The final day of racing in the dramatic Water Cube arena at the heart of the Olympic Park in Beijing generated the usual party atmosphere among the crowd as individual events gave way to the frantic action of the relays.
While the mood in the stands was buoyant, the swimmers themselves were deadly serious.
The women’s 4x100m freestyle relay final, one of the last events on the programme, was shaping up as a showdown between Australia and the United States.
The two quartets boasted an array of medallists from earlier in the competition and their semi-final heat times marked them out as the two teams to beat.
The U.S. understandably got off to a flying start when individual 100m backstroke gold medallist Natalie Coughlin led them out in confident style.
They were almost a second up on Great Britain at the first exchange, with Australia’s Emily Seebohm back in fourth but specialist breaststroke swimmer Liesel Jones was about to turn the race on its head.
Jones, who won the gold after finishing more than 1.5secs ahead of second, turned a deficit into an advantage and the Australians were in poll position at the halfway stage.
By the time Jessicah Schipper had finished her 100m butterfly, Libby Trickett had a three-metre advantage over the charging Americans and surely the silver medallist in the 100m free could coast home.
Dara Torres, a veteran of five Olympics, was having none of it. The 41-year-old, who competed in the Los Angeles Games a year before Trickett was even born, began to cut down the lead in a scintillating finish played out amid deafening crowd noise.
However Trickett had the race under control and comfortably held on as the Australians smashed the world record the same four had set at the world championships in their native Melbourne the previous year.
Their time of three minutes 52.69 was six tenths of a second faster than the Americans, who also smashed the previous best world record mark.
It was the end to an astonishingly one-sided competition for Australia, with all six of their gold medals in the pool coming from its women.