American Kaitlin Sandeno single-handedly pried a gold medal from a speedy Australian 4x200 women's relay team Thursday night at the swimming world championships, overcoming a race-long deficit over the final 100 meters for a stirring victory that barely preserved the recent U.S. dominance in the event.

Sandeno, who passed Australia's Linda Mackenzie on the last lap with the fastest non-leadoff leg of the night, touched the wall in a championship-record 7 minutes 53.70 seconds, a mere .28 of a second off of the world record the U.S. team set at last year's Summer Games in Athens. That victory, which Sandeno also anchored, had broken a 17-year-old East German record.

"I do really well under pressure," Sandeno, 22, said. "I love the challenge. I love to step up for us. It's kind of like a little carrot out there being dangled in front of you."

Sandeno's last leg in 1:57.57 helped overcome an Aussie lead of nearly two seconds after a relatively slow leadoff leg by Natalie Coughlin, who couldn't keep pace with Lisbeth Lenton. The deficit grew at the 300-meter mark as Katie Hoff got a slow jump, but Hoff made up over a second against Shayne Reese by the time she touched the wall.

"I was a little nervous for the exchange," said Hoff, 16, of Towson. "This was my first international relay, I was like, 'Oh my God, what do I do?' But I just kind of worked it out." . . .

The South African duo that finished behind the surprise victor in the 100-freestyle final approached the defeat with a sense of humor. After Italy's Filippo Magnini became the first Italian ever to win the world title in the event (48.12), topping Roland Schoeman (48.28) and Ryk Neethling (48.34), Neethling joked, "second and third place maybe equals first place."