Jimmy Feigen

Lochte gets 10 months: big whoop

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Ryan Lochte gets a 10-month suspension. To share the insight offered by a teen observer: big whoop.

You know who the big winner here is? Ryan Lochte.

That conclusion is as undeniable as it is undesirable. It is also, despite the best intentions of Olympic and swim officials, the most profoundly disappointing part of this entire episode — all of it, from start to finish.

Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke in this week's DWTS publicity tour // Getty Images

From Ryan Lochte’s perspective, it was all about Ryan Lochte on that boozy night in Rio. For the next week, it was all about Ryan Lochte instead of the scores of other athletes, American and otherwise, chasing their own Olympic dreams in Brazil.

Even since then, too. Since being back in the States from Rio, there have been only two main questions — one, how was it and, two, what about Ryan Lochte?

On Wednesday night, in the hours after TMZ broke the story of the 10-month suspension, it was still all about Lochte — instead of the athletes on U.S. Paralympic team or the Paralympic opening ceremony back in Rio.

And it was all about Lochte on Thursday, when the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming formally announced the sanction. The USA Today headline: “Lochte’s Brazil gas station pals also suspended.”

Dude seriously could not have scripted this any better in advance of being on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Think about this:

In Rio, Lochte put the USOC and USA Swimming between a rock and a hard place. Then he did the exact same thing this week — those sports officials caught between wanting to impose sanction and the deadline of wanting to make that sanction public before next Monday’s season premiere of DWTS.

For that matter, the USOC and USA Swimming were in the same sort of rock-and-hard place dilemma in making it plain Lochte and the three others — Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger — had to be expecting a formal response. In embarrassing themselves, they also embarrassed the USOC and USA Swimming. So something had to be done. But what should that something be, and to what purpose?

Lochte also loses $100,000 in medal bonus money. That’s inconsequential in comparison to the four sponsors who have dropped him. But another has already said it intends to pick him up so he is clearly the farthest thing from radioactive.

The other three got four months away from the U.S. national team. Big whoop.

Bentz is back in college at Georgia. Conger is at Texas. They still can swim for their college teams.

Clockwise: Feigen, Lochte, Conger, Bentz // Getty Images

Lochte has to do 20 hours of community service, Bentz 10 for violating the Olympic Village curfew rules for athletes under 21. As swimming’s world governing body, FINA, pointed out, the International Olympic Committee insisted on a community service element.

Bottom line:

It’s all profoundly disturbing.

Lochte is not a bad guy. Indeed, he can be a very good guy — always willing to sign autographs, especially for kids. He is personable. He can be very likable.

On the theory that everyone has to navigate his or her own path in this life, let’s be honest: there have to be moments when it can’t be easy being Ryan Lochte, with 12 Olympic medals, when Michael Phelps has 28.

Even so, there is so much that remains so troubling.

In late June, GQ magazine published a feature entitled “The De-Broing of Ryan Lochte,” in which he avowed that the 2016 version of himself that would be on display in Rio would be “more mature.”

After Rio, this from Lochte in People magazine:

“I made things up. I didn’t tell the truth.  And that’s on me. I messed up and made a big mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Even if you want to believe him — and there is, again, a lot of good in Lochte — it’s wholly unclear that he gets it.

To be clear: that is not a referendum on Lochte’s intelligence. He is not dumb. Really, he is not.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because I have a big heart, and I feel like [I] let down a lot of people,” he also told the magazine. “I feel bad that I have let people down.”

All good. Except for what he said next:

“It sucks that it was one of the main focuses of the Olympics. That’s what stinks. The media blew it up and talked about it. It got out of control, and this was all anyone could talk about.”

The media blew it up? Hello?

“Everyone started watching it and they didn’t watch the athletes. That’s another reason why I’m so hurt by it, because it took away from the Games.”

Ryan Lochte is hurting?

Where is the responsibility and accountability?

That whole actions-matter-more-than-words thing, you know.

