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BEIJING - When the South African 4x100 freestyle relay team led by Roland Schoeman swam at the National Aquatics Centre in China yesterday, many South Africans tipped them to scoop a gold medal but it was not to be.
The star-studded team, which also comprised Ryk Neethling, Darian Townsend and Lyndon Ferns, failed to win a medal of any colour yesterday.
They finished in a lowly seventh position after clocking 3min:12,66sec, a new African record.
The old record was 3:13,17, which won the quartet gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
The Michael Phelps-inspired American team won the contest with a new world record of 3:08,24.
Phelps, who clinched gold in the 400m individual medley on Sunday, had equally capable swimmers in the team yesterday.
They were Garrett Gale-Weber, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak.
The old world record was 3:12,23 and the Americans' current time is the second biggest world record improvement in this event.
They improved it by nearly four seconds.
These statistics showed that the standard of world swimming has improved impressively in recent years.
This was acknowledged by the South Africans after they were dethroned yesterday.
They conceded that there has been a drastic improvement in the game in the past nine months.
Though they failed to defend their title they were nevertheless happy that they were continuing to set new African records.
The Americans said they regarded the 4x100m event as a 400m because they always swim as a team.
The silver medal went to France's Amaury Leveaux, Fabien Gilot, Frederic Bousquet and Alain Bernard.
The French, who gave the champions tough competition, recorded a time of 3:08,32.
Their sturdy resistance was rightfully acknowledged by the Americans.
Australians Eamon Sullivan, Andrew Lauterstein, Ashley Callus and Matt Targett settled for bronze after clocking 3:09,91.