will be replaced by another. This is the way it had always been.

Anyway, let me address some of your points :

Phil - Phelps time was actually slower than all the French guys except the first one, and he was no match for world record holder Sullivan anyway. That makes 4 guys ahead of him already. I don't have the data for the other swimmers who also might have swam faster, but 3rd fastest of all time?

Also, Phelps swims mainly 100m and 200m, freestyle and butterfly are probably his pet styles. Tell me these are not sprint events. Hackett and Thorpe are good examples of non-sprinters. They probably train for 10 kilometres daily for their events.

Tom - There is no such thing as the greatest swimmer in (the) world, but there are swimmers who have been the greatest of our time.

There is Ian Thorpe. It would be interesting to see Phelps try the 400m free and see if he can beat Thorpe in a much faster pool?

I would also rate Grant Hackett as a great swimmer, he shaved off 14 seconds from Kieren Perkins first world record in the 1500m, which was already amazing as Perkins was already 12 seconds under the impossible 15 minutes.

Hackett's world record has not been broken for 7 years.

He will be going for his 3rd straight Olympic gold medal in the event. Talk about endurance and hard work, if Phelps breaks Hackett's record with his "awesome" stamina then I will have to hand it to him as the greatest.

And finally, this pool is the fastest pool EVER. You can't compare today's heroes with yesterday because technology has improved so much. Swimmers have achieved personal best by at least a second even in the heats! Phelps time compared to the last 100m relay he did in Canada was just over a second, Lezak a second and a half.

Which was what made the race so amazing because even I cannot believe what I just saw. Lezak was lunging everything he had in the kind of desperation I have not seen in a long time.

He might have been helped by an assisting wave, with Bernard running into one. I would like to see Bernard's 50m splits as this could explain how he lost the race. He was probably swimming a hell of a lot faster in the first 50, but faltered badly in the last 50 letting Lezak catch up. Or maybe he got overconfident and eased off too much.

Regardless, this race would be remember as Lezak's and not Phelps.

The problem is that some of you are being distracted by Phelps mission to win as many medals as he can (mostly from relays). It is an incredibly fast pool and that definitely helped in the fast times that we're all seeing. I hope future pools maintain the same standards.

And no I'm not Australian, but I do appreciate lesser hyped swimmers who deserve recognition.

Sorry for the really long reply, oops!

Posted by: Sam | August 12, 2008 8:25 PM | Report abuse

IF you read the article you will realize why you can't compare starting splits with the others. If you could, Lezak would be the new world record holder. Phelps swam the third fastest time in hitory! I don't know if you watch track & field, but this would be like Michael Johnson in 2000 leading off in the 4x100 and running the 3rd fastest 100 in history.

I don't think anyone is debating that Lezak was the hero of the race. Not even close. But you also have to give Phelps his props for his versatility.

By the way...in story full of individual displays of incredible heart, how did a retired ex-champ that quit because of waning motivation get brought up?

Posted by: Eric | August 12, 2008 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Check that..Michael Johnson in 1996. ;)

Posted by: Eric | August 12, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Sam ... I appreciate your comments but let me restate something a little differently ... Michael Phelps is the best all around swimmer on this planet. Period. Yes, there are faster swimmers in the 50, 400 and 1500 free, faster breaststrokers, maybe even faster backstrokers, but putting them all together, no one even comes close. And let's not even discuss the fly.

"The problem is that some of you are being distracted by Phelps mission to win as many medals as he can (mostly from relays)."

Let's talk medals counts. Ian Thorpe has 9 medals over 2 Olympics - 5 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze. Of those, 5 were from individual events and 4 from relays. Phelps currently has 13 medals over 2 Olympics - 11 gold and 3 bronze. Of the 13, 8 are individual and 5 from relays. And by the end of this weekend, he will most likely have 2 more individual gold and 1 more relay gold (with WR's in all 8 of his events). So by my count, that will be a total of 10 individual and 6 relay. After London in 2012, he will have put the Olympic gold medal count out of reach for quite some time.

I will close by totally agreeing with you in that lesser swimmers deserve the recognition when deserved. Every single news station that I watched who replayed and covered that race gave total credit to Lezak and his incredible come from behind finish.