The straight line from peeing on a gas station wall to lying about it to abandoning your teammates to deal for themselves with the consequences to being featured on one of America’s most popular television shows makes for a discordant message — a bad, very bad disconnect — when it comes to the values the Olympic movement, the USOC and USA Swimming purport to stand for.

Here was Lochte, in Rio, before the partying but after his last race, fifth in the 200-meter IM, off the podium:

“In life, in swimming, in sports, there are always ups and downs. It is what you do when you have those downs who make you what you are.”

Actions, words, etc.

It’s not that Lochte is going on DWTS. It’s that he’s going now — without taking a hard look at who he is and, in particular, the role alcohol plays in his decision-making.

At 32, he knows the bro thing comes with a sell-by date. But talking about it is one thing and acting like the mature role model he should be apparently another. The question he has yet to examine, and far away from the spotlight: why is he saying one thing and doing another?

For the sake of discussion, which requires in this context putting aside for a moment the peeing and the lying — it’s also a fair question to ask whether Lochte should have stuck around Rio. That is, should he have left Brazil when he did?

Should he, in essence, have kept to his regularly scheduled programming?

Or is the idea of “justice” in Brazil so fundamentally different that he did the right thing by getting out of dodge?

Here’s what Lochte should have done:

The moment Conger and Bentz were dragged off a plane, that is the instant Lochte should have called the USOC and USA Swimming and asked, what can or should I do?

Did he?

Looking at this from another angle:

Lochte didn’t hurt anyone. When Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence, it was because he was deemed a menace to the public health. So: why is Lochte getting more?

Because this is apples and oranges. Luckily, Phelps didn’t hurt anyone. And what’s at issue here is reputation and credibility — for Lochte, the USOC and USA Swimming.

In a statement sent to USA Today, Lochte’s lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, said, “We accept the decision as [we] believe it is in everyone’s best interest to move forward, adding in the next paragraph, “That said, in my oinion, while the collective sanctions appear to be harsh when considering what actually happened that day — Ryan did not commit a crime, he did not put the public safety at risk and he did not cheat in his sport — we will leave it to others to evaluate the appropriateness of the penalties.”

That sort of thing is called advocating for your client.

Back to reality: Phelps got six months. U.S. soccer goalie Hope Solo got six months, too. So six was a starting place for Lochte.

And yet — 10 months away from competition won’t achieve anything, practically speaking.

Frankly, it’s laughable.

Yes, it’s 10 months, ending in June 2017, with a plus — just the way Phelps had to stay away from the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia, Lochte will now be ineligible for the 2017 worlds in Budapest next July.

So what?

The 10 months is time Lochte would have taken off, anyway.

He was never going to be serious about 2017. In Rio, after that 200 IM, he said:

“It has been a long journey. I think now it is time for me to take a break, mentally and physically, to just get myself back to when I was a little kid having fun again. i can’t say this is my last time swimming. So we will see what happens.”

Ryan Lochte in Rio, before it all blew up // Getty Images

For two, as the Wall Street Journal reported in a story midway through the Rio Games, Phelps’ lengthy post-London break may now well serve as a template for others, especially older athletes such as Lochte, who is now 32. Why grind away for four solid years when, as Phelps proved conclusively, you can train less — push for maybe 18 months — and still win bunches of medals? For his part, Phelps turned 31 in late June.

For three, in keeping Phelps away from the 2015 Kazan worlds, USA Swimming could not have been any more clear about how it views what is purportedly the marquee event on the FINA calendar in odd-numbered years. Same for Lochte and 2017 in Budapest.

A note: Lochte will now lose out on the chance to win a fifth straight 200 IM worlds gold. Same theme: so what? He already has four, and fifth at the 2016 Olympics hardly makes him the odds-on 2017 favorite.

For four, and this is a nugget that swim geeks would understand immediately but takes just a few words of explanation for a wider audience:

Leaving U.S. college racing aside, because it is measured in yards, there are two kinds of racing at the world-class level, both in meters: long-course events, such as the Olympics or the (2017 Budapest) worlds, which take part in a 50-meter pool, and short-course, over a 25-meter set-up.

