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Sports

France edges U.S. in relay

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:16 PM
LONDON -

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

With Michael 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 nearly 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 during 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 one second faster than Lochte over the last 100 meters. 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.

"We knew the Australians would be very strong, but they were very nervous, perhaps like us in 2008," said Clement Lefert, who swam the third leg for the French. "We were very relaxed, like the Americans in 2008.

"And four years later," he added, "we got our revenge."

Phelps settled for his 17th career medal — and first silver — to move a step closer to becoming the most decorated Olympian ever.

Two more world records fell earlier Sunday.

American Dana Vollmer took down the mark in the 100 butterfly, then Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa broke another in the 100 breaststroke — denying Japan's Kosuke Kitajima an Olympic threepeat.

Camille Muffat won a riveting 400 freestyle duel with American Allison Schmitt, the two virtually stroke for stroke the entire way. Muffat held on to win by about half a stroke with an Olympic-record time, while Schmitt settled for silver.

Britain's Rebecca Adlington brought out the biggest cheer when she touched third, the home country's first swimming medal of the games.

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