BEIJING - With 50 meters to go, all looked lost.
Jason Lezak was doing everything he could, but as he touched the wall on the final turn of the 4x100 freestyle relay in Beijing, he was nearly a body length behind France's Alain Bernard, a near-impossible distance to make up. It looked like Michael Phelps' dream was over.
Then Lezak found another gear.
It was surprising that the U.S. was in this position at all. The 4x100 relay would be Phelps' second of what he hoped to be eight gold medals at Beijing. In the preliminaries, the U.S. had set the world record in the event and they were favored to win the gold. With Phelps leading off the relay, they were supposed to take the lead and cruise to the finish.
Except Phelps got beat.
Going head-to-head, both starting at the gun, Australia's Eamon Sullivan shockingly beat Michael Phelps to the wall in the first leg of the 4x100. The last thing anybody expected was Phelps to be the weak link of the relay, but that was what had happened.
Garrett Weber-Gale put the U.S. back in the lead, but France's Frédérick Bousquet stormed ahead to give France the lead entering the final leg. Bernard extended that lead, putting Lezak in a near hopeless position as they hit the wall.
But then he reached down, found another gear somewhere within him, and kept cutting the gap. Slowly. Almost too slowly. With just a few meters to go, it looked like Lezak would run out of space. And then he kicked a few more times. And he reached...