Sunday, August 17, 2008

Swimming Roundup: Phelps's epic eighth gold wraps up pool competition

Beijing's bubble-shaped Water Cube will long be remembered as the birthplace of an epic story - Michael Phelps and eight Olympic gold medals.

Nine days, 17 races. American superfish Phelps carefully measured every step and went through his Beijing adventure with flawless performance, placing eight gold medals under his name.

By doing so, Phelps beat legendary Mark Spitz' seven-gold mark, and also became the most prolific Olympic gold medalist beyond Spitz, Carl Lewis, Paavo Nurmi and Larysa Latynina, who won nine Olympic golds each in their career.

"I went from hitting my head on the wall to win by one hundredth of a second to doing my best time in every event. It's been nothing but an upwards roller coaster. It's been nothing but fun," Phelps said, adding "the biggest thing is nothing is impossible and all it takes is an imagination."

Phelps started his campaign with a victory in the first final of the meet last Sunday, the 400-meter individual medley, cruised through the 200-meter medley, 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter freestyle and both the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays, and concluded his campaign with the 4x100-meter medley relay on Sunday.

His epic victory put an end to the pool competition here in Beijing, where 98 medals were shared by 19 countries.

The United States and Australia continued to be the dominant forces in the pool with the former taking away 12 gold medals and the latter possessing six. But more countries, frequently seen as relying on one swimmer, joined the gold battle and had their names written on the medal table.

Japan's Kosuke Kitajima successfully defended his titles in men's 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke, becoming the only swimmer who has won four Olympic breaststroke gold medals, two in Athens and two in Beijing. His medals together with three bronze ones won by teammates put Japan high on the medal tally, only after the United States and Australia.

Britain, who for a long time, stayed far below on the medal tally, jumped to the fourth place thanks to a 19-year-old girl Rebecca Adlington.

Adlington, whose previous record was almost not worth mentioning, emerged as a "dark horse" in Beijing, bringing home two golds in the women's 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle.

As if that was not enough, the Olympic debutante made history by cutting the oldest standing world record in swimming set by Janet Evans of the United States in the 800-meter freestyle in 1989, the year she was born.

Germany's Britta Steffen joined the double title club by defeating Australia's world record holder Libby Trickett in women's 100-meter and 50-meter freestyle, crowning the new sprint queen.

Zimbabwe's "national treasure" Kirsty Coventry also had her country's anthem played at the Olympic arena. Coventry, by herself, pocketed one gold and three silvers in Beijing, placing her country among the swimming powers.

The Chinese also joined the gold jubilation last Thursday when 19-year-old swimmer Liu Zige smashed Australian Jessicah Schipper's world record in the women's 200-meter butterfly Thursday, snatching host China's first swimming gold at the Beijing Olympic Games.

Liu, who seemed to have come out of nowhere, took the gold in a stunning two minutes and 04.18 seconds, chopping off Schipper's previous record by more than one second. Her teammate Jiao Liuyang, aged 18, also beat Schipper in the last lap, finishing second in 2:04.72. Schipper was third in 2:06.26, well off her personal best.

Along with China, France, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, the Netherlands and Tunisia all had their golden moment at the Water Cube.

As the pool at the Water Cube quieted down, a total of 25 world records have been bettered at the venue, exceeding the total marks set in both Athens and Sydney.

Swimmers were seen smashing world records in heats and more than 70 percent of the gold medals were won by swimmers swimming under the world record pace. Michael Phelps alone grabbed contributed four individual world records.

The record-breaking spree has stirred up massive speculations, ranging from pool, water and swimsuits. People tried to find out what made swimmers go faster in Beijing.

"We are calling it the 'swimming temple" of the world," said Cornel Marculescu, executive director of aquatic sport governing body FINA. "The venue is without any doubt one of the best in the world. But the pool has no difference from others."

The FINA official accredited the increase of speed to the advances in training methods and perfection of swimming techniques. "Michael Phelps's win in men's 100m butterfly race is a perfect example."

The official also said that the roles of the new swim gears like the much hyped Speedo LZR Racer suits can't be overstated. "Athletes wearing different brands of suits can get up and win medals. Phelps, breaststroker Kitajima and Park Tae-hwan all wore trousers, instead of the much hyped full-body suits," Marculescu said.

Although Beijing sees a bigger wave of broken records than the past Olympics, it has become a rule for swimming records to be regularly broken when athletes gear themselves up for the major meets. Fourteen records were shattered in the 2000 Sydney Games alone, while the swimming records were downed 33 times in the whole year.

"People have been looking for reasons why performances have been so good. The real reason is that swimmers are swimming really well and the coaches are coaching really well," said Australian head coach Alain Thompson, on Thursday.

Source: Xinhua

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