Jason Lezak’s memories of Beijing Olympic relay

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Before the 2008 Olympic men’s 4x100m freestyle relay, the French were talking. Jason Lezak was, too.

Lezak and teammates Michael PhelpsGarrett Weber-Gale and Cullen Jones gathered outside the ready room minutes before the unforgettable final on the morning of Aug. 11, 2008 (full race video here). The 10th anniversary is Friday night in the U.S./Saturday morning in China.

Lezak, the 32-year-old team captain, had something to say.

“I didn’t want to talk to the team with everybody around us,” Lezak recalled in a 2014 interview. “We walked down the hallway. I wanted to make it short, make it brief. All those guys were aware of the situation. I reminded them we lost this race the last two Olympics. We’re supposed to win this. This is USA’s race. This is a 400, not a 4×100. Do it as a team, together. It wasn’t a lot of words, not yelling or pumping them up or anything, but I saw the response that it got.”

Lezak had been thinking about this race since he made his third Olympic team at trials five weeks earlier. He had been anticipating another chance at gold since 2000, when air-guitar-strumming Australia dethroned the U.S., and 2004, when bicep-flexing South Africa won the relay.

Lezak was part of both of those underwhelming U.S. quartets.

The Americans marched into the Water Cube with that in mind and knowing the words of French world-record holder Alain Bernard days before.

“The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for,” Bernard was quoted saying before the Games.

Lezak had barely heard of the hulking, 6-foot-5 Bernard until less than a year before Beijing. Bernard didn’t make the finals of the 2007 World Championships 100m free, but in March 2008 twice lowered the world record.

As spring turned to summer, Lezak began having visions of the Olympic relay.

“I had the lead jumping in the water and holding [Bernard] off,” Lezak said. “Every once in a while in the vision, the French team had the lead. Instead of me finishing, I would stop thinking about it.”

Phelps led off the relay after swimming the 200m free semifinals earlier that session. The 4x100m free was his second of eight finals as the Baltimore Bullet attempted to break Mark Spitz‘s record seven gold medals at a single Olympics.

Phelps was strongly favored in five or six of his races, but this was one of his two major tests (along with the 100m butterfly later in the Games).

Phelps did his job, breaking the American record in the 100m free on leadoff and touching four tenths ahead of Frenchman Amaury Leveaux. Olympic rookies Weber-Gale and Jones followed. France took the lead on the third leg, as expected, with Frederick Bousquet posting the fastest split of the field to that point by nearly a half-second.

Lezak has retold stories from what happened in the next minute hundreds of times in the last decade, many instances at swim clinics in front of kids too young to recall watching it.

Lezak remembered the relay’s first three legs unfold, standing behind the starting block with Bernard one lane over, anchoring for the French.

“Emotions going all over the place,” Lezak said. “I was so anxious to try to catch [Bernard] I actually thought in my head that I left [the starting block] early and I would get DQed. I believe my reaction time was .03, which was really close. I’m sure all the coaches were freaking out.”

It was actually .04, second-best reaction of the 24 relay exchanges among the eight nations. Lezak avoided disqualification by eight hundredths of a second.

“Swimming down the first length [of the pool], trying to get all my thoughts out of my head,” Lezak continued. “As I did that, Bernard was on my left, and I breathed to my right. Never once did I look over to see where he was. I got to the 50, flipped and pushed off, and had another thought. Oh no, this guy increased his lead on me.”

The French lead was .82. Bernard, the world-record holder going into the race, had nearly a body-length advantage on Lezak with 50 meters left.

“Starting the second 50, looking at him every single stroke I took, I see myself getting a little closer, little by little, then to his hip,” Lezak said. “I felt like I was there for a pretty long time. With 15 meters left, I felt an extra surge of adrenalin, being able to maintain my speed all the way into the wall. His stroke deteriorated, fell apart.” 

Bernard swam well. His 46.73 split was third-fastest of the field, but he helped allow Lezak to swim into history.

The American clocked 46.06, the fastest split of all time by a whopping .57 of a second. He was boosted by drafting off Bernard, who inexplicably swam in the far left of his lane, right next to Lezak.

