Shocker ... James Magnussen sits in disbelief after Australia finished outside the medals in the 4x100m relay. Photo: Steve Christo
- Live coverage recap: how the shock relay loss unfolded
- Sprenger springs a surprise with silver
- Coutts snares bronze to add to her gold
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The Olympics are all about upsets - you just wish they don't happen to you and your nation. On Sunday night in London, one of the bigger ones in recent Olympic history occurred when the seemingly unbeatable Australian men's 4x100m freestyle relay team did not just fail to win gold, but left the pool without a medal of any colour.
Led by James Magnussen, the fastest man in water, the Australians were unbackable favourites to win the gold. Seemingly, the only matter up for debate was who would take out silver and bronze. But when the wall was touched at the end of eight laps by Australia's number four, James Roberts, his nation had no medal and his team's mettle was being questioned.
Scratching his head ... James Magnussen swam a poor time as Australia finished fourth. Photo: Pat Scala
It was clear very early - to those who knew what was supposed to happen - that Australia were in trouble. Magnussen led off, as he had when the team won the world title in Shanghai last year. But unlike in 2011, his pace was missing. It was as if he was swimming in board shorts.
He was supposed to give the team the lead, from where they would play catch us if you can. Instead, it was his teammates who had to do the chasing after Magnussen clocked 48.03s and touched second behind the American Nathan Adrian (47.89s). Magnussen's best is almost a full second faster at 47.10s.
From there, the team's race plan was out the window, and with it the gold. As Magnussen climbed from the pool and sat in a chair behind the blocks with his head in his hands, his teammates continued to battle - but they had clearly been rattled by his below-par opening leg and were unable to recover the lost ground.
Poor performance ... James Magnussen looks on after the first leg of the relay final. Photo: Steve Christo
Matt Targett touched in third and Eamon Sullivan kept the team there behind the USA and the French, but Roberts could not hold off the fast-finishing Russians and the Australians in the stands were left stunned.
Gold went to the French in 3min 09.93s, silver to the Americans in 3:10.38s and bronze to the Russians in 3:11.41. Australia clocked 3:11.63 in fourth.
"Words can't describe how I feel," Magnussen said afterwards. "I don't know what went wrong. I felt like I was going really well into that race. Obviously that's my first big disappointment at international level and I have to regroup from there and try and back up tomorrow."
Winners ... the France team celebrate their victory. Photo: Steve Christo
Each of the Australians were asked what went wrong, and each seemed just as perplexed as Magnussen.
"It's not the way we envisaged it at all," said Targett. "We thought we prepared for everything but I don't think anybody predicted that scenario. We could have all done better. I don't know how much better but we'll have to look at what happened and analyse it, and if you've got another race you have to get ready."
Roberts added: "It wasn't our plan to be behind. But we have to be prepared no matter what. I think we still did a great job tonight. I still believe we have one of the best teams in the world but unfortunately tonight things didn't work out the way we planned."
The Pool - Day 2
Australia's Christian Sprenger reacts after finishing second in the men's 100m breaststroke final. Photo: Steve Christo.
Sullivan said the Australians never gave up hope, but that "as soon as James touched in 48s, we knew we weren't off to the best start, and we knew it was going to be tough from there.
"As much as you try to prepare yourself for any situation when that happens - and James has felt and looked unbeatable for so long - we were trying to prepare ourselves for any situation but when that happens, that was one thing we weren't expecting. I think it might have thrown us."