Relay gives Thompson golden restart


BARCELONA, Spain -- At the celebratory news conference, Jenny Thompson forgot to turn on her mi-6,6l crophone.

"Sorry," she said, sheepishly. "It's my first time in here."

Thompson didn't win the women's 100-meter freestyle, and she didn't even make the final of the 200 freestyle, but yesterday she won her first gold medal of the Olympics in grand style.

The U.S. swim team needed a lift after losses by Janet Evans and Matt Biondi, and Thompson swam the fastest relay leg in history to help set a world record in the women's 400-meter freestyle relay.

Thompson, anchoring the team of Nicole Haislett, Dara Torres and Angel Martino, exploded through her 100 meters in 54.01 seconds, giving the United States a final time of 3 minutes, 39.46 seconds.

That was more than one second better than the previous mark, set by East Germany in 1986. It was a good thing, because second-place China also finished under the world record, in 3:40.12.

Torres, the team captain, nearly fainted on the victory stand afterward -- "I started seeing yellow," she said -- but no one was more satisfied than Thompson.

The world-record holder in the 100 had a chance to win five gold medals, but earned a silver in her specialty Sunday, then bombed in the 200 -- her weakest event -- Monday.

Thompson will compete in the 400-meter medley relay tomorrow and the 50-meter freestyle Friday. No doubt, she would be delighted to leave Barcelona with three golds and a silver.

"After the 200, I kind of made a mental transition," Thompson said. "In those events, I didn't do as well as I would have liked.

"I decided: 'The relay is fun. The 50 is fun.' I decided I have to look at this as a brand-new meet. I was really psyched up for this relay."

So, apparently, was Torres.

"I was fine, then I got to the medal stand," said Torres, who swims only in this event. "When they started giving the medals out to other countries, I started feeling kind of dizzy.

"I said to myself, 'God, don't faint.' I started seeing yellow. I couldn't hold up. Once it ended, I had to sit down."

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