Former N.C. State star and current Charlotte resident Cullen Jones just participated in one of the most thrilling events of these Olympics and one of the best races I've ever seen in any sport -- the 4x100 freestyle relay. Jones swam the third leg for an American team that set the world record by nearly four seconds -- and needed every last bit of it to edge France for the gold.
For Jones, it capped an unbelievable 14 hours in which he actually had a hand in two world records. He swam the fastest leg on the preliminary relay team for the U.S., which also set a world record. That made Jones the only American swimmer to advance to the final out of the prelims, joining the relay Big Three of Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale and Jason Lezak.
Jones swam about the same time in the final, and when he pulled himself out of the water the Americans were second and world-record holder Alain Bernard of France had a half of a body length lead on U.S. anchor leg Jason Lezak. But the 32-year-old Lezak swam one of the most unbelievable times you will ever see in an Olympics -- a 46.06 that would have set a world record had it not come in a relay. He out-touched Bernard at the wall.
The Americans had heard rumors that the French said they were going to whip the Americans in the final, and even though they never were quite sure that the rumor was true, it motivated him.
"They had talked a lot about it, and we would just rather do it in the pool," Lezak said. "I never lost hope. I don’t know how I was able to take it back that fast, because I’ve never been able to come anywhere near that for the last 50.”
That amazing effort by Lezak and the U.S. team also kept Michael Phelps' dream of eight gold medals alive -- by an eyelash.
Jones gave his bouquet to his Mom in the stands afterward. I saw him following his swim and he was exuberant, often touching the gold medal around his neck.
"Four months ago, I made a change," Jones said, referring to his move to Charlotte and his adoption of David Marsh as his head coach. "That change got me on the relay. That change got me this gold medal. So I'm really happy."
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