Posted by: Tom | August 13, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Sam - Phelps 47.5 was unbelievable. He’s not a sprinter… Look at the splits and check for yourself how fast his last 50 meters was.. Give him a few more meters and he would’ve won…. He trains with middle-distance / long-distance swimmers. Thus, he is not trained for sprints… meaning, if he did, he could be that much better.
I bet that if he swan the 400 free today, Thorpe’s untouchable record will come down. He has the freestyle speed: Look at the 200 free of 1:41.9.. almost 3 seconds faster than Thorpe and the 400 endurance: Look at the 400 IM of 4:03….. Even the long “mile” or 1500 meters record could be in jeopardy if Phelps were to swim it.
So.. from the 3rd fastest guy in history in the 100 free and all the way to what he could do in the 400 or 1500 free… Phelps is the greatest… Not to mention he’s top in the world in the Fly, Back, and IM…
However, I do agree with you on Lezak… That was his relay.. even with Phelps 47.50…The 46.06 was “impossible”… Lezak was by far the MVP in this relay…

Posted by: Mufassa | August 13, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Tom,

We don't care about Phelps medal count, this article wasn't about that. Its about his contribution and whether he deserves this gold over someone else who could have done the same job, because Lezak won the race for America anyway regardless of Bernard or anyone else.

There have been quite a number of people winning a bunch of medals over the years thanks to relay events (Carl Lewis was another). What Phelps did was amazing but there will be another. Everybody said the same thing about Ian Thorpe and all his records but one has been broken.

If Phelps records remain for 5-8 years or more then yes we can call him the greatest but its too early to say.

Mufassa, most of your points are barely comprehensible. Please read my comments carefully. Fast pool = fast times even for average swimmers, and for THAT race Phelps was at most the 5th fastest not 3rd.

I would welcome Phelps in the 400m and 1500m but let me save you the trouble, he couldn't even beat Hackett when they last raced the 400m free. Phelps time was 3:50.53, 10 seconds slower than Ian Thorpe.

Thorpe isn't a trained sprinter (body mass is too thick) nor is he a long distance swimmer (too heavy at 105kg). Thorpe is quite simply a freak of nature.

Phelps is 88kg and perfect for these types of races. For someone who swims 100m races, he is a sprinter. Don't comment if you don't know anything about the training involved for these races.

And finally, this was what Phelps head coach of the US men's swimming team Bob Bowman said about Thorpe :

"the greatest middle-distance swimmer of all time and he's the greatest relay swimmer I have seen".

He also further cited Thorpe's ability to raise the profile of the sport and popularise it, noting that Phelps' public image was itself modelled on Thorpe's.

Posted by: Sam | August 13, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Sam-

It's becoming clear that you're not upset that Phelps eclipsed Lezak in this article. You're upset that Phelps has eclipsed Thorpe in history. You've said a couple of times that Phelps is the "IT" guy in swimming right now but that someone else would come along and pass him as well. Jeez..why the hostility towards this guy. I would say jealousy, but that might be a little harsh. The fact is that before the race, the world record was 47.50. Phelps swam a 47.51 and Eamon Sulivan swan a 47.24. That makes Phelps the third fastest in history.

It's funny that your expectations seem to be so high for Phelps. When someone commented that it was amzaing that he swam the time that de swam considering he isn't a sprinter your comment was that middle-distance swimmers should be able to swim all the races. But when talking about Thorpe you said that people didn't think he could pull off the 100m swim because he was accustom to the 200m, 400m, and 800m. Which is it!?!? haha.

You also mentioned medals a few times. Phelps has more individual golds than Thorpe has individual medals period. Get off the guy. If you're a fan of swimming, how can you not be a Phelps fan? He's not some cocky in-your-face prick like many athletes are. He has more bragging rights then just about anyone, yet you don't see him using them.

Posted by: Eric | August 13, 2008 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Correction:

The 100m free has just gone final. Sullivan and Bernard bth sawm faster than 47.51, so that puts Phelps' performance #5 all time with Sullivan having two of the top three.

