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18 Aug 2004

US women make history in the pool

Back in the 1980s, East German swimmers had dominated the women's 4x200m relay events. They set the world record in 1983, then broke it again in 1986 and then again in 1987. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 East Germany ceased to exist, but their 4x200m world record remained as a legacy for the next 17 years.

However, at Athens 2004 the USA boasted a relay team that looked capable not just of winning gold, but breaking that longstanding record.

First to swim in the final was Natalie Coughlin, who finished her leg in 1 minute 57.74 seconds and handed over to Carly Piper with a lead that just short of two seconds. The Americans were certainly heading for gold, and a glance at the clock also showed that they were on world record pace.

At the halfway point the US clocked 3 minutes 57.13 seconds, with Piper having swum her leg in a fraction under two minutes. Next up was Dana Vollmer, who swam her 200m in just over 1 minute 58 seconds. If Kaitlin Sandeno could complete the final leg in anything under two minutes, the world record would be theirs.

There was other dramatic intrigue too. In what was an incredibly fast contest, the Chinese were actually only 2.5 seconds behind, with Germany not far off in third. The main focus though was now on the ticking clock.

When Sandeno finally touched home it was clear that the world record had been blasted out of the water, beaten by more than two seconds. To underline the speed of the race, China in second were only 0.5 seconds off that East German time that had stood as a world record for 17 years.

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