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U.S. program rises to the top

Finally, Gary Hall Jr. beat Alexander Popov to the wall. Finally, the United States swimming program proved beyond any doubt it doesn't have its back to the wall.

"The U.S. program, it isn't just teetering at the top," said backstroker Tripp Schwenk of Sarasota. "We're at the top."

Schwenk, silver medalist in the 200 backstroke, was actually the slowpoke Friday night. That's how good an Olympic finale it was for the Americans at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Teammate Brad Bridgewater was the only man who could beat Schwenk. Bridgewater swam a career best of 1:58.54 in the 200 and Schwenk finished in 1:58.99. Emanuele Merisi of Italy took third.

The American men not only upset the favored Russians in the climactic 4x100 medley relay, it wasn't even close. When Hall anchored the final leg to thundering cheers, the U.S. had shattered the world record by a whopping 2.09 seconds with a time of 3:34.84.

It made the United States a perfect 6-for-6 in relays at the games and was the 400th medal in its Olympic swimming history.

Jeff Rouse's blazing start in the backstroke gave the U.S. team a body-length lead and Jeremy Linn extended it in the breaststroke. Mark Henderson held on tough against Russia's double gold-medalist Denys Pankratov in the butterfly, and Hall never was threatened by Popov, who had beaten him in the 50- and 100- freestyle races.

"Coming into this meet, we were underdogs and this is a perfect example of what it means for a team to come together," said Hall, who already had won gold in the 100 backstroke.

Defending Olympic champion Kieren Perkins of Australia won the 1,500 freestyle.

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