LONDON – Nathan Adrian took out the Missile by a fingertip.
Adrian, a 23-year-old from Bremerton largely overshadowed by American stars such as Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, made a name for himself by winning the 100-meter Olympic freestyle Wednesday.
Adrian, who swam for Tacoma Swim Club as a youth, reached to the wall to edge James “The Missile” Magnussen by .01 of a second – the slightest margin possible – and again deny Australia its first individual swimming gold of the London Games.
Adrian pounded the water, then put his hands over his eyes while dangling over the lane rope, as if he couldn’t believe the “1” beside his name.
“I didn’t want to be the guy celebrating when I got eighth or something,” Adrian said.
Magnussen hung at the end of the pool, staring straight ahead at the wall in disbelief, the wall he got to just a fraction of a second too late.
“It’s not who swims the fastest time this year,” said Adrian, a not-so-subtle dig at Magnussen posting the best time ever in a textile suit back in March. “It’s who can get their hands on the wall first here tonight.”
Adrian was on top of the world after touching in 47.52, giving the U.S. its first title in swimming’s signature event since Matt Biondi at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Canada’s Brent Hayden took bronze in 47.80.
“We were in the ready room and we watched it and just went nuts,” Lochte said. “We were screaming and everything. That was one of the greatest finishes. We’re so happy for him.”
Adrian watched Rebecca Soni’s world record in the 200 breaststroke on television while chatting with reporters.
“Whoa, Rebecca just set a world record,” he said. “I’m overshadowed by Rebecca setting a world record.”
He should be used to that by now, swimming for a team that includes Phelps and Lochte. But Adrian gave a glimpse of his potential in the 4x100 freestyle relay, going faster than Magnussen on the opening leg, a shocker given that the Missile had looked unbeatable at last year’s worlds and went a stunning 47.10 at his country’s national trials.
“I just felt pretty much bulletproof coming into this Olympics,” Magnussen said. “It is very humbling.”
Australia also got humbled in women’s 4x200 freestyle relay as American Allison Schmitt dealt more heartache to the team from Down Under as she chased down Alicia Coutts for the gold.
Schmitt dived in the water about a half-second behind but passed Coutts on their first return lap and won going away in 7:42.92. The Australians settled for another silver in 7:44.41, and France took the bronze.
Schmitt is turning into one of the biggest American stars of the games, picking up her second gold to go along with a silver and a bronze.
Missy Franklin, 17, also claimed her second gold swimming the leadoff leg, and Dana Vollmer now has two golds in London. Shannon Vreeland rounded out the gold medal-winning quartet.
“Allison is a fighter and she can push through anything,” Franklin said. “We had total faith in her.”
Like the Aussies, the record book also took quite a beating.
Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta and Soni set world records in the 200 breaststroke. Gyurta won gold, while Soni set her mark in a semifinal heat, further proof that it’s still possible to go fast – really fast – even without the now-banned bodysuits. Five records have fallen over the first five days at the Olympic Aquatics Centre, defying those who felt it would take years, maybe even decades, to take down some of the marks set with technological assistance.
“If I feel good, I don’t want to hold back. I shouldn’t,” Soni said. “I just went for the last 50 and I started to hear the crowd halfway through and just kept going with it.
“It’s been four years since I swam close to that fast, so it’s great to be back on top like that.”
Gyurta needed every bit of speed in his race to finish off Michael Jamieson, who made a furious bid for Britain’s first gold at the pool. Gyurta touched in 2:07.28, shaving 0.03 off the previous mark set by Christian Sprenger of Australia at the 2009 world championships in a suit that is no longer allowed.
Soni showed plenty of speed, too, and it wasn’t even for a medal. She touched in 2:20.00 to break yet another of the bodysuit records, a time of 2:20.12 set by Canada’s Annamay Pierse at the 2009 worlds.
Jiao Liuyang of China set an Olympic record to win the women’s 200 butterfly.
She was second at the final turn but sprinted into the lead to touch in 2:04.06 seconds, 0.12 quicker than countrywoman Liu Zige’s time at the 2008 Beijing Games.