LONDON — Yannick Agnel dealt another crushing blow to Ryan Lochte and everyone else in the supposed Race of the Century at the London Olympics on Monday.
Missy Franklin restored American swim hopes with a gutty performance in the backstroke, and Matt Grevers kept the gold medals coming for the red, white and blue.
Franklin, a 17-year-old from Colorado and best hope for the U.S. program in the post-Michael Phelps era, bounced back from a semifinal race with just a 13-minute break, rallying to win the 100-meter back for the first gold medal of what figures to be a dazzling career.
Australia’s Emily Seebohm, the top qualifier, led at the turn and was under world-record pace, but Franklin showed a remarkable finishing kick <0x2014> especially since she had just raced in the semis of the 200 free. With her arms twirling, the 6-foot-1 swimmer passed the Aussie in the final 25 meters and lunged toward the wall for a winning time of 58.33 seconds.
She broke into a big smile but was clearly exhausted, her head dropping back against the wall. Seebohm settled for silver in 58.68 and Japan’s Aya Terakawa took bronze in 58.83.
Agnel showed that his brilliant swim on the Olympic relay was no fluke. The towering Frenchman did it again in the 200 free, leading from start to finish in perhaps the most star-studded race of these games <0x2014> even without Phelps, who passed up a chance to defend his Olympic title.
That might have been a good move by Phelps. It was hard to see anyone beating Agnel on this night, as he pulled away to win by a full body length in 1 minute, 43.14 seconds. There were gold medalists galore in the field, but no one came close to challenging the Frenchman, who steadily pulled away, looking just as strong at the end as he did at the beginning.
South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan and China’s Sun Yang tied for the silver in 1:44.93. But reigning world champion Lochte, who seemed poised to have a huge Olympics on the opening night of the games, has now put up two disappointing performances. He faded to fourth, missing out on the podium along with world-record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany.
The previous night in the 4x100 free relay, Lochte anchored the Americans and took over with a half-body length lead. But Agnel chased him down on the final leg, giving France the gold and payback for the stunning U.S. win in the same event at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Just when things were looking really grim for the powerful American team <0x2014> Phelps shut out of the medal in his first London race, the relay loss, Lochte’s duel disappointments <0x2014> Franklin came through and Grevers added another gold in rat-a-tat fashion, rallying on the return lap to win the men’s 100 backstroke.
For good measure, Nick Thomas made it a 1-2 finish for the Americans, touching for silver in 52.92. The bronze went to Japan’s Ryosuke Irie in 52.97, while France’s Camille Lacourt, who led at the turn under world-record pace, faded to fourth.
Still, the first three days have produced three gold medals for the French, the most they’ve ever won at the Olympic pool. And there’s still five days to go.