I watched the 4x100 Freestyle Relay in a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The bar was packed and the TVs were on with the sound off. More importantly, the bar was packed with hipsters, a group that generally does not care too much about sports, and only one tv was showing the games.
The French team's quote flashed on the screen as the teams were warming up.
"The Americans? We're going to smash them. That's what we came here for."
That comment only received minimal murmurs of boos. Obviously, relatively few people among the crowd of 100+ were paying attention, but for those that were, it got them that much more amped for the race. My group, for instance, tried to spread the antagonistic word as much as possible.
As the race went on, the din grew louder; more and more people were watching.
The crowd gave bursts of cheers anytime the Americans took, or even simply battled for, the lead, and conversely, responded with "ughs" of disappointment anytime they gave ground.
The cheers were trumping the "ughs" as Jason Lezak jumped in the pool for the anchor lap, though I would bet the majority (myself included) had assumed that it was Phelps swimming the last leg.
The cheers grew during the first 50 meters as Lezak was close to even with Alain Bernard (the author of the above quote), and they even culminated in a "USA" chant as they approached the turn. Though immediately after, the bar fell silent when we saw the gap in the turnaround, Bernard suddenly seeming to lead by more than ever before, and instantly the room's anxiety was palpable.
As Lezak started gaining ground in the middle of the pool, the crowd went from resigned disappointment to hope in those five seconds; the murmur grew and had already burst into screams by the time he touched the wall. This time, when the official finish flashed, the 100+ of us sustained the drunken USA chants for much longer, replete with fist pumps and bar slaps.
That was then followed by a cacophony of "wows" and everyone catching their breath.
Just as the chant had died down, and a chant of "Fuck the French" had failed to gain traction, NBC showed the replay and a loud burst a of "Yeahs" answered. They showed the replay again not 10 seconds later, and as Lezak touched the wall, now for the third time, another huge cheer came . And then they showed the replay again and again, maybe 10 more times, and each time as Lezak touched the wall the entire bar erupted with yet another hurrah.
The bar exchanged high fives and traded exclamations of excitement, and the high lingered as everyone seemed to be less shocked by the actual race, and more surprised at the spontaneous passion that it inspired.
Update: A cool interactive graphic of the race (NYT)