ATHENS, Greece – The record stood for 17 years, a despised symbol of a cold-hearted regime that systematically drugged its athletes in the pursuit of Olympic glory.
Finally, it's been knocked off the books.
The American women completed a sweep of the 800-meter freestyle relay with a dominating performance at the Olympic pool Wednesday night, taking down the oldest — and most tarnished — world record in swimming.
Kaitlin Sandeno (search) swam the final leg and cruised to the wall in a time of 7 minutes, 53.42 seconds, easily beating the mark of 7:55.47 set exactly 17 years earlier by East Germany.
"It burned people a lot, and we all know the reason why," U.S. women's coach Mark Schubert said. "We're very proud to have that record back."
The East Germans set the relay record at an Aug. 18, 1987, meet in France. Two years later, the Berlin Wall came down and communism collapsed, bringing to light evidence of massive cheating by a country that viewed athletic success as a validation of its oppressive way of life.
Even those left in the American wake were glad to see East Germany's mark wiped out.
"It was a pretty old one and perhaps a little bit tainted," Australia's Petria Thomas said. "It's great it's been broken."
How long did the record hold up? Sixteen-year-old Dana Vollmer (search), who swam the third leg for the Americans, wasn't even born when the East Germans set the mark.
Natalie Coughlin (search) led off for the Americans, swimming a faster time than the gold-medal performance in the 200 free. Carly Piper (search) took over next, followed by Vollmer and Sandeno, who didn't look the least bit tired after finishing fourth in the 200 butterfly just 45 minutes earlier.
"We're tough chicks," Sandeno said, adding there's nothing tainted about this record. "We're clean as we can be."
The victory came 24 hours after a thrilling U.S. victory in the men's 800 free relay in which Klete Keller held off a hard-charging Ian Thorpe to win gold over Australia by 13-hundredths of a second, one of the greatest races in Olympic history.
Clearly inspired by that performance, the American women blew everyone away. China, more than 21/2 seconds behind, took the silver, while Germany edged out Australia for the bronze by just five-hundredths of a second.
The Americans remained perfect in the women's 800 free relay, winning their third straight Olympic title. The race became part of the Olympic program at the 1996 Atlanta Games, long after East Germany fell apart.
Also Wednesday, Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands repeated as the Olympic champion in the 100 freestyle, Japan's Kosuke Kitajima completed a sweep of the men's breaststroke events, and Otylia Jedrzejczak of Poland won her third medal of the games with a victory in the 200 butterfly.
Another world record was set in the semifinals of the women's 100 freestyle. Australian Jodie Henry won her heat in 53.52, lowering the mark of 53.66 set by Lisbeth Lenton at the Australian trials in March.
"Oh my God, that was nuts," said Henry, who also anchored Australia's world-record performance in the 400 free relay.
Van den Hoogenband won his second straight gold in the 100 free by overcoming South Africa's Roland Schoeman with a furious sprint to the finish.
"Pieter had to swim the race of his life to catch me," Schoeman said.
The Flying Dutchman was ecstatic — letting out a yell, pounding the water with his arm, skimming over a lane rope — while the orange-clad fans from Holland chanted "Pieter! Pieter! Pieter!"
"I feel I'm drunk," Hoogie said. "It so much harder to defend your title."
The 100 final lacked some of its star power. Two-time champion Alexander Popov of Russia failed to get out of the semifinals and American Gary Hall Jr., who won bronze in Sydney, didn't even qualify for the event at the U.S. trials. The two who did, Jason Lezak and Ian Crocker, were eliminated in the preliminaries.
"I think everyone was kind of shocked that there were no Americans and no Alex Popov," Thorpe said.
Van den Hoogenband's winning time was 48.17, just ahead of Schoeman's 48.23. Thorpe rallied for the bronze, his fourth medal of these games and ninth of his career. It was a turnabout of the 200 free, in which Thorpe edged van den Hoogenband for the gold.
Kitajima added the 200 breaststroke title to the 100 race he won Sunday — and left no doubt about who has the upper hand in the rivalry with American Brendan Hansen.
After Kitajima's win in the 100, American swimmer Aaron Peirsol accused the Japanese star of using an illegal dolphin kick at the start of the race. Officials found nothing wrong with his technique.
No complaints from the Americans about this race. Kitajima was simply the better man, leading throughout to become the first Japanese swimmer to win two gold medals at an Olympics.
"I don't care about the controversy, although it did motivate me to win this race," Kitajima said.
Hansen couldn't even hold on for second, getting edged at the wall by 15-year-old Daniel Gyurta of Hungary. Kitajima won in 2:09.44, breaking the Olympic record set by American Mike Barrowman at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Hansen managed a weak smile as he climbed atop the medal stand to have the bronze draped around his neck. He was clearly disgusted with failing to win a single gold after setting world records in both breaststroke events at the U.S. trials.
"I am disappointed because I have the record and not the (gold) medal," said Hansen, who won silver in the 100 breast. "It's unfortunate that the run-up to the Olympics took something out of me."
Jedrzejczak overtook Australia's Thomas to win the 200 butterfly. The winner touched in 2:06.05, just off her own world mark of 2:05.78 set two years ago. Thomas won silver — a reversal of their positions in the 100 fly. Japan's Yuko Nakanishi touched just ahead of Sandeno for the bronze.
Jedrzejczak and Thomas both have three medals apiece at the Athens Games.
For one night, at least, Michael Phelps ceded the spotlight. The 19-year-old American finally had a day in which he didn't swim a final, settling for an Olympic record in the semifinals of the 200 individual medley.
Phelps will be an overwhelming favorite for gold Thursday, looking to add to his already impressive medal haul of three golds and two bronzes.
Peirsol set an Olympic record in the semifinals of 200 backstroke. Like Phelps, he'll be a big favorite for gold Thursday.