LONDON -- In two days, Yannick Agnel pushed ahead of the top American swimmers in a come-from-behind anchor leg of a relay race, then routed a stellar field all by himself -- earning a second gold medal and a handshake from the president of France.
Not bad for a 20-year-old at his first Olympics.
Agnel led the 200 freestyle from start to finish yesterday and clocked 1 minute, 43.14 seconds for the best time ever in a textile suit -- a whopping 0.72 ahead of Michael Phelps' 2007 mark.
"I had to look twice at the scoreboard to be sure it was the right time. I had a race plan in my head, but this is above my expectations and hopes," Agnel said.
French president Francois Hollande, who was on hand for the race, said: "Remarkable -- two gold medals two nights in a row." Hollande pushed his way past reporters to congratulate Agnel.
Defending silver medalist Park Tae-hwan of South Korea and 400 free champion Sun Yang of China shared silver in 1:44.93, while world champion Ryan Lochte finished fourth and world-record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany was fifth.
With so many standouts, and despite Phelps' decision not to enter, the event was dubbed the "Race of the Century." On Sunday, Agnel anchored the French victory in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, using his 6-6 frame to push ahead of Lochte and the Americans.
"He's a great racer, there's no doubt about it," Lochte said. "He's quick and he showed it last night and tonight."
Agnel won eight golds at the 2009 and 2010 European junior championships and he is competing in his first Olympics.
Named after French tennis great Yannick Noah, Agnel played tennis before he discovered swimming at the age of 8 in his neighbor's pool in the southern town of Nimes. His parents split when he was 11 and Agnel met his coach, Fabrice Pellerin, after moving to Nice.
"My parents' divorce was really a tough blow," he said. "But it helped me to grow up, to become more responsible and to be stronger mentally."
Agnel's next event comes this morning with the 100 free heats. He's also swimming the 4 x 200 free relay and the 4 x 100 medley relay.