Olympic roundup: Phelps’ 8th; China’s Liu out
August 18, 2008
BEIJING ” Michael Phelps got what he came for, capping the greatest Olympics for an individual athlete by winning his eighth gold medal in Beijing and 14th of his career.
Things didn’t work out anywhere near as well for China’s Liu Xiang.
Liu, the reigning Olympic 110-meter hurdles champion, is as popular in China as Yao Ming. But he has been battling hamstring and foot problems, and he limped into the starting block for his first heat Monday morning. He burst out at the gun, then pulled up lame after a few steps.
There actually was a false start on someone else that called everybody back, but Liu just peeled the number of his leg and walked off, disappointing tens of thousands in the stadium and hundreds of millions more throughout the country.
“We worked hard every day, but the result was as you see, and it’s really hard to take,” Liu’s personal coach, Sun Haiping, said at a news conference the hurdler did not attend.
Phelps helped the U.S. team close a meet full of world records with yet another in the Olympic 400-meter relay. The victory also pushed him past Mark Spitz’s record of seven golds, a record that’s stood since 1972 and gave headline writers everywhere fodder for lines like “Great eight!” ”Eighth wonder!” and “Eight is enough!”
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“I guess it’s a lucky number for me now, too,” Phelps said. “Seeing eight in ’08, and opening ceremonies starting at 8:08, I guess it was maybe meant to be.”
Elsewhere Sunday, headliners Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters went home with gold, and China added more to its count. The hosts were up to 35, breaking its national record set four years ago in Athens. The United States led the overall medal count 65-61 over China. Americans have 19 golds.
Also at the track Monday, headliners like Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and the American 400 duo of Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt easily advanced in their heats.
Bolt didn’t bother putting on a show in his first time on the track since a thrilling world-record time in the 100 meters. In a preliminary round of the 200 ” which is actually more his specialty ” Bolt took it easy, finishing second to Rondell Sorillo of Trinidad and Tobago. The top three finishers per heat moved on.
American Wallace Spearmon a two-time medalist in the 200 at world championships, had the third-best time in the opening round. Other Americans advancing were reigning Olympic champion Shawn Crawford and Walter Dix, who won bronze in the 100. Another round was scheduled for Monday night, with the semifinals Tuesday and the final Wednesday.
Capping the morning activity, Australia’s Emma Snowsill won the women’s triathlon (American Laura Bennett was fourth); the U.S. men’s beach volleyball duo of Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser advanced to the semifinals by beating a German duo; and sailing officials settled a protest by declaring a Danish team the winner of the 49er skiff competition Sunday.
Wow, those Jamaicans are fast.
Shelly-Ann Fraser broke away from the pack early and cruised to victory in the women’s 100 meters, a day after Usain Bolt set a world-record in the men’s race. About the biggest difference was that Fraser waited until crossing the finish line ” well, almost ” before celebrating. Two other Jamaicans, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart, tied for second, denying the American trio of Lauryn Williams, Torri Edwards and Muna Lee from making the medals stand.
The scoreboard flashed “Photo-Finish” for a couple of minutes before finally showing that Simpson and Stewart were both timed in 10.98 ” and were both credited with finishing second. Williams was fourth, Lee fifth.
In the women’s 400, three-time U.S. national champion Sanya Richards won her semifinal in 49.90 seconds to move into Tuesday’s finals where she’ll go for an individual gold to go with the relay gold she won at the Athens Olympics. Americans Mary Wineberg and Dee Dee Trotter each failed to advance.
“Oh, man, I feel I can just taste it now,” said Richards, who has dominated the event but never won a world championship or Olympic gold medal, in part because she has suffered from a rare disease that caused painful sores on her body and in her mouth.
Bernard Lagat, a two-time Olympic medalist for Kenya now competing as an American, failed to make the 1,500 finals, missing out by .02. No Americans advanced.
“It’s a big loss for us,” fellow American Leo Manzano said. “We really thought we had a good chance to have at least one guy in that final.”
Francoise Mbango Etone of Cameroon defended her triple jump title, Russia’s Gulnara Galkina-Samitova set a world record in winning the first-ever women’s steeplechase, and Primoz Kozmus won the men’s hammer throw, giving Slovenia its first-ever track and field gold medal.
Kenenisa Bekele won his second straight 10,000 meters title, while Haile Gebrselassie ” who won the 10,000 at the 1996 and 2000 Games ” was sixth. He’s been running the marathon since Athens, but switched back because the asthmatic runner was worried about the polluted air in Beijing. Turns out, it wasn’t so bad for the women’s marathon, which was won by Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania. The race also was incident-free, thanks in part to heavy security.