By the way...Phelps would have received the bronze in tonight's final with his 47.51. So much for him hampering the 4x100 relay team. ;)

Posted by: Eric | August 13, 2008 11:17 PM | Report abuse

Well said Eric... In addition, Phelps did the 47.51 with his goggles full of water, with a slow start, he missed the turn, had a cramp in his left big toe, and he was holding a fart... He probably would've broken 47 if he had the perfect race...

Posted by: Mufassa | August 14, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Sam,

This thread obviously morphed away from the original comments about Jason Lezak not getting the credit he deserved in the article and too much being said about Michael Phelps, and it all started with your comparison of Michael Phelps to Ian Thorpe. So let’s compare Phelps and Thorpe one final time:
100 Free – Phelps 47.51 Thorpe 48.56
200 Free – Phelps 1:42.96 (WR) Thorpe 1:44.71
400 Free – Phelps 3:50.53 Thorpe 3:40.08 (WR)
1500 Free – Phelps 15:34.18 Thorpe ?
400 IM – Phelps 4:03.84 (WR) Thorpe ?
200 IM – Phelps 1:54.80 (WR) Thorpe ?
200 Fly – Phelps 1:52.03 (WR) Thorpe ?

You stated that Phelps is a sprinter (because he swims the 100 Fly), but by your logic, I would put him in the same general category as Thorpe (middle distance). The 400 IM is just as, if not more, grueling as the 400 Free. Plus, Thorpe is a freestyler. That’s it. You are hanging your argument on Thorpe’s WR in the 400 Free (saying he’s a middle distance swimmer who doesn’t swim 100’s and 200’s). That’s a great record and will probably be around for awhile. Phelp’s 400 IM WR is also a great record and will be around for quite sometime too (until he breaks it again). This is where the comparison stops. For the other disciplines and distances, no contest (we are comparing Phelps to Thorpe, not to Hackett, the 1500 specialist).
So to summarize …
Does Jason Lesak deserve more credit in the article for his efforts? Yes. Was Ian Thorpe a great swimmer? Yes. Is Michael Phelps a great swimmer? Yes. “If this is what it takes to make Phelps into some swimming legend by feeding off the efforts of those who deserved it, then I think most people might just add a * for assisted next to his name and medal tally.” Please … let’s not be ridiculous.

Posted by: Tom | August 14, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Sam lacks the ability to reason. Relay splits do not count for world records because they can time the dive much better and they have a lot more momentum going into the water. Phelps is the 3rd fastest 100 meter freestyler ever, just a fact.

Sam has reverted to rambling. Thorpe never won an individual olympic medal for anything other than freestyle, genius! Phelps has won golds in fly, freestyle, and IM. And he could easily get a medal in the backstroke events as he has gone 53.01 and 1:54.xx in the backstroke events. What times would he go if he concentrated on those events? Phelps can swim virtually any event and be at the elite level.

The American relay would not have come close if either Phelps or Lezak were not on the team.

Posted by: phil | August 14, 2008 6:02 PM | Report abuse

I'll ignore Phil's pointless rant for now.

Tom,

You probably don't realise that Thorpe first started out in the 400,800 competitively all in record time. He built up bulk to swim in the 100 and 200 also in record times, however he was not designed for sprinting at all. If you knew anything about swimming there are certain styles and distances your body can take. Which is why there hasn't been a person who can swim the 50m and 1500m.

This says a lot about Thorpe's versatility. He is the greatest middle distance swimmer I have ever seen. He uprooted Hackett, the long distance swimmer, in the 800m, and he beat Hoogenband in the 200m. These are record holders we're talking about.

The 200m free and 200m fly in Beijing fielded swimmers I have not heard of. Phelps was lucky that peaked at the right time. I've actually never followed the IM events until now and I've been watching swimming for years (maybe because they aren't the most exciting races).

Since this discussion has somewhat turned into a Phelps vs Thorpe match, you might also be interested to learn that Thorpe BEAT Phelps in the Athens 200m freestyle race (as did Hoogenband).
Thorpe wasn't in his prime and actually missed the Australian qualifying round (Stevens gave him the spot). He, a non qualifier, beat the fastest 50/100 metre swimmer (Hoogenband) and Phelps.

Forget the times, look at the positioning because everybody's in the same boat when they're racing in the same pool. Phelps is probably thankful that he doesn't have to swim against Thorpe anymore.

