The American team captain, a gold medallist in the Los Angeles Games of 1984, was half a second slower than the world record he set six years ago with 53.32sec but it was still sufficient to edge him ahead of Poland's Rafal Szukala.
The victory came nine months after his return to swimming. He had retired for three years after failing to make the Olympic team that went to Seoul. 'I wanted to see how fast a 27-year-old body could go,' he said. The answer was very fast.
Morales had a sluggish start yet recovered so smartly that by the turn he had taken the lead. At that point Szukala was in fifth place, but he charged up the final length and by the finish was only 0.03sec behind the winner. In third place was Anthony Nesty, who won in Seoul to become Surinam's only Olympic gold medallist in history. He announced his retirement immediately after yesterday's race.
Morales did not threaten his world record, but a new mark was set last night when the Unified Team, combining for possibly the last time, took the gold in the 4 x 200m men's freestyle. Their 7min 11.95sec beat the American time set in Seoul and gave them an overwhelming victory over Sweden and the previous champions.
The race also marked Britain's only involvement in last night's finals, a distinguished one as the quartet of Paul Palmer, Steven Mellor, Stephen Ackers and Paul Howe set a national record with 7:22.57. When Palmer gave them the lead after the first leg a repeat of the bronze won in Los Angeles seemed possible, but they tailed away to finish in sixth place. In the heats they had also improved on the record set in Los Angeles.
The biggest surprise of the night came with the victory of Japan's Kyoko Iwasaki in the women's 200m breaststroke. Anita Nall, although only 16, was considered impregnable in this event and at the half-way stage was on course to break the world record she had set in the recent US Olympic trials.
Iwasaki had ruffled American expectation in the heats with a surge that almost caught Nall, and in the final she timed her run better. The American was still leading with 20 metres to go, but Iwasaki touched first in an Olympic record time of 2:26.65. China's Li Lin also slipped past to push the girl considered to be the future of breaststroke swimming into third place.
The Americans did get another gold to complement the earlier Morales booster when Nicole Haislett, a disappointment in the women's 100m freestyle on Sunday, made amends in the 200m. Haislett was trailing Germany's Franziska Van Almsick at 150 metres but turned like an eel to slip fractionally ahead and was still 0.1sec up when she touched in 1:57.90.
In the same event Jennifer Thompson, who with the potential for five wins had been expected to lead the US gold collection, flopped. 'I choked big time,' Thompson said after she could land only silver in the 100m freestyle on Sunday. Yesterday she was left gasping in her heat to the extent that she missed out on the final altogether. The target of five is already down to three.
For Britain, the 4x200m apart, triumph was of the consolation kind. No individual got through to a final, but a few times were set to spread some satisfaction among a party whose exuberance had been dampened by the inability of Adrian Moorhouse and Nick Gillingham to collect medals in the 100m breaststroke on Sunday.
The most content was Karen Pickering, of Ipswich, whose 2:00.33 lowered her personal best in the women's 200m freestyle for the second time in the day. The total time lopped off was more than a second. Had she been swimming in the final, her time would have been good enough for fifth, but it came in the consolation race after she had been 10th fastest in the heats.
Suki Brownsdown had her best time of the year, 2:35.28, in the women's 200m breaststroke, while Jamie King made her international debut in the same event. 'It was awesome seeing such a huge crowd and hearing all that noise,' the 15- year-old from Swindon said.
The noise in Andy Rolley's head, however, was the bashing he was giving his brain. 'It wasn't the swim, it was my mental state,' the 22-year-old from Gloucester said after finishing last in a men's 400m individual medley. 'I let things get on top of me right from the British trials. I just approached it all wrong.'
Not so Tamas Darnyi, who gained Hungary's second swimming gold medal of the Games, when he won the event in 4:14.23, an Olympic record.Reuse content