Lochte has for years been one of the few U.S. swimmers to excel at both, a mainstay of the U.S. short-course team.

Anytime Lochte wants, he can start racing short-course to get himself back up to speed. So it’s way off the mark, as some might suggest, that Lochte’s career is at a dead-end for two or maybe even three years, until the 2019 long-course worlds, now set for Gwangju, South Korea.

At the DWTS “cast reveal” party this week in New York, Lochte also told People, “I’m excited for, not only myself, but everyone else to forget about what happened and to move forward. I think that’s what the biggest thing is — what we’re gonna do is just move forward and show off my dancing skills.”

Just — so troubling. All around.

For one night, no Phelps magic

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Before Michael Phelps had won even the first of his 22 Olympic medals he was, in 2003, the United States men’s national champion in the 100-meters freestyle. The circle turns. It’s back to the future. Pick your metaphor as the 2014 U.S. nationals got underway in earnest Wednesday in Irvine, California, with Phelps stepping to the blocks for the finals of the 100 free.

To expect Phelps to win everything — at least right now, this soon into his comeback — is perhaps a bit too much. Phelps would naturally expect so. But when Nathan Adrian is in the race, and Adrian is not only the London 2012 Olympic 100 gold medalist but the man who since 2009 has won either or both the 50 and 100 at the national level, something’s got to give.

Michael Phelps after finishing seventh in the men's 100 free at the U.S. nationals // photo Getty Images

And it’s not just Adrian.

Anthony Ervin was in the race as well. Ervin is an Olympic gold medalist sprinter, too, the 50 champ from Sydney 2000. In the morning prelims, both Adrian and Ervin had gone faster than Phelps.

Also in the race: Jimmy Feigen, silver medalist in the 100 at last year’s world championships in Barcelona and an Olympic relay medalist.

Not to mention Matt Grevers (multiple Olympic medalist), Ryan Lochte (multiple Olympic medalist), Conor Dwyer (silver medalist, 200, Barcelona, as well as Olympic relay gold medalist); and Seth Stubblefield.

Stubblefield was the only non-Olympian in the field. How would you like to have been Seth Stubblefield Wednesday evening?

This was big-boy swimming, for sure.

This, too, is all part of the master plan now seemingly fully in motion, aiming toward Rio 2016, two years from now.

Phelps and his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, keep saying they’re just taking it bit by bit, day by day. Maybe so. Then again, the day before the U.S. nationals began, they announced a new deal with Aqua Sphere, and logic says that deal can only be enhanced if Phelps is swimming on the international stage in Brazil, right?

Right now it would seem abundantly obvious that Phelps and Bowman are in the midst of finding out if they can remake Phelps 2.0 as Phelps the way he was, at least in part, the way he was way back when.

In Irvine, he was entered in the 100 free, 100 back, 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley.

Part of this is because Phelps is now 29. It’s exceedingly unlikely he would, at least right now, put up with the wear and tear on his body it would require to, say, swim the 400 IM anymore.

Part of this is because having done everything there is to do in his other races he likely needs to challenge himself in different ways.

“There are always things that I still want to do and want to achieve, and that’s part of the reason why I’m still here,” he told reporters before the meet got going. “You’re not going to get what it is. You guys know me too well.”

Mel Stewart, the 1992 200 fly gold medalist who can now be found at SwimSwam.com, opined recently that without the 400 IM, “a 46-plus 100m freestyle and 49 plus 100m butterfly could be in the cards by the 2016 Olympic Games," meaning, for instance, 46-plus seconds in the 100. The world record in the 100 is currently 46.91, held by Brazil's Cesar Cielo, set at the Rome 2009 world championships.

Then again, Stewart said, let’s stay in the moment.

Stewart said he expects lifetime bests for Phelps either in Irvine or, later this summer, at the Pan Pacific championships in Australia.

This, then, is the thing about these U.S. nationals, which many are overlooking in the glare of the Phelps comeback. It is, above all, a set-up meet for the Pan Pacs and, beyond, for the 2015 world championships in Russia.

