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 like 2008 but with the roles reversed. This time, it was France chasing down the United States in the 400-meter freestyle relay to win at the Olympics.
"We got our revenge," France's Clement Lefert said.
The Americans built a commanding lead over the first three legs Sunday with Nathan Adrian, Phelps and Cullen Jones. When Lochte dived in for the anchor leg, he was a half-body length ahead of the field and looking to add a gold to his dominating victory Saturday in the 400 individual medley.
Not so fast.
Yannick Agnel, playing the chaser role Jason Lezak did for the Americans four years ago, 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. And Lochte, the former Gator who had already competed in 1,200 meters of racing over the first two days, couldn't hold off Agnel, who touched in 3 minutes, 9.93 seconds.
The Americans dropped to silver in 3:10.38. Russia took the bronze.
Phelps settled for his 17th career medal and completed his collection of Olympic colors, adding a silver to his 14 golds and two bronzes.
"At least I'm in a medal," he said ruefully, referring to his fourth-place finish to Lochte on Saturday.
Four years ago, France had the lead in the race and its best sprinter, Alain Bernard, going out on the final leg. But Lezak swam the fastest relay leg in history, beating Bernard by 0.08 seconds to keep Phelps on track for his record eight gold medals.
"I was just really excited, and I think I overswam the first 50, and it hurt me for the last 50," Lochte said.
The U.S. coaches might come under scrutiny for choosing Lochte for the relay. He has little experience in the 100 free and had never competed in this relay at the Olympics.
Two more world records fell earlier in the evening, the second and third of the Games. American Dana Vollmer took down the mark in the 100 butterfly. Then Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa broke the record in the 100 breaststroke, denying Japan's Kosuke Kitajima a threepeat.
France's Camille Muffat won a riveting 400 freestyle duel with American Allison Schmitt. Britain's Rebecca Adlington touched third, the home country's first swimming medal of the Games.
Vollmer's 55.98 seconds beat the record of 56.06 set by Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom at the 2009 world championships.
"I still know I can go faster," said Vollmer, who had one of the two caps she wears during a race pop off somewhere during the first 50 meters.
Kitajima was trying to become the first male swimmer to win the same race at three straight Olympics. He finished fifth. Van der Burgh won in 58.46, knocking off another mark set at the 2009 worlds. American Brendan Hansen claimed bronze.