In swimming parlance, chasing the red line means going for a world record. Never mind the competitor in the lane next to you. Your goal isn't to go faster than he. Your goal is to go faster than anyone. Ever.
The U.S. men's 800-meter freestyle relay team, thanks to an excellent leadoff by Michael Phelps, gave the red line a pretty good scare yesterday at Parc Jean-Drapeau, though ultimately they came up a little short of history. Still, Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay and Klete Keller - together again for the first time since Athens - set an American record and easily won gold with a time of 7 minutes, 6.58 seconds. Canada finished a surprising second, and Australia finished third.
Phelps' 200-meter split time of 1 minute, 45.51 seconds was the fastest time ever by an American in the 800 relay, not just for leadoff, but for any of the four legs.
"We wanted to see how close we could get to the world record tonight," said Phelps, who won his fourth gold medal of the championships. "Tonight, I wanted to jump on it. I wanted to make a statement in that first 200. I wanted to do that real bad. I wanted to take that on my shoulders. I like leading off and starting the race."
The United States, which won the event at the world championships for the first time since 1982, was actually under Australia's world-record pace through 650 meters, but Keller slowed up just a fraction down the stretch, and in the end, the American team fell almost two seconds short of the mark. Keller's anchor leg was actually quite strong, all things considered. After the Athens Olympics, Keller took four months off and thought about skipping the world championships entirely before changing his mind.
"I don't know if I deserved the anchor, but it's an honor to swim with these guys," Keller said. "I knew the we were [on a world-record pace] but I also knew Ian Thorpe was the anchor on that Australia team and did it in like 1:44, so it was going to be tough."
Phelps' performance was all the more impressive when you consider he had to swim in the semifinals of the 100 butterfly less than half an hour before the relay. Phelps finished with the second-fastest time, 52.02 seconds, behind American Ian Crocker, who came close to breaking his world record with a time of 51.08.
Though Phelps beat Crocker by .04 of a second to win the gold medal in Athens, it would be somewhat surprising to see it happen again at the world championships as well as Crocker is swimming right now.
"I was hoping to go a little bit faster tonight actually, but I know I'll have a little bit more energy [in the final]," Crocker said. "I was going for a world record, but hopefully with a little more excitement [in the final] that will be the case."
There was one American, however, who was successful last night in his quest for a world record. Aaron Peirsol broke his world record in the final of the 200 backstroke, finishing nearly two seconds ahead of Austria's Markus Rogan with a time of 1 minute, 54.66 seconds.
"If anything, after the Olympics, I felt more motivated than I've felt in a long time," Peirsol said. "Each [world championships] gets better. Every time, I'm reminded that very few people have done something like that. I feel pretty honored."
American Brendan Hansen took a shot at his own world record in the 200 breaststroke, coming up just short with a time of 2 minutes, 9.85 seconds. Still, it was good enough for a gold medal by more than a second. Hansen finished first in the event at the 2001 world championships, but was third in 2003.
NOTE: Eszter Tomaskovics scored the go-ahead goal in the first overtime, and Hungary went on to defeat the United States, 10-7, for the gold medal in women's water polo. Trailing 7-3 at halftime, the United States rallied with four consecutive goals to force overtime.
Ericka Lorenz, Kelly Rulon and Moriah Van Norman each scored two goals for the United States, the world champion in 2003 and bronze medalists at the Athens Olympics.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.