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Back To Beijing, Day 3: Jason Lezak’s Heroic Relay Effort Saves Phelps’ Run For 8

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 11, 2018, 12:01 a.m. (ET)

(L-R) Garrett Weber-Gale and Michael Phelps celebrate after the men's 4x100m freestyle relay at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 on Aug. 11, 2008 in Beijing.


From the thrilling Opening Ceremony to Michael Phelps’ iconic eight gold medals, the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 were truly unforgettable. Relive the 10-year anniversary of the Games through Aug. 24 as TeamUSA.org recaps the daily highlights from Beijing. Here’s a look at Team USA's performance on Day 3, Aug. 11, 2008.


Michael Phelps was never going to win eight gold medals on his own.

And so it was, three legs into the men’s 4x100 freestyle on Day 3 of the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, with Team USA trailing France by a half second, and with world record holder Alain Bernard diving in for the French anchor leg, that Phelps’ quest rested squarely on the shoulders of U.S. anchor Jason Lezak.

“I knew I was going to have to swim out of my mind,” Lezak told the New York Times, adding, “I had more adrenaline going than I’ve ever had in my life.”

The 32-year-old Lezak, competing at his third Olympics, reached and pulled and dragged himself across the water as fast as anyone ever has in a 4x100 relay split. When he finally touched the wall, he had just barely passed Bernard.

“Whenever I watch it, I still get pumped up,” Lezak told TeamUSA.org earlier this year. “It’s pretty amazing to see. I look at it as a spectator vs. myself and it’s awesome.”

Team USA won in 3:08.24, edging France’s 3:08.32 and beating the world record by close to four seconds.

“His last 50 meters were absolutely incredible,” said Phelps, who swam the opening leg. “He had a perfect finish.”

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Nobody said Phelps’ race for eight gold medals was going to be easy, and just two finals in, the drama was already palpable. Phelps had won his first gold medal the day before in world record time, and his third final was already the next day.

While Phelps’ story dominated the news from the Water Cube, other U.S. swimmers continued to thrive there, with Christine Magnuson (women’s 100 butterfly) and Katie Hoff (women’s 400 free) each winning silver medals on Day 3. That added up to eight medals over just two days of finals in the pool.

Away from the Water Cube, Corey Cogdell won a bronze medal in women’s trap shooting at her Olympic debut.

American athletes continued to push forward in non-medal events too.

Among the team sports, the women’s water polo team opened preliminary-round play with a 12-11 win over China, while women’s basketball also beat the hosts 108-63. However, the women’s volleyball team fell 3-0 to Cuba.

Chrös McDougall covered the 2008 Games for the Olympic News Service. He has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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Michael Phelps

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Jason Lezak