London: Ryan Lochte, the new face of American men's swimming, was upstaged by an astonishing relay leg from France's Yannick Agnel on Sunday, the day after defeating Michael Phelps at the London Olympics.

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The U.S. coaches, influenced by Lochte's victory over eight times Beijing gold medallist Phelps in the 400 metres individual medley, gave the new champion the anchor leg in the 4x100 metres relay.

Neither Lochte nor Phelps competed in the 100 freestyle at the U.S. championships but were still named in the quartet to contest the Olympic final on Sunday.

Lochte, also, does not regularly swim the 100 freestyle but his form on Saturday seemed to justify the gamble.

Instead Agnel swam the race of his life to touch first after clocking 46.74 seconds, a full second faster than the American.

The result was sweet revenge for the French after Jason Lezak caught Alain Bernard with his final stroke in Beijing to hand Phelps one of his titles.

"The 100 free?," shrugged Lochte. "I don't really swim it, I haven't swum the 100 free in a long time."

Cullen Jones, who swam the third leg for the Americans, said Lochte had swum a great race considering it was not one of his events.

"You can't really predict a 46.6," he said. "You really can't. Ryan was beating up on himself but once he heard his time he felt a lot better with it."

Australian Propaganda War

The pre-race propaganda was dominated by Australia's boast that they were "weapons of mass destruction" with James Magnussen as their missile.

Magnussen, Australia's first world 100 freestyle champion,  has installed himself as the hot favourite for the Olympic title and in his first race of the Games on Sunday morning he showed why.

In the relay heats, Magnussen swam the first leg in 47.35 without exerting himself.

His team mates responded by helping the Australians to a year's best and ensuring they were placed in lane four for the final where they could theoretically control the race.

In the final the first sign that the plot was not going to unfold as the Australians had planned came when Magnussen could manage 48.03 only and national champion Nathan Adrian touched first for the Americans.

Phelps maintained the lead with the fastest U.S. leg of 47.15 and Jones kept the Americans ahead until Agnel's heroics in the final leg.

Australia were third at that stage but James Roberts, second fastest man in the world this year behind Magnussen, slipped to fourth behind Russia who captured the bronze.

"Our focus was Australia," added Jones. "But you can't overlook the French team, they have such talent. They are very fast in the freestyle."

The United States won the first seven editions of the race featuring the big beasts of the pool up to the 2000 Sydney Games.

After Gary Hall jnr had promised to play the Australians "like guitars", the hosts won the gold and responded with a triumphant exhibition of air guitar.

South Africa upset the Americans in Athens four years later and France threatened to do the same at the 2008 Beijing Games until Lezak came through in the last split second.

(Agencies)

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