Matt Grevers scratched his head, wondering what went wrong.
Nathan Adrian and Ryan Lochte stared at the scoreboard, their jaws open in disbelief. Kevin Cordes stood on the deck with his hands on his head.
“That’s like a punch in the gut right there,” U.S. men’s head coach Bob Bowman said.
Moments earlier, all four swimmers were embracing each other, again celebrating that surest of gold medals in the pool — the men’s 4x100 medley relay.
It’s a race the U.S. has never lost, except for disqualification.
Since the race’s inception at the 1976 Montreal Games, the Americans’ only defeat at a worlds or Olympics came at the 2007 worlds in Melbourne, Australia, when Ian Crocker dove too soon for the butterfly leg in morning heats.
This time, the disqualification came during Sunday’s final before a crowd of 10,000 screaming fans inside the sweaty Palau Sant Jordi. And after Adrian touched the wall first in the anchor leg by nearly 1.5 seconds — an eternity in swimming.
Cordes, a 19-year-old competing at his first worlds, dove for his breaststroke leg 0.04 seconds before Grevers touched the wall to complete his backstroke leg.
The rules allow a leeway of 0.03, so it was 0.01 over the limit — the smallest margin possible.
“It’s as much my fault or more than Kevin’s,” Grevers said. “The guy coming in is usually the one responsible. I kind of slipped off my start and got a little more tired than I wanted to at the end.
When “DQ” was placed next to United States on the scoreboard, France moved up to take the gold, while the silver went to Australia and Japan snatched the bronze.