World record-holder Paula Radcliffe of Britain persevered through injuries, but finished 23rd. American record-holder Deena Kastor dropped out early because of a broken right foot. With Magda Lewy also pulling out because of a knee ailment, the only American to finish was Blake Russell, in 27th.
After blowing gold by shooting at the wrong target four years ago, American Matt Emmons was back in the lead on the last shot of the same event. He was determined not to make the same mistake again. He didn’t ” he made a different one.
Emmons’ gun fired before he was ready. Instead of the measly 6.7 he needed, he got an atrocious 4.4, dropping him to the cruelest spot of all, fourth. At least last time he got silver.
“I didn’t feel my trigger shaking, but I guess it was,” Emmons said. “It just hit the trigger, the gun went off and I was like, ‘Uh, that’s not going to be good.'”
Emmons is going home with three medals anyway: A silver from another event, plus a gold and a silver won by his wife, Katerina Emmons of the Czech Republic. They hooked up after she consoled him following the flub in Athens.
Rafael Nadal becomes No. 1 in the world on Monday. He’ll also wake up an Olympic champion.
Nadal overcame two set points in the second set and held every service game to beat Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3.
The Williams sisters won the women’s doubles title by romping past a Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-2, 6-0. They also won in Sydney.
“I’m so excited, I can’t even speak,” said Venus, who has already won seven doubles Grand Slams and a gold medal in Sydney alongside her sister. But, winning as a family never grows old. “To share this kind of moment with your sister,” she said, gives her “chill bumps.”
In women’s singles, Russia became the first nation to sweep a tennis event since Great Britain in 1908 women’s singles. (Note that tennis was not a medal sport between 1924 and 1988.)
Elena Dementieva won over Dinara Safina 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, and Vera Zvonareva beat Li Na of China 6-0, 7-5 for the bronze.
After missing out on a medal four years ago because of consecutive 45-44 losses, Keeth Smart and the U.S. men’s saber team got to the gold-medal bout with a pair of 45-44 victories. But they couldn’t get past the French in the finals.
Smart, Tim Morehouse and James Williams celebrated the silver ” especially Smart, who endured the death of both parents and a rare blood disorder since 2004.
“It’s been four long years of heartache that we’ve had to relive over and over,” said Smart, who is leaving fencing to go to business school. “For us to go home with a silver medal is truly an honor.”
Shawn Johnson keeps making memories in Beijing. Bad ones, even if she doesn’t act like it.
Two days after losing the all-around to teammate Nastia Liukin, Romania’s Sandra Izbasa ” the very last competitor ” grabbed the floor exercise gold that was almost in the American’s hands. Liukin got bronze in the event.Johnson barely flinched when Izbasa’s mark came up, and the 16-year-old American also had a hug for the winner.
“I just stayed calm and had a great time out there,” Johnson said. “I love to perform.”
China’s Cheng Fei lost for the first time in three years in women’s vault. North Korea’s Hong Un Jong won it. American Alicia Sacramone was fourth.
China dominated the men’s event finals, with Zou Kai winning the floor exercise and Ziao Qin taking pommel horse. Counting team and all-around, the hosts are 4-for-4 in men’s events.
Tina Thompson scored 10 points during a 21-0 run, sending the U.S. women past New Zealand 96-60. The Americans went 5-0 in pool play, winning by an average of 43 points.
Reigning WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson scored 16 points, helping Australia rally past Russia 75-55 to clinch the top seed in its pool and avoid playing the U.S. until the championship game.
Becky Hammon, an American turned naturalized Russian, led her team with 20 points. Russia dropped to 4-1.
In other games Sunday, South Korea beat Latvia 72-68, Spain routed winless Mali 79-47, Brazil got its first win 68-53 over Belarus.
The U.S. women won their 20th straight Olympic game with as little drama as they usually provide. Monica Abbott pitched five perfect innings and Crystl Bustos, Jessica Mendoza and Tairia Flowers homered in an 8-0 victory over the Netherlands.
The Americans have outscored opponents 44-1, posted five shutouts and hit 12 homers. The latter stat breaking one of the few Olympic records they didn’t set in Greece.
Next up: China, which lost 2-1 to Taiwan to get eliminated from the medal round.
In other games, Japan beat Venezuela 5-2 and Australia beat Canada 4-0.
The Americans won’t be going home empty-handed, thanks to heavyweight Deontay Wilder getting to the semifinals, assuring him of at least bronze.
“I don’t want the world to remember Team USA as being failures,” Wilder said.
The only other U.S. boxer left, Demetrius Andrade, was ousted by South Korea’s Kim Jung-joo, a bronze medalist in Athens.
There won’t be an all-American women’s finals.
Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh were ousted with a loss to a Chinese team. Earlier Sunday, Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor advanced to the final four with a straight-sets victory over Brazilians Ana Paula and Larissa.