Nathan Adrian of the US edged James Magnussen by a fingertip to win the coveted Olympic 100m freestyle swimming gold on Wednesday, just one of the thrillers on a night that saw two world records fall.
Adrian clocked 47.52 seconds, beating the Australian sprint powerhouse by 0.01 seconds and becoming the first American since Matt Biondi in 1988 to win Olympic swimming’s blue riband event.
“I have big hands, I guess,” Adrian quipped of the margin of victory over Magnussen, who was fifth at the turn — two spots behind Adrian — but poured it on in the final 50m to make a race of it.
“The second 50 was nerve-wracking,” Adrian admitted of the chase to overtake pace-setting world record-holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil.
“The 100m has changed so much in the last 10 years, people are going out so fast now,” Adrian said. “I am known to go out fast and then suffer, but I managed to finish strong this time. I first looked up and saw I had won, then it sank in and hit me like a ton of bricks, so many emotions, it was incredible.”
Magnussen took silver in 47.53 seconds and Canada’s Brent Hayden — second behind Magnussen at last year’s world championships — earned bronze in 47.80.
It was another crushing defeat for the Aussie, the overwhelming favorite who had already flopped in Australia’s fourth-place 4x100m freestyle relay swim.
“I fought until the last stroke, but it wasn’t quite close enough tonight,” Magnussen said.
Hungarian Daniel Gyurta got the evening off to a rollicking start with a world record and victory in the men’s 200m breaststroke.
Rebecca Soni added another world record in the semi-finals of the women’s 200m breaststroke, advancing in emphatic style in her defense of the title she won in Beijing.
“Now I am overshadowed by Reb setting a world record,” Adrian jokingly complained.
First, though, it was Gyurta’s turn. The two-time world and European champion had seized the lead from defending Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima by the final turn and he stormed home with Britain’s Michael Jamieson pushing him all the way.
The duel sent the crowd into a frenzy, but it was Gyurta’s gold in 2 minutes, 7.28 seconds.
Jamieson took silver in 2:07.43 and Japan’s Ryo Tateishi sneaked past the fading Kitajima to claim bronze in 2:08.29 — a full second adrift.
“It was a really hard race,” Gyurta said. “In the last 20m I saw Jamieson, he was so fast in the last part. It was hard for me, but I managed to do it.”
Japan’s Kitajima, who came into the Games with the fastest 200m time in the world this year, saw his Olympic breaststroke reign ended in a fourth-placed finish. He had already finished fifth in the 100m breaststroke won in a world record by South African Cameron van der Burgh.
US superstar Michael Phelps, meanwhile, finished second in a head-to-head semi-final clash with teammate Ryan Lochte in the 200m individual medley.
Phelps and Lochte were pumped up after watching Adrian’s victory.
“It was awesome,” Phelps said. “We were cheering, cheering and cheering, and then as soon as he won, Ryan and I went nuts.”
Lochte had a busy night, the 200m medley semis coming after he he won his 200m backstroke semi-final to secure his spot in the final with the second-quickest time of the night.
Phelps returned to the pool a day after a 200m butterfly silver and relay gold gave him a record 19 career Olympic medals.