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South Africa halt Phelps gold rush

• Olympics 2004: Special report 

ATHENS, Greece -- South Africa's 4x100 meters freestyle relay team smashed the world record with a sensational victory on Sunday that ended U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps' bid for eight gold medals.

The highly-rated USA squad could only manage the bronze medal with Pieter van Hoogenband producing an inspired final leg to lift the Dutch squad to silver.

World record holders Australia, with Ian Thorpe on the first leg, trailed in sixth.

Roland Schoeman gave the South Africans a more or less insurmountable lead with a 48.17 seconds clocking on the first leg.

Lyndon Ferns and Darian Townsend kep them ahead before Ryk Neethling anchored them home with a blistering 47.91 second leg.

It all added up to three minutes 13.13 seconds, half a second inside the former world record.

The third place finish means that Phelps must now win his six remaining races to achieve his aim of matching Mark Spitz's record of seven golds at one Games.

"We wanted to do better, but this is what we had," Phelps said. "These are the four fastest guys we had. This is only the second time in history we got beat."

The Australians had beaten the USA at the Sydney Olympics, but this time there was to be no repeat.

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