This has been a Games where no one man has been able to rule the pool. The two American giants, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, arrived in London with justifiable claims to become regulars on top of the podium but three nights in and neither will be happy with their return, mustering so far a solitary gold between them.
Last night belonged once more to Yannick Agnel, the rangy French freestyler, who tore apart a field full of quality to claim gold in the 200m freestyle. Agnel, who produced a stunning last leg on Sunday to win the 4x100m freestyle relay for France, now has two gold medals – suddenly it is his name that stands on the top of the leaderboard.
After his exploits in the relay, where he flew past a startled Lochte to touch in 46.74, the 20-year-old has already been described as the American's nemesis in the US media. Last night he repeated the trick, but not only on Lochte; also among those he left trailing in his wake were Sun Yang, gold medallist in the 400m free, Park Tae-whan, the defending champion, and the German Paul Biedermann, world record holder.
Tall and thin, Agnel swam clear over the final 50m to touch in 1min 43.14sec, comfortably clear of Yang, who had aspirations of his own on being the most successful individual male in London, and Tae-whan. They shared silver with Lochte out of the medals in fourth. Agnel likes to swim in the call room ahead of his races and no doubt he ran through his repertoire again afterwards.
France have developed a reputation for producing quick freestylers in recent years. It was their quartet who were denied at the death in Beijing four years ago to give Phelps his record-breaking eighth gold. They had their revenge on Sunday night and last night Agnel carried on where he had left off.
He is, it would seem, at home in the water – he is an oceanography student in Nice. He was spotted swimming while young by a neighbour who recommended him to the local club and has made rapid strides since. That he was a threat coming into the Games was apparent as in March he swum the year's fastest time at a meet in Dunkirk.
For Lochte it was another unrewarding night in the Aquatics Centre. He is now halfway through his six-race programme and has one gold and a silver to take home to Florida. He has three strong events left – the 200m individual medley, 200m back and the medley relay, but this is not going according to plan. "I can go a lot faster," he said. "I don't really know where I fell off."
Phelps had a better night, although it remains difficult to judge what sort of form he is in. He advanced to tonight's final of the 200m butterfly fourth fastest but again he faded over the closing stages.
Whether that was through fatigue – there have been questions asked over the amount of training he has done in the build-up to the Games – or simply saving himself for the final will become clearer this evening, and the good news for the American is that there will not be a Frenchman in sight.Reuse content