Sunday, 10 August 2008

Olympic Openers

U.S. Swimmer Michael Phelps demolished his own world record to take a first gold on Sunday in the quest for an unprecedented eight wins. Listening to hip-hop on headphones as he walked to the block, Phelps went on to win the 400 metres individual medley at China's futuristic and full-to-capacity Water Cube. His time was 1.41 seconds quicker than a previous best he set just six weeks ago.

After the first race of a thrilling morning at the pool, Phelps raised his arms to celebrate triumph in what he calls his weakest event. He was watched by President George Bush and cheered by flag-waving compatriots and thousands of Chinese. Even if the lanky 23-year-old with the perfect swimming physique wins only half his eight race competitions, he will hold more Olympic gold medals than any other athlete. But he looks in great shape to match his own six golds at Athens 2004 then maybe go one further than Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven wins at one Games.

After Phelps thrilled the Water Cube, Australia's Stephanie Rice followed suit to smash the world record and win the same 400m individual medley event for women.

Park Tae-hwan won the men's 400m freestyle to give South Korea a second gold while Zhang Lin became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming medal when he grabbed the silver.
With 14 golds being awarded on Sunday, the hosts were well-placed to add to their first-day tally of two, with favourites in shooting, fencing, judo and diving.

Chinese diving queen Guo Jingjing, the supermodel and local airhead, steps up to the springboard to defend her 3-metre synchronized title. China dominates world diving and has a reasonable chance of winning all eight golds in the discipline. Chinese fans are also focused on Sunday's basketball blockbuster between the hosts, led by 7ft 6in NBA player Yao Ming, against a star-studded United States still smarting from their bronze in Athens 2004. It could be the most-viewed sporting contest ever in China.

Women cyclists face a tough but shorter road race on the same route between Beijing's Forbidden City and the Great Wall that the men had on Saturday. A third of the men withdrew from their race, blaming suffocating heat, humidity and pollution. The agonies endured by the men's cyclists bode ill for other endurance athletes, such as marathon runners.

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