Michael Phelps stayed on course for eight Olympic gold medals when the United States won the 4x100-metre relay today in record time.
Jason Lezak, the oldest man on the US swimming team at 32, was nearly a body length behind the massive Alain Bernard of France as they made the final turn, but the American hugged the lane rope, drafting off the Frenchman and stunningly overtaking him on the very last stroke.
Watching on deck, Phelps thrust both arms toward the roof of the Water Cube, his quest to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals having survived what will likely be its toughest test.
The Americans shattered the world record their "B" team set the previous day in the preliminaries, finishing in 3 minute, 8.24 seconds — nearly 4 seconds below the 15-hour-old mark of 3:12.23.
"I was going nuts," said Phelps, who swam the leadoff leg. "As soon as (Lezak) came off that last wall, I started going crazy. We're a team. We went in as a team and now we're exiting as a team — and we're going out with that gold that we needed to get back."
The French were second in 3:08.32 — eight-one-hundredths of a second behind. Australia took the bronze in 3:09.91.
The top five all went below the record set Sunday.
The Americans won the 4x100 freestyle relay at seven straight Olympics, but watched the Australians and South Africans take gold at the last two games.
"I've been on the last two relays where we come up short," Lezak said. "To be honest with you I got really tired of losing. I finished real strong."
Bernard was the world record holder in the 100, but he lost that mark as well. Eamon Sullivan of Australia took the individual record down by swimming the leadoff leg in 47.24 — ahead of Bernard's record of 47.50.