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LIQUID GOLD // Smith settles for bronze

Michelle Smith did something unusual Friday night: She won a bronze medal instead of a gold.

Smith, a surprise triple gold medalist at the Games, finished third in the 200-meter butterfly, beaten by Australians Susan O'Neill and silver medalist Petria Thomas.

"It's funny, you know, just as I got my last medal around my neck and I came off the pool deck, I felt tears coming into my eyes," she said. "I started crying, and I thought, "Am I crying because I won a bronze?' And then I thought, "No, I'm crying because I'm going home with three gold and a bronze. And I'm really happy.' "

O'Neill's time was 2:07.76, Thomas finished in 2:09.82 and Smith, winner of the 400 freestyle and 200 and 400 individual medleys, finished in 2:09.91.

When the swimmers walked out on the pool deck to begin the race, Smith was not there. The introductions started and Lane 5 was vacant, then she appeared. "I almost thought she wasn't going to turn up for the race," O'Neill said.

Athletes are required by the rules to march out together, but the FINA technical committee declined to take action, realizing the delay was not her fault.

"My goggles snapped outside, and I was looking for my husband," Smith said. "This time, he decided to watch up in the stands, so he was nowhere to be found. I eventually had to borrow a pair from one of the Dutch girls."

Smith said the goggle incident bothered her. "It wasn't really me in the first 100 meters," Smith said.

In the 50-meter freestyle, Amy Van Dyken earned a record-setting fourth gold medal, adding to golds in the 100 butterfly and two relays. She became the first American female to win four golds in a single Olympics.

Le Jingyi of China won the silver in 24.90. The bronze went to Sandra Voelker of Germany in 25.14.

Final Count Gold Silver Bronze Total

U.S. 13 11 2 26

Australia 2 4 6 12

Germany 0 5 7 12

Russia 4 2 2 8

Hungary 3 1 2 6

China 1 3 2 6