The point is not to peak in Irvine. You saw that when Katie Ledecky flirted with the world record in the women’s 800 Wednesday evening, then let off the gas before winning in 8:18.47.

The competition in Irvine is ferocious. It was evident, for instance, in the men’s 100 free, where no fewer than 32 guys went under 50 seconds in Wednesday morning’s prelims. Last year, in Indianapolis, before the off-year Barcelona worlds, there were only 17.

Even so, while racing is always racing, the deal in Irvine is to make the U.S. team and to keep one’s eye on the longer-range prize.

Before Irvine, Phelps this year had raced in only two 100 free finals — one in Santa Clara, California, in June, the other last month in Athens, Georgia.

The prelims Wednesday morning were strikingly like the Santa Clara race. There, in a time of 48.8, he finished second to Adrian. The first 50 meters Phelps swam 23.73. The second, 25.07. On Wednesday morning, Phelps went 23.98. The second 50, Phelps, as has been his pattern through the years, turned it on to go 24.79, the only guy in the field in the back half to break 25. All in: 48.77.

The only thing is, Adrian had gone 48.24. Adrian had gone out the first 50 meters in a speedy 22.63. As Adrian would say later, “I had to be out really, really fast to make sure Michael couldn’t somehow find a way to be out of my wake, to be really hurting at the very end.”

Even so, he stressed, his race strategy was hardly all Phelps: “It wasn’t just Michael. There are a lot of people who are going fast.”

In another heat, Ervin went 48.71.

In the finals, Ervin drew Lane 5, Adrian 4, Phelps 3. Lochte was all the way out there in 8, Feigen in 2.

Phelps got to the turn four-tenths faster than he did in the morning, at 23.58. But then it all fell apart. He missed the wall, didn’t execute his turn properly and struggled to the finish in 49.17 — good only for seventh.

Adrian won, in 48.31. Lochte took second, in 48.96. Feigen got third, in 48.98.

In all, a slow race, and perhaps a cause for concern going forward for the 4x100 relay, where times need to be in the 47s to be competitive. Adrian said afterward, “We know as a whole that group of eight guys is much faster than what we showed in the pool tonight.”

Phelps’ finals time was four-tenths slower than he had gone in the morning. The prelim swim would have gotten him silver behind Adrian but, you know, that’s not how it works.

“I’m really interested to see what the replay looks like because going into the wall I felt like I had set myself up for a good one just based on where I was in comparison to Nathan,” Phelps said, “and I thought I had the right distance to go into the wall and when I literally took a couple kicks and I barely passed the flags I knew there was very little chance that I was going to run anybody down.

“So it’s kind of frustrating but, you know, I never really know where we are in that race right now. I felt really good after the morning swim besides the first 50 and I felt good in the warmup pool getting ready for tonight. It just kind of stinks that I missed the first wall but it’s a part of racing and there is going to be another chance to swim that race in a couple weeks. I’m just trying to get a spot on the team and go from there.”

Lochte added, “He said he missed the turn. I saw it, because when I flipped, I looked under water and saw him. Things happen. He is going to fix it and make sure it never happens again.” 

What happened Wednesday evening matters, of course, because you can hardly remember the last time Phelps was not on the podium in a national meet. At the same time, Rio is still two years away.

Also, 2003 is a long time back. And, as Rowdy Gaines put it on the Universal Sports telecast, Phelps is “still learning.” Even the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time doesn’t just get back into the water and beat everyone, especially when everyone is so much better than they used to be — thanks in large measure to Phelps, who has inspired a generation.

As Gaines also said, “It’s going to take some time to get back into this.”

 

The team's the thing

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BARCELONA -- The world knows Michael Phelps. It knows Ryan Lochte, who won his third straight men's world championships 200-meter individual medley here title here Thursday night at the Palau Sant Jordi. It knows teen sensations Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky. They each won more gold medals Thursday, too, swimming legs of the 4x200 freestyle relay.

No, Phelps isn't swimming here. Even so, this deep U.S. team is still -- with five days down, three days to go -- dominating the medals count at yet another world championships, and the story of how Jimmy Feigen won silver Thursday in the men's 100 free offers revealing insight into the American way.