Lezak wasn’t sure he had beaten Bernard to the wall. He had two options to find out. Turn around to see the scoreboard, or look up at Phelps and Weber-Gale, who were screaming next to the starting block.

He chose the former.

“I saw it pretty quickly,” said Lezak, who leaped up and threw his right arm into the air. “All you look for is the place next to the team, not the time.”

The U.S. won by .08. Six nations went under the pre-Olympic world record. Phelps and Weber-Gale boisterously celebrated. Jones rushed to join them from the side of the pool after swimming the third leg. Lezak could barely stand.

“The only thing I did was grab onto those guys,” Lezak said. “I said, I need you guys so that I don’t fall over.”

Lezak politely shook the French’s hands. Eventually, when he took his full body swimsuit off before the medal ceremony, he found that his leg had bled from banging his shin on a ledge climbing out of the pool. The suit, stained by blood, was later sent to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

As he walked toward the podium, Lezak spotted his wife, mother and two sisters in the crowd.

“I started to tear up a little it,” he said, “because I could see them crying, too.”

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Anna van der Breggen is first cyclist to sweep road world titles in 25 years

Anna van der Breggen
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Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen added the road race crown to her time trial victory at the world road cycling championships, becoming the second rider in history to win both events at the same edition.

“This is, for me, pretty good so far,” she said.

Van der Breggen, the Rio Olympic road race champion, won after a solo attack with more than 25 miles left of an 89-mile course in Imola, Italy, on Saturday.

She prevailed after more than four hours of racing by 80 seconds over countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, the 2019 champion. Van Vleuten raced nine days after breaking her left wrist in a Giro Rosa crash.

Italian Elisa Longo Borghini took bronze in the same time as van Vleuten after losing a photo-finish sprint. Lauren Stephens was the top American in 11th.

Full results are here.

The race lacked American standout Chloé Dygert, who crashed out of the time trial while leading on Thursday and required leg surgery.

Van der Breggen joined Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo as the only male or female cyclists to sweep the time trial and road race at a single worlds. Longo did so in 1995 at age 36.

Van der Breggen, 30, said in May that she will retire after the 2021 Olympic season.

It will be the end of one of the great cycling careers. She is now a three-time world champion and nine-time world medalist to go along with her road race gold and time trial bronze in her Olympic debut in Rio.

Worlds conclude Sunday with the men’s road race. A TV and stream schedule is here.

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2020 French Open TV, live stream schedule

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Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams can each tie Grand Slam singles titles records at the French Open, with daily live coverage among NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel.

NBC coverage starts Sunday with first-round action at Roland Garros, its 38th straight year covering the event. Tennis Channel airs the majority of weekday coverage. Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, has middle weekend broadcasts.

All NBC TV coverage alo streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Nadal is the primary men’s storyline, favored to tie Roger Federer‘s male record of 20 major titles and extend his own record of 12 French Open crowns. Federer is absent after knee operations earlier this year.

The Spaniard’s primary competition is top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 2016 French Open champion whose only defeat in 2020 was a U.S. Open default for hitting a ball that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Williams bids again to match the overall Grand Slam singles mark of 24 held by Australian Margaret Court. Williams, a three-time French Open champion, lost in the third and fourth round the last two years and is coming off a U.S. Open semifinal exit.

The women’s field is led by 2018 champion Simona Halep but lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

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French Open TV Schedule

Date Time (ET) Network Round
Sunday, Sept. 27 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
12-3 p.m. NBC
Monday, Sept. 28 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Tuesday, Sept. 29 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Wednesday, Sept. 30 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Thursday, Oct. 1 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Friday, Oct. 2 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
Saturday, Oct. 3 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Sunday, Oct. 4 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Monday, Oct. 5 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Tuesday, Oct. 6 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Oct. 7 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Thursday, Oct. 8 5 a.m.-2 p.m. Tennis Channel Women’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Friday, Oct. 9 5 a.m.-4 p.m. Tennis Channel Men’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Saturday, Oct. 10 9 a.m. NBC Women’s Final
Sunday, Oct. 11 9 a.m. NBC Men’s Final