July 29 - In a stupendous finale to an evening which had already seen world records from Dana Vollmer and Cameron van der Burgh, France produced one of the Olympics' great moments as their the men's 4x100 metres freestyle team took gold from the grip of their United States rivals thanks to an inspired swim from Yannick Agnel.
The final-leg swimmer clocked an individual time of 46.74sec to overhaul the American in the lane next to him, the 400m individual medley winner of the previous evening, Ryan Lochte, whose time was a full second slower.
Thus the French team (pictured top) of Amaury Leveaux, Fabien Gilot, Clement Lefert and Agnel – who clocked 3min 09.93sec to the US time of 3:10.38, with Russia taking bronze with 3:11.41 – reversed the events which took place in the last Olympic 4x100m, when the US came from way back to beat them to the gold.
That performance concluded a marvellous night for France, whose women's 400m freestyle exponent Camille Muffat won in an Olympic record of 4:01.45 in a race which saw Britain's defending champion, Rebecca Adlington, move from sixth at halfway to take bronze amid thunderous acclaim – the home nation's first swimming medal.
While home support meant that Adlington's characteristically determined effort raised the decibels to their height, nothing matched the conclusion of the relay for drama.
Lochte had been given a significant lead thanks to a big second leg swim from his colleague Michael Phelps, but the French were not to be denied.
It was like watching their rugby union team on a good day when, as the world knows, anyone in the world can be beaten.
Four years ago in Beijing the US team, apparently en route to defeat by the French, had produced a stupendous third leg from Jason Lezak, who clocked the fastest leg in history, 46.06, to finish eight-hundredths of a second ahead of Alain Bernard, who had done his best to get under the Americans' skin with his pre-race comments.
That set up Phelps to secure the victory and keep his quest for eight gold medals alive.
"We came out to win, but we came up short," said Lochte.
The US had the consolation of extending their record of having won a medal at this event in every Games they have contested since it became part of the Olympics in 1964.
A silver medal – his first, after two bronzes and a record 14 golds – also took Michael Phelps to an all-time Olympic medal total of 17 – now just one away from equalling the record holder, Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
The French victory was the first in this event by a European nation, and their total of two Olympic swimming golds is already the best they have achieved at any Games.
In the first final of the second day's competition, Vollmer, of the US, produced the second world record to be seen in the Olympic pool as she took the women's 100m butterfly gold, becoming the first woman to break the 56sec barrier in clocking 55.98.
Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, who set the previous world record of 56.06 in winning the 2009 world title, missed out on another medal by one place as Ying Lu of China took silver in 56.87, with bronze going to Alicia Coutts of Australia in 56.94.
"I'm so excited and on top of the world right now," Vollmer said.
"I've never had an individual world record and now a gold medal.
"Everything went as I could have wanted.
"I had a long finish, so I could still go faster [in future races].
Van der Burgh produced the second world record of the night as he won the men's 100m breaststroke in 58.46, thus ending the Olympic domination of the man who finished fifth in lane seven, Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, winner at the 2004 and 2008 Games.
Christian Sprenger of Australia took silver in 58.93, with bronze going to Brendan Hansen of the US, who recorded 59.49.
The South African brushed tears from his eyes after the medal ceremony as he greeted friends and family.
"If there is such a thing as a perfect race I definitely did it at the right time," he said.
"It is just a feeling I can't describe right now.
"The last four years, a lot of work has gone into this moment.
"Everything paid off.
"I do not even care about the world record.
"It doesn't faze me – once you become an Olympic champion they can never take it away from you."
Home hope Adlington, the women's 400 and 800m freestyle champion in Beijing, sent the Aquatics Centre into ear-ringing ferment with her medal-winning performance as she finished behind Muffat and silver medallist Allison Schmitt of the US.
Muffat, who had the world's fastest 2012 time of 4:01.13 to her credit, led throughout, and she and her American challenger soon detached themselves from a race in which the third medal could have gone to any one of four swimmers.
Adlington's final surge took her clear of Italy's world and Olympic record holder Federica Pellegrini, who finished fifth.
"After this morning I didn't know what to expect," said Adlington, who had only squeezed in as the eighth and last qualifier despite winning her opening heat.
"So tonight there was no pressure at all.
"I know everyone else wanted to say 'Oh, you got the gold in Beijing', but to me I was not expecting that at all, so I am pleased with that tonight."
The evening also saw ominously good performances from China's Sun Yang, winner of the previous evening's 400m freestyle in an Olympic record, and 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, who was fastest qualifier for tonight's women's 100m breaststroke final in a European record of 1:05.21, just 0.04sec off the Olympic record held by Australia's Leisel Jones, who qualified in third place behind her.
Sun Yang, who had become the first Chinese swimmer to win an Olympic title last night, laid down another significant marker in qualifying fastest for Monday's final of the 200m freestyle in 1:45.61, the fastest time swum this year.
Sun, who trains on the Gold Coast in Australia under the eye of Grant Hackett's long-time coach Denis Cotterell, arrived in London 2012 as favourite in the 1500m, where he won the world title in Shanghai last year in a world record time.
Tonight's performance offered the possibility that he might arrive at that 1500m final with two golds already in his possession.
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July 2012: Swim queen Adlington exceeds expectation by claiming 400m freestyle bronze
July 2012: Duel in the pool goes Lochte's way as Ye smashes world record