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Michael Phelps on the medal podium

Michael Phelps ... 4x200m relay gold was his third of the Games (AFP)

US too good in 4x200m relay

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 18, 2004. 4:09am (AEST)

The United States beat Australia in the men's 4x200m freestyle relay at the Athens Games this morning.

An outstanding opening leg by Michael Phelps, less than an hour after he won gold in the 200m butterfly, set up the win for the US, ending Australia's dominance of the event.

The Americans won the race in 7:07.33.

The Australian team of Grant Hackett, Michael Klim, Nicholas Sprenger and Ian Thorpe took silver in 7:07.46 with Italy third in 7:11.83.

Thorpe, gold medal winner in the individual event, swam magnificently in the anchor leg, making up almost a full body length. But after the race he, like his team-mates, was obviously disappointed.

"I don't look too happy... it's just a little disappointing, we put our heart and soul into this, and the guys this morning [in the heats] did a good job as well, and to fall just that little bit short is disappointing and I just wish we could have got there in the end," Thorpe said.

"I'm not making excuses, but I feel a bit flat tonight," he said. "I'm pretty disappointed with that. I was trying not to rush it, to catch up. I didn't want to throw myself at the first hundred metres."

Hackett echoed Thorpe's sentiments. "It's always good to go up against the best, but it wasn't our night.

"It's very disappointing for the four of us... to come away with the silver medal at the Olympics - it's not bad, but it's not what we wanted."

In contrast, Phelps was cock-a-hoop. "Australia had owned that event," he said. "As a goal, I wanted to come in here and prove something.

"This will go down as one of the greatest races in history," Phelps said.

Hackett led off for Australia and he was up against Phelps, bronze medal winner in the individual event yesterday.

The American led through the first 100m but Hackett stayed in touch before handing over to Michael Klim.

Klim swam a magnificent first 100m to draw level with Ryan Lochte, but he tired late and the Americans led by a body length between them at the half-way mark of the race.

Nick Sprenger entered the water for Australia and he saw Peter Vanderkaay swim away in the first 100m.

The youngster fought back in the third and fourth laps of his leg but America's anchor swimmer Klete Keller still had a body-length on Thorpe when he entered the water.

But Thorpe showed his class to almost draw level after the first lap. With 100m to go the American led by less than a metre.

Keller increased that lead in the third lap before Thorpe produced his trademark late surge. But for once, it wasn't enough, the Americans winning the race by 0.13 seconds.

Australia has dominated this event over the past seven years and beat the Americans in the final in Sydney.

The race gave Phelps his third gold medal of the meet and his second of the night.