Miniscule near-miss almost costs Australia Olympic medal

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·Sports Reporter
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Australia's bronze medal winning 4x200m freestyle relay team came withing three hundredth of a second of being disqualified under a unique rule. (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Australia's bronze medal winning 4x200m freestyle relay team came withing three hundredth of a second of being disqualified under a unique rule. (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)

The Olympics represent the pinnacle of international sport, and at the highest level of competition the margins are sure to be fine.

Australia's bronze medal winning 200m freestyle relay team nearly found out the hard way how slim those margins can be on Wednesday.

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The team came just three-hundredths of a second away from being disqualified from the final, which they finished third behind Great Britain and Russia.

Hearts were in mouths after Zac Incerti was fractionally early diving in for his leg of the final.

Swimmers are given some room for error before the team is disqualified, but it's an incredibly narrow one at just 0.03 seconds.

Fortunately for Incerti he fell within that narrow margin - but only just.

The extra hundredths on the changeover didn't matter in the end as Great Britain streaked ahead, the foursome of Tom Dean, James Guy, Matthew Richards and Duncan Scott winning gold in a time of 6:58.58.

They themselves were just three-hundredths of a second shy of the world record set by America at the prior Olympics in Rio.

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Australia's team of Alexander Graham, Kyle Chalmers, Thomas Neill and Incerti finished well behind in a time of 7:01.84.

After holding an early lead, America quickly fell out of podium contention for the first time in more than one hundred years of Olympic competition.

Typically one of the USA's strongest events, they fell off the pace to finish fourth behind the Aussies.

Team USA's brutal 117-year first in Tokyo Olympics boilover

The United States have dominated the 4x200m freestyle relay since first winning gold in the event back in 1920, and have won gold at every Games since 2000.

 That streak came to an end on Wednesday however, and Team USA failed to make the podium in a men's relay race for the first time since they were first introduced at the 1904 Games.

The only other time the USA did not appear on the podium was at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow - which the nation boycotted.

Seventeen years after Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte ushered in the latest era of American relay dominance, the search for the next great defining talent will begin.

Kieran Smith gave the U.S. a healthy lead with his opening leg, but by the time Drew Kibler came home at the halfway point, the lead had been lost to the Brits.

Zach Apple briefly regained the lead for the American halfway through the third leg, but Team GB’s Matthew Richards pulled away over the final lap of that leg.

For the first time since the 200m freestyle relay was introduced in 1094, Team USA did not finish on the podium at the 2021 Tokyo Games. (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
For the first time since the 200m freestyle relay was introduced in 1094, Team USA did not finish on the podium at the 2021 Tokyo Games. (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. anchor Townley Haas dove in a full body length behind the leaders, and Britain’s Duncan Scott easily brought gold home.

Phelps retired after 2016. Lochte attempted to qualify for Tokyo, but came up short at trials, and never really came close in the 200 free. The team for Wednesday’s final was strong, and included one member (Apple) of the American team that won the 4x100 relay here on Monday.

But it didn’t have a world-beater like Phelps, or Lochte, or Caeleb Dressel. Turns out greatness is hard to replicate.

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