Swimming - 15th FINA World Championships: Day Thirteen

The U.S. swim team has 18 medals in the pool, 20 overall. Swimming is by definition an individual sport. But at big meets, it is also -- and the Americans understand this better than anyone in the world -- a team event.

It sounds simple. But it's not.

It's not just that the Americans have considerable talent. Of course they do. But it runs far deeper than that.

It's about creating, and sustaining, a team culture that promotes and inspires best performance.

As Cate Campbell, the outstanding Australian swimmer put it in a news conference here before the meet got underway, "When you go away, the swim team becomes your family. Healthy family -- healthy swimming. I think that has been really important."

Consider the way the Americans talked about each other after Thursday's racing:

Ledecky swam her first-ever leg on a U.S. relay, leading off that 4x200 swim. When she touched, the Americans were in first. She said the experience was "awesome," adding, "It meant a lot to get up and race with three girls behind me," calling it "definitely the most fun I have ever had in a race."

Karlee Bispo, who swam third, after Shannon Vreeland, earned her leg -- her first-ever start in an international final -- after a solid preliminary swim.

Bispo said, "To be with three Olympians, and amazing people, and to be able to represent my country, and look back and hear the 'U-S-A' chant and wear our flag on our suit and cap -- to win the gold medal is something I will never forget. I was trying to hide back the tears hearing the national anthem."

Franklin, winner of the 200 free Wednesday, swam another outstanding 200 -- 1:54.27 -- to ensure the victory.

She said, "Being a part of a team is the most important part of swimming for me, which is different, because a lot of people think of it as an individual sport. But when you get out there and you have three people who are not only your teammates but your friends -- that you know are going to support you no matter what -- you just have this whole new energy about you.

"And you want to go out there and race harder than you have ever raced before."

Lochte:

"I think one of the reasons why Team USA is so dominant is because we're what I feel like is -- we're like the one team that comes together. It's not separate. It's not a men's team. It's not a women's team. We help each other out. The guys help the girls out. The girls help the guys out. I think that's why we're so dominant -- we push each other. That's what makes a team."

In a different team culture, it might have been easy for Feigen's performance Sunday night in the men's 4x100 relay to make for a longstanding disaster.

Instead, it now looks like the kind of thing that obviously not just kickstarted him here but might well galvanize him to and through both the world championships in Kazan, Russia, in 2015 and the Rio Summer Games in 2016.

Which, by the way, is just the way the U.S. coaches planned it all along.

It's called trust and faith in him, and each other. That's what families do.

The relay rewind: handed the lead, Feigen went a too-slow 48.23. The French won.

What happened next?

A little back story:

Feigen went to college at Texas, where he won the 50- and 100-yard free at the 2012 NCAAs under the direction of coaches Eddie Reese and Kris Kubik. At the Summer University Games in China in 2011, he won the 100-meter free. Last year in London, he swam in the prelims of the 4x100 free relay that would ultimately win a silver medal.

Feigen qualified for these 2013 worlds by finishing second at the U.S. nationals in the 100 free. In him, the U.S. coaches, led by men's head coach Bob Bowman, see enormous upside.

That's why they dropped him into the anchor slot Sunday night in the 4x100 relay. It was his first major-league performance.

He would say late Thursday, "I'm still kind of a rookie to the whole world-circuit thing. I got a little bit of rookie nerves when it came to that relay. I kind of felt like I let everybody down. So I felt like it was my duty at this point to step up and show I do belong, I do belong with these swimmers."

Feigen is now 23.

After the relay, one of the people he sought out is Jack Roach, the U.S. junior national team coach, who is here with the American staff. Feigen and Roach have a history. It goes back to when Feigen was 9, at the University of Texas swim camps, and Roach was a coach there.

For that matter, virtually every swimmer who has come up in the American program has a connection not just to -- but with -- Roach. Here's one of the main reasons why: "I never," he said of his current role, "consider myself more than a consultant."