I also realised that Phelps got gold for a relay event (2004 IM relay) that he didn't actually swim, Ian Crocker did. Interestingly, America field at least 7 people for their relay events.

Ultimately, Phelps knows and said he can't beat Thorpe so what else can I say?

I know that some of you guys are incredibly happy about Phelps but try to be a little more objective here.

Posted by: Sam | August 15, 2008 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Sam,

(I actually am enjoying the lively conversation … and please tell me again that you aren’t Australian). Anyway, I, like you, have been following swimming for many years and am quite aware of some of the facts you presented. For instance, yes, Michael Phelps did not swim in the finals of the 4x100 Medley Relay in 2004 (even though he earned the spot by beating Ian Crocker in the 100 Fly). Rather, he gave the spot to Crocker so Crocker could also receive a gold medal.

And yes, the Americans usually will swim 6,7, and sometimes 8 different swimmers for their relays because they have the depth to do so (and give some lesser known swimmers a chance at a medal).

“Thorpe wasn't in his prime and actually missed the Australian qualifying round [of the 200 freestyle] (Stevens gave him the spot).” If memory serves me correctly, he missed the qualifying round because he false started in his heat.

Yes, Thorpe beat Phelps in their head to head meeting in Athens (Thorpe was almost 22 and Phelps just turned 19). But last year, at the age of 21, Phelps eclipsed Thorpe’s world record right in Ian’s backyard and hasn’t looked back ever since.

It is a shame that Thorpe retired at such a tender young age, as it would have been fun to see him compete against Phelps in these Olympics. I also think that Thorpe himself provided Phelps some (what we call in America) bulletin board material when he said … "I have said before that I don't think he can do the eight, and still believe that". This prophetic statement may come back to haunt him. Come on … you don’t say that in public even if you truly believe it! You say something like … he has a chance, it will be difficult, but if anyone can do it, he can. Where’s the mutual respect?

You alluded to the lack of competition with "fielding swimmers I have not heard of”, but Thorpe himself disagrees … “There are so many good swimmers out there. The standard is incredibly high. You've got to look at each of his individual races. He's up against incredible competition at the moment.”

So Sam, as Olympic swimming winds down and we’re left with women’s beach volleyball, table tennis, and the always exciting track and field, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Mohammad Ali vs. Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Montana vs. Tom Brady, Babe Ruth vs. Hank Aaron, Rod Laver vs. Roger Federer, Ian Thorpe vs. Michael Phelps. All left up to debate. G’day mate.

Posted by: Tom | August 15, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Sam,

Let it go mate! Thanks for being my fan. I do appreciate that. But Phelps could kick my a$$ anytime he wants. Why do you think I retire after I beat him? Because I knew he raced me without any 200 free training. I got scared and decided to retire at the top. If Phelps didn't exist I would still be swimming. And by the way, I had a huge advantage in that race. Who do you think was wearing the fastest suit there (Athens 2004)? I was competing in a full body suit before anyone knew the real benefits. Bottom line, I got the Gold and I'm damn glad I retired when I did.
Thank you again for being my fan.
For the other comments: I never learned how to swim butterfly or backstroke because I was too busy swimming freestyle. My coach always told me I should focus on 1 stroke only in order to be the best in the world. He didn't think a human being could handle multiple strokes and dominate globally.


Ian

Posted by: Ian Thorpe | August 15, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

One final comment on Sam's thoughts on body styles and distances. While I agree that you will never have an individual who will hold the world record in the 50 as well as the 1500 (or 400 for that matter), this has everything to do with specialized training rather than body type. Case and point - below are the height and weights of several WR holders, former WR holders, and top contenders in various freestyle distances:

Alexander Popov – 6’6” 191 lbs.
Eamon Sullivan – 6’ 2” 172 lbs.
Alan Bernard – 6’ 5” 198 lbs
Kieren Perkins – 6’ 5” 195 lbs.
Michael Phelps – 6’ 4” 200 lbs.
Ian Thorpe – 6’ 5” 229 lbs.
Grant Hackett – 6’ 5” 198 lbs.
Peter Vanderkaay – 6’ 4” 209 lbs.

