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Massive upset by the French

London: France avenged their defeat to the United States in Beijing four years ago, when they snatched the gold medal in the men's 4x100 metres freestyle final, at the London Olympics, on Sunday.

Yannick Agnel, swimming the anchor leg for the French, reeled in Ryan Lochte on the last lap to win gold for France in three minutes, 09.93 seconds.

The Americans, who gambled and lost when they called up Lochte ahead of their sprint specialists, held on to take the silver medal after an exhilarating finish.

Russia got the bronze medal while Australia, who dubbed themselves a “weapon of mass destruction” after winning last year’s World Championship title, could only manage fourth.

Michael Phelps swam the second leg for the Americans and picked up the first silver medal of his Olympic career to lift his overall medal tally to 17, just one shy of the all-time record.

Four years ago, Phelps won an unprecedented eight gold in Beijing, including the men’s relay when the US famously came from behind to beat France on the last lap.

Earlier, South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh broke the world record to win the gold medal in the men’s 100 metres breaststroke final.

Van der Burgh charged through the first lap at breakneck speed then held off his challengers in the last length to reach the wall in 58.46 seconds.

His time trimmed 0.12 seconds off the previous world record of 58.58 set by Australia’s Brenton Rickard at the 2009 World Championships in Rome before polyurethane bodysuits were banned.

Australia’s Christian Sprenger took the silver medal in 58.93 while American Brendan Hansen was third as an exhausted van der Burgh lay down on the lane ropes .

He became the first South African man to win Olympic gold in an individual swimming event.

Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, who won the breaststroke double at Athens in 2004 and Beijing four years later, was fifth, missing his chance to become the first man to win the same individual swimming title at three successive Olympics. He still has the 200 breaststroke later in the programme.

American Dana Vollmer won a gold medal set a world record, too. Not bad for someone who didn’t even qualify four years ago.

Vollmer got things started with a bang Sunday in the 100-metre butterfly. She was third at the turn but powered to the wall for a time of 55.98 seconds, beating the record of 56.06 set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom in a since-banned high-tech bodysuit at the 2009 World Championships.

The American dropped back her head when saw the time, then broke into a huge smile, slapped the water and pumped her fists.

“I’m on top of the world right now.” she said. “I can go faster.” (agencies)