LONDON — Four years ago, in the early stages of his coronation in Beijing, it required one of the most spectacular rallies in Olympic swimming history for Michael Phelps to collect the second of his record haul of eight gold medals.
Phelps’s teammate for that 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay, anchor Jason Lezak, chased down France’s Alain Bernard in the final 50 meters and beat him by a fingertip. It was instant Olympic lore, enhanced by what was at stake for Phelps and France’s prerace trash-talk.
Though the stakes and tensions were not as high Sunday night at the London Aquatics Centre, France exacted its revenge in similar fashion. Its swimmers might have imagined payback playing out by catching Phelps or the veteran Lezak on the last leg, yet the reality was even more shocking:
They caught Ryan Lochte.
Specifically, it was Yannick Agnel who caught Lochte, the gold medalist in the 400-meter individual medley Saturday night and a chilled-out, charismatic star who has emerged as a genuine rival to Phelps. Agnel caught him on the final leg, making up a 0.55-second deficit to overtake Lochte over the last 50 meters and claim gold — and, yes, revenge — in 3 minutes 9.93 seconds.
Agnel beat Lochte on the final leg by exactly one second, 46.74 to 47.74.
“I’m kind of bummed,” said Lochte in the mixed zone afterward. “When we go up on the blocks, we want to win.”
The US, which led after each of the first three legs, swum by Nathan Adrian, Phelps, and Cullen Jones, took silver (3:10.38). Russia won the bronze (3:11.41).
The medal is the 17th of Phelps’s career, and his first silver, to go with 14 golds and two bronzes. He failed to medal in Saturday’s 400 IM — a race he has dominated but openly abhors — finishing fourth. He said in the mixed zone after Sunday’s race that this outcome is easier to accept.
“[I feel] a lot better than [Saturday],” he said.
Coincidentally, Lezak, 36, didn’t swim in the final Sunday despite participating in prelims earlier in the day. Lochte, Phelps, Jones, and Adrian were all added for the final.
There were three other medal events at the Aquatics Centre, Sunday night, and two resulted in world records.
Dana Vollmer claimed the first gold for the US women swimmers with a blistering time of 55.98 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly. Her victory was redemptive — she failed to make the US team four years ago after entering the trials with high expectations.
“I’m on top of the world right now,” she said after breaking the 3-year-old record held by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and becoming the first woman under 56 seconds in the event. “I still know I can go faster.”
In the men’s 100-meter breaststroke, South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh set the world record in 58.46 seconds while preventing Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima from winning a third straight Olympic gold in the event. He finished fifth. Brendan Hansen of the US took the bronze.
France’s Camille Muffat set an Olympic record of 4:01.45 in the women’s 400-meter freestyle. Allison Schmitt collected a silver while setting a new American record (4:01.77).