ATHENS, Greece – Top American sprinters Jason Lezak and Ian Crocker missed the cut in the Olympic 100-meter freestyle preliminaries Tuesday, a stunning blow for a country that had always done well in the event.
Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands and Australian Ian Thorpe (search) advanced to the evening semifinal a day after dueling teenager Michael Phelps (search) failed to win gold in the 200 freestyle, won by Thorpe. The Dutchman was second and Phelps third.
Americans Kaitlin Sandeno and Dana Kirk qualified in the 200 butterfly, as did teammates Brendan Hansen and Scott Usher in the 200 breaststroke.
On Monday, two American swimmers grabbed gold medals. Natalie Coughlin (search) of Concord, Calif., won the 100 backstroke, falling short of her own sub-minute world record, and Aaron Peirsol of Irvine, Calif., won the men's 100 backstroke.
Phelps had the morning off after Thorpe spoiled the teenager's bid to win seven gold medals with a victory in the 200 freestyle Monday night. Phelps settled for bronze, ensuring that Mark Spitz's (search) record of seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games will endure.
Phelps has one gold, in the 400 individual medley, and two bronzes in his first three races.
Crocker was 17th in 49.73 seconds — missing the 16-man semifinal by one-hundredth of a second. He has been sick with a sore throat since the swimming competition began Saturday.
"I'm trying to ignore it," said Crocker, of Portland, Maine. "Everything is getting better day by day. I keep telling myself I'm getting better."
Lezak was worse, finishing 20th with a time of 49.87 seconds — off his personal best of 48.17, which was the top qualifying time coming into Athens. The 28-year-old from Irvine, Calif., made a costly tactical error.
"I felt fine. I just didn't take care of the race part of it and I paid for it," he said.
It was the first time the Americans didn't get at least one swimmer through to the 100 free final in a non-boycotted Olympics. The United States has earned 12 golds, nine silvers and seven bronzes in the sprint event.
"I don't think any of us know what happened. That's not like him at all," U.S. men's coach Eddie Reese said of Lezak. "The 100 free is one of the best events of the meet. We just won't be a part of it."
Gary Hall Jr. won a silver in the 1996 Atlanta Games and a bronze in Sydney, but was beaten out for a spot in the event by Lezak in the U.S. trials.
The ailing Crocker had his second poor swim of the games. He led off the 400 freestyle relay Sunday with the worst 100 split in the race — a dismal 50.05 — leaving his teammates with a deficit too big to close. The United States finished third, its worst showing in the event.
Van den Hoogenband, the defending Olympic champion, led the way in 48.70. He's won a pair of silvers in Athens.
Rolandas Gimbutis of Lithuania was second in 48.85. Ryk Neethling, who anchored South Africa's surprising victory in the 400 freestyle relay Sunday, was third in 48.85.
Thorpe, who's won two gold medals in Athens, was sixth in 49.17.
Alexander Popov, a four-time Russian Olympian, was eighth in 49.51. He won the 100 free in Barcelona and Atlanta, but took silver at Sydney.
The American men rebounded from their surprise defeat in the 400 freestyle relay by being the fastest team in the 800 freestyle relay preliminaries. Scott Goldblatt, Ryan Lochte, Dan Ketchum and Peter Vanderkaay finished in 7:12.80 — a full two seconds better than Australia's 7:14.85. Germany was third in 7:16.75.
But Thorpe and Grant Hackett will join the Australian team Tuesday night.
Phelps, Klete Keller and either Vanderkaay or Ketchum will team with Lochte for the final, attempting to take back the Olympic title the Aussies took in 2000.
"We've got a good shot at winning it," Lochte said.
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, who won the 100 breaststroke Sunday, and silver medalist Brendan Hansen of Haverford, Pa., will resume their rivalry in the 200 breaststroke evening semifinals.
Kitajima advanced with the second-best time of 2:11.97, behind Hungary's Daniel Gyurta, who finished in 2:11.29.
"I was a little bit tense for the first time in a long time," said Kitajima, who was accused by U.S. backstroker Aaron Peirsol of cheating by using an illegal dolphin kick in the 100 breaststroke.
Hansen was fifth-fastest in 2:12.77; Scott Usher of Grand Island, Neb., was ninth in 2:13.59.
In the women's 200 butterfly, Otylia Jedrzejczak of Poland, who has won two silvers, was fastest in 2 minutes, 9.64 seconds. Yuko Nakanishi of Japan was second in 2:10.04, and Germany's Eva Risztov was third in 2:10.49.
Sandeno, of Lake Forest, Calif., was fourth in 2:10.50. The 200 fly will be her third individual event of the games; she has a silver and a bronze from two other races.
The two-time Olympian saw that Lezak missed the cut, and made sure she stuck to her game plan.
"I didn't want to risk anything," Sandeno said. "I told myself that I really needed to go quickly. I couldn't take it for granted," she said.
Kirk, of Bremerton, Wash., qualified 12th for the evening semifinal in 2:11.96.