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Dutch women win freestyle relay gold in close race

The Netherlands women's team won the 4 times 100-metre freestyle relay ahead of the United States and Australia, the reining Olympic champions. Earlier this year, the Dutch team broke the world record. The French team came in sixth.

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The Netherlands won a hotly contested women's 4x100 metres freestyle relay Sunday, adding the gloss of Olympic gold to the world record they captured earlier this year.

Inge Dekker (54.37), Ranomi Kromowidjojo (53.39), Femke Heemskerk (53.42) and Marleen Veldhuis (52.58) -- finished strongly to take the gold medal in an Olympic record three minutes 33.76 seconds.

"To say we are happy would be an understatement," said Veldhuis, adding that despite claiming the world record at the European championships, the Dutch knew they would have a hard time against reigning Olympic champions Australia and the United States.

"We knew we had to explode into the water and see what happens," Veldhuis said. "We were hoping to win it, but we never expected to win like that.

The Dutch were only 0.14secs off their world record of 3:33.62 set at the European championships in Eindhoven in March.

The United States, anchored by 41-year-old Dara Torres, were second in 3:34.33 - an American record.

Australia, whose lead-off swimmer Cate Campbell only turned 16 in May, took the bronze in 3:35.05 - an Oceanian record.

"It's just bizarre," Torres said of the age difference between her and Campbell. "I think I might be older than her parents.

"I met her for the first time when I came into the warm-up room and introduced myself to all the Australians for the first time.

"I had never even met Libby (Trickett) before, she just looked so young and innocent with this big smile," added Torres, who was joined in the US team by Natalie Cougholin, Lacey Nymeyer and Kara Lynn Joyce.

Trickett, the 100m world record-holder, anchored the Australian side of Campbell, Alice Mills and Melanie Schlanger.

The Dutch were bronze medallists behind Australia in Athens and silver medallists in the event at the 1932, 1952, 1984, 1988 and 2000 Olympics.

It was the Netherlands' second Olympic gold medal in the women's freestyle relay following their win at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

"It's fantastic for the Dutch team, they are great people and they deserve everything they get," Trickett said.

China, the fastest qualifiers in Saturday's heats, were greeted by a rapturous ovation as they took the deck, and cheered loudly as they tussled for a medal before finishing fourth in an Asian record of 3:35.64.

Germany, the early pacesetters thanks to former world record-holder Britta Steffen's lead-off leg of 53.38, finished fifth.

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