One thing I notice right away is that regardless if you are a 50 WR holder or 1500 WR holder, you are tall, and throwing out Sullivan and Thorpe, they all weight within 18 lbs (8 kg) of each other. So, I’m not buying the whole ‘body type’ argument. To call someone a sprinter verses middle distance verses long distance specialist based on body type alone is absurd. Actually, based on his size alone, Eamon Sullivan doesn’t even belong in the pool with the rest of the giant sprinters!

Posted by: Tom | August 15, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

What Thorpe accomplished was amazing. I'm not putting him down in any way. But Sam, your logical is ridiculous.

Just because you didn't recognize the names in the 200 meter fly or free, doesn't discredit Phelps' accomplishment. Sorry, you aren't that important.

Phelps would love to keep racing Thorpe in the 200 free. His time now is 1:42.96. And as good as Thorpe looked in Athens, I don't think he looked like he could improve much more on his WR, 1:44.06 (set in 2001).

It's pretty clear by your silly posts, that you really don't keep up with swimming or understand the sport. Thorpe was great! But what Michael Phelps is accomplishing is beyond difficult. He can specialize in virtually every stroke. And if there were more time on the Olympic Program, he probably could have added some more events.

Posted by: Phil | August 15, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Sam is whining and will continue to whine until the comments are closed. At the time Phelps swam it in the 4x100 free relay, his time was the 3rd fastest in history, and that was only because Sullivan had finished .10 second earlier. It would've been the second fastest time in history. Sam, you obviously post just to see your words in print.

Posted by: The Truth | August 15, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Sam is whining and will continue to whine until the comments are closed. At the time Phelps swam it in the 4x100 free relay, his time was the 3rd fastest in history, and that was only because Sullivan had finished .10 second earlier. It would've been the second fastest time in history. Sam, you obviously post just to see your words in print.

Posted by: The Truth | August 15, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Tom, I don't think the weight difference between Phelps and Thorpe was that close, Thorpe was 105kg when he bulked up for 100/200m, Phelps is only 88kg?

Body type do COUNT for the sports people excel in. If you're short and stubby you will never out swim someone over 6 feet in the freestyle or butterfly because you simply don't have the reach to cover more ground in the pool! Why do you think most swimmers are tall and lean?

Compare a 1500m track athlete to a 100m one and look at their bulk, big difference.

If you notice Thorpe's swimming stroke, they look somewhat slow but deliberate and powerful whereas Phelps' strokes are fast. Its clear how different these 2 swimmers are. The fact that Thorpe even tried to venture into the 100/200m events was what made him legendary (not to mention his finishing power).

That relay race in 2000 where the Americans lost for the first time in history, Thorpe beat Gary Hall Jr!

Some people though are freaks, they have either large hands and feet to make up for height or stamina. Kitajima is 1.78m and beats everybody in his events not because of his size but for his techniques and tough training. The breaststroke isn't quite a sprint event so technique is everything (ask Hansen).

As for Thorpe, well his motivation waned, which is not unusual for swimmers at this level.

People who understands swimming will know how much it takes away from everyday life.

It's a commitment few can seriously commit to. I too wish to see how good Phelps is against Thorpe in the same pool again but that's life. Thorpe did swim a heck of a lot of races in between Olympics. When you swim that much, how much do you need to do to prove you're the best?

As for the relay race that Phelps participated in but didn't swim in the finals, well he didn't win it in the final race so everyone only remembers the Gold medals but not how they were won.

Which comes right back to Lezak, nobody is going to remember him over the hype of Phelps and his medals which is a shame.

And no I'm still not Australian!

Posted by: Sam | August 16, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad I read all this, it has been quite a fun back and forth! However, at the time that I finished reading this I was looking for whose split LEZAK beat for the WR fastest 100 m freestyle split. I will remember the name of Jason Lezak for as long as I will remember the name of Michael Phelps because, like a lot of other people I've talked to, Jason Lezak is just as much my olympic hero as Michael Phelps is. Even though Michael Phelps has won 8 world records I (and I am almost positive Phelps would agree after seeing him being as humble as possible after winning his 8th Gold in Beijing) have no problem whatsoever with having Lezak as a footnote to his impressive Gold Medal total.

