Mon, September 23, 2013

Silver lining for Phelps in relay

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Michael Phelps looks down at the pool after winning silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the Aquatics Centre during the London 2012 Olympic Games, July 29, 2012. (DAVID GRAY/Reuters)



LONDON - The Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte rivalry moved in a most surprising direction on Sunday night.

And this time, rather than beat Phelps, he beat his rival and himself in the process.

Phelps is one stroke closer to the all-time Games record but the colour of his most recent Olympic medal is new even to him. It wasn’t gold. And it wasn’t necessarily his fault.

Phelps held out the silver medal, looked at it, and smiled quizzically. “I’ve never had one of these before.”

(Note to the rest of the world in every other sport: Michael Phelps may be the only athlete in the world who wins silver and feels cheated in the process. Canada picked up a bronze in synchronized diving and there is celebration on some streets.)

Phelps was part of a silver-medal relay team Sunday night, which is completely new to him. He’s never won a silver medal before. Not in the Olympics. Not only does Phelps not lose, like he did in his first Olympic appearance, but he doesn’t finish second much either.

This time, though, it was Lochte, who wiped the pool with him in their initial matchup, wasn’t up to the challenge in the 100-metre freestyle relay. He was provided with a lead by his American teammates — Phelps was the fastest in the race — but Lochte couldn’t hold the lead, which leads us to believe that Lochte can beat Phelps on occasion, may he may not be driven the way Phelps, even in advanced age, can be driven.

One piece of history: Phelps won his 17th Olympic medal as part of the relay team, which ties him, all-time with Latvia, the country. It also put him one medal away from tying the most won by any athlete. That record is held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, with 18. Before the Olympics are over, Phelps will have the requisite number to be No. 1 all-time.

Second piece of history: Phelps is now 0-for-2 in gold-medal chasing at these Olympics. He’s raced twice, missed the middle step of the podium both times.

The relay team from France wound up winning the gold and leaving Phelps and his American teammates discouraged. The favoured Aussies failed to medal.

Canadian loses swim off

Long after the night of swimming was supposed to be over, there was one race left for Canadian Tera Van Beilen. It wasn’t the result she wanted.

Van Beilen had ended up in a tie for eighth spot after the two semi-finals in the women’s 100-metre breaststroke were run. So to break the tie, Van Bielen raced a two-woman match race — nobody else in the pool — against Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson with almost no one left in the stands at the Aquatic Centre to determine who would get the final spot in Monday’s gold-medal race.

Van Bielen was happy to have the opportunity. And then the race-off began.

Atkinson got out to a quick lead, made a strong turn and never looked back on her way to qualifying for the final.

Maclean makes final

The only Canadian to qualify for a swimming final Sunday Brittany MacLean of Etobicoke wasn’t much of a factor in the women’s 400-metre freestyle race. But getting there, considering how far she has come, was a victory in itself. “If you would have told me a year ago, that I would be in the Olympics, and I would qualify for a final, I’d have taken that. It doesn’t feel great right now. But I’ll take it.”

Kitajima fails history test

Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima was also going for history in swimming. He was coming off consecutive gold-medal victories in the men’s 100-metre breaststroke. A third straight gold medal in the same event has never been done before in swimming. It still hasn’t been done. Kitajima ended up fifth in his race of choice.

Wilkinson takes loss hard

Julia Wilkinson was among a bevy of Canadians who failed to qualify for the finals in their event, and she took her elimination hard. “I failed,” said Wilkinson, fighting back tears. “It’s heartbreaking. I’m sorry.

“I felt like I belonged there (in the 100 metre backstroke final). It just didn’t happen.”

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @simmonssteve