In this context, that means this: Roach is keenly aware that when this meet ends, Feigen is heading back home. Yes, there's a mission now. But Feigen has relationships with his coaches back home, too. What do families do? They look after each other, even across the oceans.

Feigen initially brought up this concern to Roach: if I swim faster in the 100, will people think I didn't try in the relay?

"We got off that relatively quick," Roach said, adding it was important to recognize that of course American swimmers "do feel a relay position is an honor and they never want to drop the ball in that situation."

Then the talking got down to real strategy -- how to best prepare for the 100 itself. "The second thing we discussed," Roach said, "was how would Eddie and Kris help you strategize the race."

Roach added, "When I'm dealing with someone else's athlete, I think it's very important that I let them know that they know themselves better than I know them. I like to provide them with questions they can ask themselves."

There was some technical talk. But, really, as Roach said, at this level, the preparation is "all mental."

"Everyone," Roach said, "strives to be a champion. When you're a champion, you're worthy. Sometimes you're worthy and you aren't a champion. What do you learn from every experience to become a little more worthy so you can move into that championship state? So much of it is accountability to the athletes who are in front of you."

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Feigen's best 100 time before this meet in Barcelona: 48.24.

In Wednesday's semifinals, he went 48.07.

Then, in Thursday's final, 47.82.

Australia's James Magnussen -- out-touched by American Nathan Adrian by one-hundredth of a second last summer for the gold medal in London -- won the race, in 47.71.

Adrian took third, in 47.84.

The last time the U.S. men had won a world championships medal of any color in the 100 free? 2001, Anthony Ervin, gold.

For Magnussen -- who became the third Australian to win an individual discipline twice at the worlds, after Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett -- the win was about team and family as well: "We felt a little isolated last year. I felt like I had everyone's support this year. I felt like I was representing a team I was proud to represent this year, and that made my job a little easier."

For Feigen, too: "I started out a little shaky with this whole world championships thing but I think it's coming together in the end."

Finally, here's the reason Jack Roach is on staff in Barcelona, and is so integral to the American swim team's winning culture:

"I don't really feel like I can take much credit here," he said, and he's not being self-deprecatingly humble. He means it. "It's about the athletes Jimmy is surrounded with and the coaching staff back home and the support he gets."

As Ryan Lochte says -- jeah.

 

Déjà two all over again

BARCELONA -- With Michael Phelps watching from the stands, the U.S. men took a lead into the final leg of the men's 4x100 relay here Sunday night at the Palau Sant Jordi. As the old building roared, what happened in the next 48 or so seconds was either a bad case of déjà two all over again or a matter of the Americans playing not for short-term glory but for long-term reward. Depends on your point of view.

Just like last year at the Olympic Games in London, the French ran the Americans down in the final 50 meters. Last year it was Yannick Agnel showing Ryan Lochte no mercy. This time, Jeremy Stravius showed Jimmy Feigen how it's done, the French winning in 3:11.18, the Americans 24-hundredths back.

Russia took third, another 20-hundredths behind. Vlad Morozov ripped off a 47.4 third leg but it was not enough.

"We wanted to win. What can I say?" Agnel -- who has been training in Baltimore this year with Phelps' longtime mentor, Bob Bowman -- said afterward.

Bowman, who is the U.S. men's coach here, said, "We could definitely do better. We are disappointed with that."

You think the U.S. men could have used, well, Phelps?

"Those four guys did an amazing job," Natalie Coughlin, the veteran U.S. racer said after the American women's 4x100 relay team won gold, buoyed by Megan Romano's thrilling anchor leg. Coughlin quickly added in a reference to the U.S. team overall but one that served as a punctuation to the men's relay, "Yeah, we miss Michael."

That's because Michael -- who was quite the presence Sunday in Barcelona, signing autographs, posing for photos, doing his thing as swim ambassador, his right foot in a walking boot -- understood fully that the 4x100 free relay traditionally has been an American priority, whether at the worlds and the Olympics, and that winning it is technically fairly simple to diagram if nonetheless difficult to execute.

