Former Longhorns Neil Walker and Nate Dusing help Team USA to relay gold
MONTREAL -- At the 2000 Games in Sydney, Michael Klim, Ian Thorpe and the rest of the air guitar-strumming Australians handed Team USA a loss in the men's 400m free relay for the first time in Olympic history.
The Americans hadn't won that event in a major international long course competition since then. In fact, their woeful streak extended beyond those fateful Games in Sydney to the 1998 World Championships in Perth.
But Team USA's string of bad luck finally came to an end on the first night of the XI FINA World Championships in Montreal, as Michael Phelps, Neil Walker, Nate Dusing and Jason Lezak led the field with a time of 3:13.77, an American and World Championships record.
"I was on the first team that lost, so it's good after a number of years to get that win," Walker said. "Hopefully we'll continue to work together and get that world record back."
The USA finished about three seconds ahead of second-place Canada (3:16.44) and nearly four seconds ahead of third-place Australia (3:17.56).
"I've been on every relay since 1999, and we haven't won, so I'm really happy about tonight," Lezak said. "We're getting closer to that world record. The competition tonight wasn't as close as it was last year (in Athens), but it's a step in the right direction for us."
Though it wasn't for the gold, the women's 400m free relay also made a trip to the medals podium Sunday evening. The team of Natalie Coughlin, Kara Lynn Joyce, Lacey Nymeyer and Amanda Weir turned in a time of 3:38.31, good enough for the bronze.
Australia was first with a World Championships record of 3:37.31, while Germany finished just seven-hundredths of a second ahead of Team USA in 3:38.24.
The men's and women's relays were the only events in which Team USA medaled Sunday, but Americans fared well in the finals and semifinals of the other events contested.
Peter Vanderkaay finished sixth in the men's 400m free with a time of 3:47.83, and all but one swimmer advanced from the semifinals of the their events to tomorrow night's finals.
"I didn't swim as well as this morning, but it still felt like I had my race," Vanderkaay said. "Maybe the race this morning took a lot out of me. I'm not sure. That probably had something to do with it. I wanted to go in there and race. I tried to race the guy next to me."
In semifinal action, Mary DeScenza and Rachel Komiarz qualified fifth and sixth in the 100m butterfly, turning in times of 58.88 and 58.93, respectively. Later, Katie Hoff maintained her No. 1 seed heading into tomorrow night's finals of the 200m IM, swimming to a time of 2:11.71, just 47-hundredths of a second off her American record of 2:11.24. Whitney Myers, meanwhile, qualified sixth in the 200m IM with a time of 2:14.03.
"It felt really good and I'm really excited for tomorrow night," Hoff said. "My strokes are feeling great and I'm really confident for tomorrow.''
Ian Crocker was second with an American record of 23.32 in the semifinals of the 50m butterfly, behind South Africa's Roland Schoeman. Schoeman, a product of the University of Arizona's sprint corps, set a world record in Sunday's semifinals with a time of 23.01.
"I'm happy with my swim, but I felt my finish could have been a lot better," Crocker said. "I knew it would take at least a world record to win this event. It's a newer event so people are getting faster at it quickly. Hopefully tomorrow I will have a good swim.''
Tomorrow night's finals of the men's 100m breaststroke also promises to be a barn-burner, as world record holder Brendan Hansen qualified first from the semifinals with a time of 59.75. He was just three hundredths of a second faster than reigning Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima of Japan. Mark Gangloff finished just out of the running for tomorrow night, finishing ninth with a time of 1:01.35.
"I felt smooth, nice and confident," Hansen said. "The more time I swim under one minute, the better I am going to be. I still held off a little bit for tomorrow night. It is going to be a dog race, but I've got a lot left in me, a lot in the back of my mind about that race.
"I am hitting my taper right on. I am swimming well, so if I keep riding this wave, I should be able to go faster tomorrow night."