Phelps, Bolt electrify Beijing, China charges to the top
Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt electrified the Beijing Olympics,
securing their places in Games’ lore over 17 days of competition that
saw hosts China confirm their arrival as a global sporting power.
America’s Phelps amazed at the Water Cube, surpassing fellow US
swimmer Mark Spitz’s 36-year-old record of seven gold medals at one
Games with a eight - seven of them with world record times.
Along the way the unassuming 23-year-old matched and then surged past
the record nine career gold medals of Games icons Spitz, Paavo Nurmi,
Carl Lewis and Larysa Latynina, taking his career tally to 14 including
the six he won in Athens.
“You can’t put it in words what he has done here,” Australian great
Grant Hackett said. “His level of achievement is phenomenal, and I don’t
think it will ever be seen again.”
With the end of the nine-day swimming competition, Phelps ceded the
spotlight to Bolt, who polished the drugs-tarnished image of athletics
with a scintillating sprint performance at the Bird’s Nest National
The gangly Jamaican, who celebrated his 22nd birthday in Beijing,
mined gold and claimed world records in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay,
another unprecedented feat.
His individual Olympic sprint double was the first since America’s
Lewis in the boycott-depleted 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and the first
with twin world records.
Bolt, whose good-natured pre-race posturing and exuberant post-race
celebrations endeared him to fans, spearheaded a six-gold showing by
“He is not human,” St. Kitts and Nevis veteran Kim Collins said of
Bolt. “It’s ridiculous.” While Phelps and Bolt reigned over the Games’s
showpiece sports, China were making Olympic history of their own.
Determined to top the medals table in their home Games, China
succeeded spectacularly, with 51 gold medals in a dizzying array of
sports. As well as dominating traditional strongholds such as badminton,
shooting, table tennis and diving, Chinese medallists popped up in
everything from archery to yachting as first-ever medals littered
Their successes were greeted rapturously by fans at venues across
Beijing, from the iconic Water Cube and Bird’s Nest to less distinctive
arenas as well as in more far-flung venues such as Qingdao’s yacht
There were disappointments to be sure - particularly the devastating
loss to injury of defending 110m hurdles champion Liu Xiang and the
quarter-final exit of a basketball team led by homegrown NBA star Yao
Ming. But the gold rush earned the hosts the distinction of becoming
only the third country since World War II, along with the United States
and the Soviet Union, to top an Olympic medals table.
“We have achieved great sports results,” said Chinese sports minister
and Olympic chef de mission Liu Peng. “This is the best performance
since China began competing in the Olympics.”
Not all of China’s triumphs came without controversy. As the Games
ended, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) was reviewing
documents handed over by the host country in a bid to prove that all of
its gymnasts were, in fact, old enough to compete.
Judging controversies surfaced, again, notably in boxing and
taekwondo. A new scoring system in gymnastics - instigated to end the
kind of controversy that erupted in Athens - sparked discontent, even
among officials of the sport. Away from the field of play, contentious
issues that were prominent in the build-up to the Games largely slipped
into the background.
Tibetan and Muslim minorities continued to complain of repression,
dissidents were intimidated into silence or detained, and the Internet
remained censored despite promises it would be unblocked.
But predicted protests by athletes themselves within the Olympic
venues, potentially embarrassing to both China and the International
Olympic Committee, failed to materialize as competitors focussed on the
task at hand.
While the United States couldn’t match China’s gold total, their
depth was obvious in their leading number of overall medals with 110 to
Phelps lead a predictably strong US charge in the pool, his dominant
performance coming in a meet that saw an astonishing 25 world records
fall. The superstar millionaires of the National Basketball Association,
led by Most Valuable Player Kobe Bryant, regained the gold that eluded
them in Athens.
Even with one of its worst Olympic showings, US athletics finished
atop the gold medal standings thanks to its men’s 4x400m relay squad in
the final track race of the Games. With London’s 2012 Games looming on
the horizon, Great Britain signalled they were warming up for their home
Olympics with a 47-medal haul that included 19 golds, slotting in right
behind third-placed Russia with 23 gold. Russia’s successes included a
women’s pole vault world record by Yelena Isinbayeva, who continued her
complete domination of the event.
Lesser known names from less expected places were celebrating as
well, as first-time athletics golds went to Belgium, Brazil and Panama
while South Korea, Tunisia and Brazil all tasted their first swimming
In all, 87 nations found their way onto the medals table, up from 74
in Athens, a figure that Rogge hailed as “a proof of the universality of
BEIJING, Monday, AFP