Also, body type does matter, but the height and weight aren't nearly as good of indicators at what specialty someone is going to be best at as muscle type. I'm a huge runner and swimmer, and from my running background, I know that some people just have natural distance ability and some people just don't. Some people can sprint the lights out, and some people just can't. Often, for endurance events you do have an advantage when you're lighter, but like you showed when you said that Thorpe "bulked up"... weight is only eccentuated by what you train for and is an indicator of that, and not what you're best suited for naturally. It's all about fast and slow twitch muscle, and on top of that (physically speaking) your heart and lungs not just your body's height and weight. I would have to say that height is probably a little bit better an indicator of whose at an advantage than weight, at least in swimming.

To sum up: Lezak? MVP of my olympics thus far because of that single swim. Phelps? Incredible accomplishment. Body type? A ton more complicated than anybody in this discussion has made it, so much so that unless you're talking about freakish features of each swimmer (foot size, torso length, cardiovascular efficiency, etc.), I think you should just plain leave it out. :)

Posted by: Joel | August 17, 2008 1:36 AM | Report abuse

Well, now the dust has settled on the Olympic swimming venue, I’d like to close with some final thoughts. First of all, the American men once again proved their dominance by sweeping the relays and winning the 4 x 100 Medley relay (a race they have never lost in the Olympics). And lest we forget, it was Michael Phelps who took the team from 3rd to 1st with a big enough lead for Lezak to hold off the Aussies. And the Australians, with their strong reputation in the long distance free style showed that they weren’t invincible. When the lane lines were rolled up for the final time, the U.S team (men and women) finished the competition with 31 total medals – 11 more than their closest competition.

What Michael Phelps accomplished this week will not happen again in my lifetime (and I’m 50), and probably not in my children’s lifetime. To have the ability to win 5 individual gold medals in the same Olympics (without the full-body LZR suit, by the way) is unprecedented. It took 32 years for someone to tie Mark Spitz with 4 individual golds (Phelps in 2000). With 5 this year, Phelps put that accomplishment out of reach for a long, long time. You not only have to excel in at least two different strokes, but multiple distances as well (I don’t believe anyone has ever won 3 golds in the same Olympics over three different distances, the 100, 200, and 400 – Sam … does that make Phelps a sprinter or middle distance swimmer???). You also have to have the stamina to race every single day for 9 straight days for a total of 3300 meters. Sure, the 1500 guys swim 3000 in their event (and throw in a few 400’s if they competed in those too). But they get a day or two of rest in between their races.

Finally, Ian Thorpe is the best ever in one event. Grant Hackett is the best ever in one event. Michael Phelps is the best ever in 4 events. And he’s not done yet. Thorpe had better hope like hell that Phelps doesn’t concentrate on the 400 Free, because if he does, that WR will fall. When Michael Phelps retires, there will be no question as to who will go down in history as the greatest swimmer of all time.

Posted by: Tom | August 18, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Well I hope we've exhaust this discussion with swimming nearly over.

I think we've all enjoyed the excitement that Thorpe brought to the pool and made it interesting again, the baton has been passed to Phelps who is Beijing's most prolific medalist.

On another forum we discuss who is truly the greatest but that is hard to measure because there are so many great athletes, medal count isn't necessarily an indication of how great one is. Usain Bolt won 1 gold but what he did rendered everybody and myself speechless. Some world records are easier to break but not this one.

Tom, I think a lot of people agree that it is far more difficult to achieve gold medals on the track than in the pool, that's why many still claim Carl Lewis or Daley Thompson to be the greatest because of the multiple events they competed in.

That said, these guys are all champions.

Posted by: Sam | August 18, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Sam,

Totally agree. I've enjoyed the banter and I hope there are no hard feelings. The Summer Olympics are a sports junkie's fantasy, not to mention that athletes from every corner of the globe set aside their political, religious, social, or economic differences to compete side by side. My hope is that seeing a Michael Phelps or a Grant Hackett will encourage a youngster to go out and swim a few laps, or a Usain Bolt or a Brian Sell will incent a child (or adult for that matter) to lace up a pair of shoes and go out for a run. Watching these athletes give everything they have in the pool, on the track, or on the court is just so inspiring. I think I’ll go for a run now.

Posted by: Tom | August 18, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

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