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Breaking down 4x100 medley relay

The U.S. 4x100-meter medley relay team is a favorite for gold on Sunday (Saturday night East coast time). That would give Michael Phelps a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games. The team from Australia will probably provide the U.S. with its stiffest competition in the race. Although neither team has finalized its final quartet, these are the likely relay swimmers for the medley final and a scouting report as to how the race may evolve ...

Leg One, Backstroke:Aaron Peirsol (U.S.) vs. Hayden Stoeckel (Australia):Peirsol is the Olympic champion in the 100 back and is faster over the last 50. Stoeckel should stay with him for about 30 meters, before Peirsol pulls away. The U.S. will be looking for an advantage of up .6 after this leg. Anything less than half a second keeps the Aussies in the hunt.

Leg Two, Breaststroke:Brendan Hansen (U.S.) vs. Brenton Rickard (Australia): A former world-record holder in the 100 breaststroke, Hansen has been struggling somewhat, but should still be slightly faster than Rickard. Japan's Kosuke Kitajima won the open breaststroke, but Japan's other legs are not fast enough to keep that team in the hunt. Rickard has been coming on and could conceivably be faster the Hansen, but form says the U.S. veteran is faster by a tenth or so.

Leg Three, Butterfly:Michael Phelps (U.S.) vs. Andrew Lauterstein (Australia): Lauterstein swam a PR 51.12 in winning bronze on Saturday, but he was still more than half a second behind Phelps' 50.58. By this point, Phelps should extend the U.S. lead to a second or more, especially given the superior back half he displayed in winning the 100 fly. For the Aussies to have a chance, Lauterstein will have to blast it in the first 50, lose as little ground as possible in the last 50 and hit the wall somewhere between half a body to a body behind Phelps.

Leg Four, Freestyle:Jason Lezak (U.S.) vs. Eamon Sullivan (Australia):

Lezak's outstanding relay split in the 4x100 freestyle notwithstanding, Sullivan is the faster swimmer. It was almost forgotten that he set a world record 47.24 seconds in the first leg of that race, the only split than can be considered for record purposes because it begins from a dead start. Sullivan is an animal over the first 50 meters, so if he is anywhere near Lezak when he jumps in the pool, he could make up a chunk of deficit quickly. If the U.S. lead is more than a bodylength at this point, Lezak should be able to preserve it.

Notes: Phelps would likely have won eight gold medals at the World Championships in Melbourne last year, but the U.S. was disqualified for an illegal exchange in the medley relay. Safe exchanges are a must. Peirsol's take: "We're ready to rock in that race." Lauterstein's take: "We're going to give the Americans a good shake and hopefully keep Phelpsy from getting his eighth gold."

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