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One-two sweep

Vendt's silver medal makes Phelps' gold even sweeter

Posted: Saturday August 14, 2004 4:16PM; Updated: Sunday August 15, 2004 1:32AM
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Michael Phelps was so far ahead of his competition Saturday night that it was going to take something else, something unexpected, to make the event memorable as a race and not just as a history-making first gold medal.

A world record? He's done that before. He broke his own world record at the Olympic trials in Long Beach and then again in Saturday's finale, when he clocked in 4 minutes, 8.26 seconds.

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That something unexpected was someone -- his teammate Erik Vendt -- who won the silver medal from lane 1. That isn't a preferred lane; it's the one that often holds the also-rans. But this time, Vendt overcame Laszlo Cseh of Hungary and gave the U.S. a one-two sweep.

"This was a dream come true for me," said Phelps, who will swim in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay Sunday and then in the 200 freestyle final Monday. "Ever since I was a little kid, I was dreaming of this. But when I saw Erik over there, it was even more incredible."

Truth be told, Phelps has soaked up the spotlight quite a bit, but he is serious when he says he wants to make his team and his sport better for it. The moment with Vendt represented that.

After Phelps touched the wall, he looked up at the board and raised his fist. Then he seemed to do a double take to look at the scoreboard more closely. As he did, Vendt started shouting and pushing over the lane lines to get to his teammate. They exchanged high-fives and hugged as they headed over for television interviews.

"Everyone wants a gold medal," said Vendt, who won a silver medal behind American Tom Dolan in the race at the Sydney Games. "But a silver behind the big guy is pretty good."

Phelps said he spent the previous night in his room watching Miracle, the film about the 1980 U.S. hockey team. He didn't need a miracle to win this race, but he may need one to win them all.

Within an hour, Australia's Ian Thorpe won the 400-meter freestyle in a race that had a considerably different vibe. Thorpe barely held off teammate Grant Hackett and Klete Keller of the U.S. to win the race in 3:43.10. That's well off his world record of 3:40.08, set in 2002, and surprisingly close for a man who had the eight fastest times in history entering the race.

Hackett finished in 3:43.55. Thorpe was unexpectedly emotional after the race, too, wiping away tears before leaving the pool and later liberally thanking everyone under the sun who helped him during his career.

Over the past two years, Thorpe, a five-time medalist in Sydney, has looked beatable and has switched coaches. He is still a favorite in Monday's final, but both Phelps and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband will test him. After Saturday's races, that may be a serious test. For now, it was time to celebrate and to share his celebration.

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