China’s women stunned the field to smash the world record and win the Olympic 4×200-meter relay title in a major upset Thursday.
The team of Yang Junxuan, Zhang Yufei, Li Bingjie and Tang Muhan touched in 7 minutes, 40.33 seconds ahead of the United States (7:40.73) and Australia (7:41.29).
It is the first time neither Australia nor the U.S. have won gold since the event was introduced in 1996.
All three teams were under the previous world record of 7:41.50 set by Australia at the 2019 world championships.
But China took the title after holding off a late charge by America’s Katie Ledecky, who threatened an incredible comeback during the final leg.
“These girls swam their lights out and I got in a position where I thought I could take on those ladies next to us,” Ledecky said. “I wish I had another half-second in me but I gave it my all.”
Australia had been the overwhelming favorites coming in, with their women’s team already winning gold in the 4x100m relay on Sunday, when they broke their own world record.
With Australian star Ariarne Titmus leading the team off on the back of wins in the 200 and 400 freestyle events this week, the expectation was they would cruise to another victory.
“It was a really fast race,” Titmus said. “We were under our previous world record, so it was still a good swim from us.
“I feel like I should’ve been better but it’s what you can do on the day and it’s been a big couple of days, so I’m happy to come away on the podium.”
Titmus trailed Yang at the end of the first leg and that set the tone, as Australia’s Emma McKeon, a bronze medallist in the 100-meter butterfly, was behind after the second too.
China’s Zhang, who had earlier won gold in the 200-meter butterfly, conceded some ground to America’s Katie McLaughlin and Australian Madison Wilson in the third, before Ledecky made her move.
The six-time Olympic gold medalist pushed past Australian anchor Leah Neale and looked like she could even snatch victory with one length left to go.
But Li dug in, holding off Ledecky to win by less than 0.5 seconds and secure China their second swimming gold of the Games.
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