Tom Dolan gave America its first gold medal of the Olympics, the biggest prize so far in his nation's surprising swimming domination.
He and Eric Namesnik finished 1-2 in the 400-meter individual medley Sunday night, and 14-year-old Amanda Beard of Irvine charged from seventh place in the final 50 meters to capture silver in the women's 100 breaststroke.
That brought their country's swimming haul to six medals--a gold, four silvers and a bronze. Only Germany with four and Australia with two had more than one going into the final race of the night--the men's 800 freestyle relay that the United States was expected to win.
Fifteen minutes after Beard just missed catching Penny Heyns of South Africa, Dolan and Namesnik stood with bronze medalist Curtis Myden of Canada on the medals stand.
With a ring in his left ear, a small American flag in his right hand and a gold medal around his neck, Dolan stood for his national anthem.
One banner in the crowd read, "Dolan is Golden." President Clinton's daughter Chelsea stood and applauded. When the anthem ended, Dolan, palms up, repeatedly lifted both hands, urging the crowd on as it chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A."
Dolan, the world record holder in the 400 IM, and Namesnik traded the lead for the first 300 meters. And after the first 50 meters of the final stroke, the freestyle, Namesnik led by three-hundredths of a second.
But Dolan overtook his University of Michigan training partner and won in 4 minutes, 14.90 seconds. His world record is 4:12.30. Namesnik finished in 4:15.25, and Curtis Myden of Canada won bronze in 4:16.28.
In the morning qualifying trials, Namesnik finished first and Dolan, who interrupted his stroke to get water out of his goggles, was third.
"My breathing wasn't very good. It's usually better at night," he said after that heat. "You learn to stay focused that way."
Beard said after her morning heat that she needed a better start. She didn't get it and her medal chances were in serious danger halfway through her race.
But she posted the best time in the final 50 meters and finished in 1:08.09, an American Record. Heyns, who set a world record of 1:07.02 in qualifying, won in 1:07.72. Samantha Riley of Australia was third in 1:09.18.
In the first race of the night, Claudia Poll gave Costa Rica its first Olympic swimming gold medal as she won the 200 freestyle.
When it ended, she lay on her back in the middle of the pool, raising a tiny Costa Rican flag and shifting between joyful tears and broad smiles.
She won by overtaking world record holder Franziska van Almsick of Germany, who held on for silver in 1:58.57. Poll's winning time was 1:58.16.
The United States missed out on medals by the length of a fingernail. Dagmar Hase of Germany outstretched Trina Jackson of Jacksonville, Fla., to gain the bronze in 1:59.56. Jackson was just one-hundredth of a second behind.
Poll, 23, passed van Almsick about 80 meters into the race and never gave up her lead. Her sister, Silvia, won Costa Rica's only other Olympic swimming medal, a silver in the 200 freestyle in 1988.
The other American, Cristina Teuscher, of New Rochelle, N.Y., finished sixth.
Beard said she had Olympic jitters in her morning heat as she swam before a full house of 15,000 noisy spectators. But she posted the second-best qualifying time.
"I was pretty scared when I first went out there. I was scared at the trials but here you have all these people in the stands," said Beard, who had watched Saturday's races from those same stands. "A few of the guys on the team told me, 'Amanda, it's 10 times louder down there than in the stands.' "
She expected to be better prepared for the Sunday night finals, but a gold medal for the high school sophomore from Irvine seemed unlikely.
That's because Heyns smashed her own world record by 44-hundredths of a second with a time of 1 minute, 7.02 seconds in her qualifying heat.
"She deserves it a lot. She's just an amazing person," said Beard, whose time was 1:09.04. "I didn't have a very strong first 50" meters.