by Martin Parry & Tom Allnutt

China’s women stunned the field to smash the world record and win the Olympic 4x200m relay title in a major upset Thursday.

The team of Yang Junxuan, Tang Muhan, Zhang Yufei and Li Bingjie touched in 7mins 40.33 seconds ahead of the United States (7:40.73) and Australia (7:41.29).

Gold medallist China’s Li Bingjie, China’s Yang Junxuan, China’s Tang Muhan and China’s Zhang Yufei pose with their medals after they set a new World Record in the final of the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo on July 29, 2021. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP.

It is the first time neither Australia nor the USA have won gold since the event was introduced in 1996.

All three teams were under the previous world record of 7:41.50 set by Australia at the 2019 world championships.

But China took the title after Li held off a late charge by America’s Katie Ledecky, who threatened an incredible comeback during the final leg.

“We didn’t expect to win the gold,” said Li. “We thought we would finish third because Australia and the United States are very strong.

“We thought maybe we could be competitive with Canada so when we talked about tactics in the morning we just talked about what we would do against Canada.”

Ledecky’s 1:53.76 was the fastest leg of the race.

“These girls swam their lights out and I got in a position where I thought I could take on those ladies next to us,” Ledecky said.

“I wish I had another half-second in me but I gave it my all.”

Australia had been the overwhelming favourites coming in, with their women’s team already winning gold in the 4x100m relay on Sunday, when they broke their own world record.

With Australian star Ariarne Titmus leading the team off on the back of wins in the 200m and 400m freestyle events this week, the expectation was they would cruise to another victory.

“It was a really fast race,” Titmus said. “We were under our previous world record, so it was still a good swim from us.

“I feel like I should’ve been better but it’s what you can do on the day and it’s been a big couple of days, so I’m happy to come away on the podium.”

Titmus trailed Yang at the end of the first leg and that set the tone, as Australia’s Emma McKeon, a bronze medallist in the 100m butterfly, was behind after the second too.

China’s Zhang, who had earlier won gold in the 200m butterfly, conceded some ground to America’s Katie McLaughlin and Australian Madison Wilson in the third, before Ledecky made her move.

The six-time Olympic gold medallist pushed past Australian anchor Leah Neale and looked like she could even snatch victory with one length left to go.

But Li dug in, holding off Ledecky to win by less than half-a-second and secure China their second swimming gold of the Games.

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