The men's freestyle relay now has evolved to the point that it takes all four guys swimming in the 47-second range. If one guy rips off 46-something, all kinds of things are possible.

This is what Jason Lezak showed in Beijing in 2008 with his out-of-this-world 46.06 anchor leg, after Phelps himself opened up with a 47.51. Garrett Weber-Gale, swimming second, went 47.02; Cullen Jones, third, 47.65. The Americans won by eight-hundredths of a second over the French.

In 2009, at the world championships in Rome, Phelps led off in 47.78. Lochte went next, in 47.03. Matt Grevers followed in 47.61. Nathan Adrian closed in 46.79. The Americans won.

In 2011, at the worlds in Shanghai, Phelps led off -- in 48.08. Weber-Gale went next, in 48.33. Lezak went third, going 48.15. Adrian swam 47.64. The Americans took third, in 3:11.96. The Aussies put together four 47s, and won in 3:11 flat.

Last year at the Olympics, Adrian kicked things off in  47.89. Phelps went next, in 47.15. Jones, back in form, turned in a 47.6. Then Lochte went 47.74. Should have been good enough, right?

Except that Agnel went 46.74.

The French won in 3:09.93, the Americans taking silver in 3:10.38. Just like this year, the Russians took third.

The American line-up Sunday night was Adrian, Lochte, Anthony Ervin and Feigen.

Feigen swam in the prelims in the 4x100 relay in London, going 48.49. He also has pulled recent national-team duty at the world short-course championships -- that is, in a 25-meter pool -- with comparatively few fans in the stand.

This would be his first turn on the big stage.

In Sunday's prelims, Ervin went 47.38. Ricky Berens, a national-team veteran, rocked a 47.56. Like Feigen, Berens swam in the London prelims. Berens is a two-time gold medalist in the 4x200 relay.

Bowman and the other U.S. coaches opted to go with Feigen and, moreover, to put him in the anchor slot.

The French countered with Agnel, Florent Manaudou, Fabien Gilot and Stravius.

Manaudou won gold in the 50 free in London, in 21.34. Gilot went 47.67 in the London relay win. Stravius was the unknown -- having gone 48.32 in the London relay prelims. At a news conference a couple days ago, he had said he was "happy to be here."

Agnel turned in -- by his measure -- a sub-par 48.76; after his swim the French were seventh. Manaudou went 47.93, lifting them back up to fourth. Then Gilot ripped off a 46.9.

Meanwhile, Adrian went 47.95, Lochte 47.8, Ervin 47.44. It seemed the Americans were heading toward victory.

Stravius, though, went 47.59.

Feigen? 48.23.

Three Americans went 47, one went 48.23 and the U.S. lost by 24-hundredths. There, essentially, is your race.

To his credit, Feigen -- who absolutely is an up-and-comer -- was straight-up about it all afterward. He said Stravius "ended up wanting it more than I did, and that showed." He said, "I've got to learn to swim my own race," acknowledging his breathing pattern was slightly off as he came toward the final wall.

"You know what?" said Ervin, the 2000 Sydney Games 50 free gold medalist who is now 32 and has since seen a lot of life. "You can't win them all. When you can't win, what you get is experience."

"It's kind of a learning experience," Feigen said. "And hopefully, I can get better every time."

Which, Bowman said, is the point. If you're not going to win, there's Rio and 2016 to consider.

Asked if the Americans were missing Phelps Sunday night, he laughed and said, "We were on that relay, I think.

"You know, it's the way it goes. These guys are learning. We are trying to figure out where people should go, really, in 2016. We want to win all these. But, these guys, it's the first time in a new [quadrennium]. Everybody gets kind of a shot to see where they are."

Asked if the French were glad Phelps wasn't swimming, Agnel said, "I don't understand the question." Which he totally did, because he then smiled a very big smile.

Bowman added that Phelps had been texting critiques of the race from his perch in the stands.

"He was disappointed we got beat," Bowman said, adding a moment later, "He was just giving me his analysis of the race, things I could have done better." Which was? Another laugh. "I'll keep that to myself."