LONDON - Ryan Lochte grabbed at the edge of the pool, head down, staring at the water. Michael Phelps glared at the scoreboard, trying to digest the first silver medal of his Olympic career.
Right beside them, the French celebrated.
It was just like 2008 but with the roles reversed.
This time, it was France chasing down the United States - and Lochte, no less - to win another riveting relay at the Olympics.
"We got our revenge," French swimmer Clement Lefert said.
With Phelps looking much stronger than he did the night before, the Americans built a commanding lead over the first three legs of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay Sunday and never really had to worry about the defending world champions from Australia.
When Lochte dove into the water on the anchor leg, he was a half-body length ahead of the field and looking to add another gold to his dominating victory Saturday in the 400 individual medley.
Not so fast.
Or, should we say, not fast enough.
Yannick Agnel, playing the chaser role that Jason Lezak did for the Americans four years ago in this same event, sliced through the water and was right on Lochte's shoulder as they made the flip at the far end of the pool. With about 25 meters to go, they were stroke for stroke. But Lochte, who had already competed in 1,200 meters of racing over the first two days, simply didn't have enough left to hold off the towering, 20-year-old Frenchman, one of the sport's real rising stars.
"I gave everything in the last 50 until he cracked," Agnel said. "In the last 10 meters, I saw that he was really cracking."
Agnel touched in 3 minutes 9.93 seconds, having gone exactly 1 second faster than Lochte over the last two laps. Lochte and the Americans dropped to silver in 3:10.38, while Australia - the favorite - didn't even get a medal. Russia took the bronze in 3:11.41, edging the team from Down Under by 0.22.
Phelps settled for his 17th career medal and completed his collection of Olympic colors, adding a silver to his 14 golds and two bronzes. He also moved a step closer to becoming the most decorated Olympian ever, just one away from tying the mark for most career medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, and has five events to go.
"At least I'm in a medal today," Phelps said ruefully, referring to a fourth-place finish in his first race of the London Games.
But silver was a bitter disappointment for the Americans, who know how the French felt four years ago.
"I was just really excited and I think I overswam the first 50 and it hurt me for the last 50," Lochte said. "But we were able to get a medal, so I guess that's good."
The U.S. coaches will surely come under scrutiny for going with Lochte, who had little experience in the 100 free and had never competed on this relay at the Olympics. But, coming off his dominant showing the first night, it's hard to argue about going with a swimmer who appeared to have the hottest hand of all.
Two more world records fell earlier in the evening.
American Dana Vollmer took down the mark in the 100 butterfly, then Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa broke another in the 100 breast stroke - denying Japan's Kosuke Kitajima an Olympic three-peat.
This was quite a night for France, and not just because of the relay. Camille Muffat won a riveting 400 freestyle duel with American Allison Schmitt, the two virtually stroke for stroke the entire way. Muffat held on to win by about half a stroke with an Olympic-record time, while Schmitt settled for silver.
Britain's Rebecca Adlington brought out the biggest cheer when she touched third, the home country's first swimming medal of the games.
Local athletes at the London Olympics
How they fared Sunday
• Swimming: Matt Grevers qualified for the 100 backstroke finals and helped the U.S. qualify for the 4x100 relay in which they took silver. Also in the 4x100 relay: Simon Burnett (Great Britain), Nicolas Nilo-Oliveira (Brazil) and Roland Schoeman and Darian Townsend (South Africa). Nick Thoman qualified in the 100 backstroke. Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or (Israel) swam the 200 freestyle in 1:48.60 but failed to make it out of prelims.
• Basketball: Ex-Cat Andre Iguodala played 11 minutes and scored one point for the U.S.
• 2:41 a.m.: 200 IM prelims, Caitlin Leverenz, USA
• 11:58 a.m.: 100 backstroke final, Nick Thoman; Matt Grevers
• 12:55 p.m.: 200 IM semis, Leverenz
• 2 a.m.: 100 free prelims, Nicolas Nilo-Oliveira, Brazil; Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or, Israel
• 2:40 a.m.: 200 breast stroke prelims, Clark Burckle, USA
• 3:02 a.m.: 4x200 relay prelims, Jean Basson, South Africa
• 9:15 a.m.: Soccer, Ana-Maria Montoya, Colombia
• 11:30 a.m.: 100 free semis, Nilo-Oliveira; Shapira Bar-Or
• 12:20 p.m.: 200 breast stroke semis, Burckle
• 12:43 p.m.: 200 IM final, Leverenz
• 2:15 p.m.: Basketball, Andre Iguodala, USA