Veldhuis anchors Dutch to relay gold

BEIJING Sun Aug 10, 2008 1:37am EDT

1 of 2. (L-R) Marleen Veldhuis, Inge Dekker and Ranomi Kromowidjojo of Netherlands are congratulated by Australia's Melanie Schlanger and Lisbeth Trickett after the women's 4x100m freestyle relay swimming final during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 10, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

BEIJING (Reuters) - Marleen Veldhuis anchored the Netherlands to women's 4x100 metres freestyle relay gold on Sunday to secure her country's first Olympic title in the event in 72 years.

Dara Torres, who became the first U.S. swimmer to compete in five Olympics as well as the oldest at 41, followed Veldhuis home for the silver while world champions Australia finished third.

Torres, who now has 10 Olympic medals, was already the oldest swimmer to win a medal. She won her first in 1984 before team mate Michael Phelps, who won his ninth medal earlier, was born.

The Dutch quartet, whose Olympic record time of 3:33.76 was only just outside the world mark of 3:33.62 they set in March, were chasing their country's first gold in the event since the 1936 Berlin Games.

In the end, they won by a body length.

"Of course we went in the race as world record holders but we knew that especially America and Australia would be fast and strong," said Veldhuis. "So we just went in to explode in the water and see what results we get."

The Dutch were only seventh after the first leg of 54.37 swum by Inge Dekker, with Germany's former world record holder Britta Steffen nearly a second quicker in first place, but Ranomi Kromowidjojo moved them up to second.

Femke Heemskerk then took the lead before handing over to Veldhuis for the final touch.

World champions Australia, with current world record holder Libby Trickett returning after missing the heats, took the bronze after fighting back from teenager Cate Campbell's last place at the first handover and seventh at the halfway stage.

Trickett's final split of 52.34 was the fastest of the race.

"It was great, we're really happy with our performance, we came up with an Australian record," she said.

"Third is nothing to be sneezed at, I'm proud to be part of this team and get on the podium again.

"The Dutch were fantastic, they're great, they deserved that."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)