"Smashing". The word took on a very significant meaning tonight in the heavily anticipated men's 4X100meter fresstyle team swimming competition. The French team was easily the favorite for this match, and brushed aside the possibility of the more highly-publicized American team of stealing their glory. The U.S. squad, comprised of star swimmers Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, and team captain Jason Lezak, would have enough success in other events. But this one, for the French, was THEIR big event. Said anchor Alain Bernard, "The Americans? We're going to smash them". He believed that was what they were there to do.
Bernard's predicted outcome seemed in question early after the first leg, when France was about neck-and-neck with America, featuring Phelps as the starter, for second, while Australia's team was out front. After the second leg, the race was a blur. France, the U.S., and Australia were about even, all of which were way in front of the world record pace. After the third leg, France had a sizeable lead, about a half-body length. Which all but secured victory since the French anchor Bernard holds the world record for 100 meter freestyle. Essentially, there is no one better at his leg, and he has the lead. However, in a frenzied swim, Lezak made up about a half-body length down the stretch and made it a photo finish.
Both the French and American teams anxiously looked up at the scoreboard for the final results as both swimmers touched the wall with their fingertips. And then Michael Phelps let out a long, primal scream, soon to be joined by his teammates, Jones and Weber-Gale, and Lezak, who, following his world record (yes indeed, that world record) 100meter freestyle of 46.06 seconds, almost lept out of the pool in excitement and triumph. Phelps did this not because he was relieved that his shot at getting 8 golds remained intact, but because his fellow countrymen and he defended a nation's honor against pointless and unnecessary banter, against unsportsmanlike behavior. And as Alain Bernard solemnly hung his head in defeat and disbelief, the world witnessed a great moment in sports. No, not a world record. Rather a display of humble class, sportsmanship, and the greatest effort by the world's second-fastest men's 4X100meter freestyle team that made the great nation of the United States of America proud. Because...yes Mr. Bernard, SMASH! They are the fastest now.
Moments like these, not medal counts or new records, define the greatness of the Olympic Games. Emblems of national pride, like Michael Phelps' elated and victorious scream and Jason Lezak's impeccable world-class comeback on the final leg, will remain significant and deeply meaningful to the American people for a very long time. Longer than any gold medal can be worn or any record will stand.