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Relay women issue challenge to men
Liam FitzGibbon
08:07 AEST Sun Jul 29 2012

Over to you, boys.

While all the pre-Games Olympic hype surrounded Australia's men's 4x100m freestyle team, the women got the jump on them to claim the nation's first gold medal in London on Saturday night.

The opening night of swimming was starting to look grim for Australia, especially after Stephanie Rice could finish only sixth, surrendering her 400m individual medley title and world record to Chinese 16-year-old Ye Shiwen.

Earlier, Thomas-Fraser Holmes had finished seventh and Ryan Napoleon eighth in the 400IM and 400m freestyle finals respectively.

But an all-Queensland quartet of Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie and Melanie Schlanger stepped in to upset favourites the Netherlands and steal a gold medal head coach Leigh Nugent described as a "bonus".

Australia's men are hot favourites to follow suit on Sunday and Campbell joked the women had "given them something to reach for".

"They're reigning world champions but we're reigning Olympic champions. They'll have to wait to join us," Campbell said.

Australia clocked an Olympic record of three minutes and 33.15 seconds to come in ahead of the Dutch (3:33.79) with the US (3:34.24) in third.

Australia's decision to leave veteran swimmer Libby Trickett out of the team was vindicated as 18-year-old Elmslie did well to give Australia a strong chance heading into the final 100m.

But Schlanger was the star of the show as she clocked a brilliant final leg of 52.65 to fend off Dutch star Romy Kromowidjojo, who sizzled home in 51.93.

"I was really able to put together a good race and that's the only way Olympic gold medals are won," Schlanger said.

Trickett will still get her fourth Olympic gold medal, with all seven swimmers to receive one after Emily Seebohm and Yolane Kukla also took part in the heats.

Elmslie paid tribute to the veteran, whose campaign in London is over having not qualified for any other events.

"Libby's such a great athlete and she'll always have earned the respect of Australia as she's done everything in the past and she's had the experience," Elmslie said.

"I just did my own thing in the heat and the coaches decided the end decision and I'm just happy that I could to Australia proud."

Nugent added: "Having a gold medal - and it's really stealing it from the favourites, which is probably a bonus for us.

Coutts' strong lead-out performance followed an excellent performance in the 100m butterfly semi-finals, where she clocked a PB of 56.85 to qualify second fastest behind American Dana Vollmer (56.36).

Fraser-Holmes (4:13.49) was upbeat despite finishing seventh in the men's 400IM, won by Ryan Lochte as fellow US star Michael Phelps missed a medal.

"I'm proud of it. There were two of the all-time greats out there," he said.

Ryan Napoleon (3:49.25), too, said he would take positives out of finishing last in the 400m final behind Chinese star Sun Yang.

Australia will have two representatives in Sunday's 100m breaststroke final after Brenton Rickard (59.50) and Christian Sprenger (59.61) qualified third and fourth fastest respectively.

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