Phelps advances, others claim Olympic spotlight
August 14, 2008
BEIJING ” On the seventh day of the Olympics, Michael Phelps rested, and other swimmers made their splash.
Australia’s Stephanie Rice closed a brilliant Olympics with another world record. Kosuke Kitajima of Japan made it a double double in the breaststroke. Alain Bernard redeemed himself for the relay. And the home team got a chance to celebrate its first swimming gold.
For Phelps, a day with no world record, not even a gold medal, was like taking it easy. He cruised into the finals of the 200-meter individual medley, then hustled back to the athletes’ village to rest up for his next brush with history, qualifying for the 100 butterfly.
“I feel fine,” said Phelps, already the winningest Olympian ever and taking aim at Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in a single games this weekend. “I think over the next few days the biggest thing is going to be trying to get as much rest as I can. If I can do that, I’ll be fine.”
Led by Rice, the Australians set the 18th world swimming record of the Beijing Games in the women’s 800 freestyle relay, obliterating the previous mark by nearly six seconds to upset the United States.
The Americans had won the event all three times since it was added to the Olympic program in 1996, but they couldn’t match the Aussies’ blazing time of 7 minutes, 44.31 seconds, which shattered the previous record by an astonishing 5.78. China held off the Americans for silver.
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Rice, once again sporting large green earrings to match her country’s colors, was the closest thing to Phelps on the female side in Beijing. She won three gold medals ” all with world records.
“What a great way to finish,” she said after her final event. “For us to break the record by so far is amazing. … I really look forward to sitting back and cheering for the Aussies.”
Then there’s Katie Hoff. The 19-year-old American again failed to win her first Olympic gold, having settled for one silver and two bronzes in five events. She’s got only one race left on her busy program, the grueling 800 free.
“I did my best and ran out of room at the end,” said Hoff, who swam the anchor leg.
She couldn’t be blamed for this one. Hoff swam the second-fastest 200 of anyone but dove in the water too far behind to catch the Aussies.
“It definitely gives me more motivation,” Hoff said. “I’m a little bit tired and I have a full day to recover.”
The Chinese crowd roared when Liu Zige won the women’s 200-meter butterfly, setting a world record of 2:04.18. Jiao Liuyang also went under the previous best to give the teammates a 1-2 finish.
Kitajima completed a historic second straight Olympic double with a win in the 200 breaststroke, the first swimmer to claim gold in both the 100 and 200 at consecutive games.
Bernard was eager to make up for getting caught on the anchor leg in the 400 free relay, and he did just that by edging Australian rival Eamon Sullivan in the 100 freestyle. It was a bit of a letdown, though, when the furious race failed to set a world record, which has become the norm at the Beijing Games.
Bernard and Sullivan traded off the record in the semifinals, the Aussie winding up with the ultimate mark of 47.05. They were stroke for stroke throughout the down-and-back final, but it was Bernard who touched first in 47.21. Sullivan claimed silver in 47.32, while Jason Lezak of the U.S. and Brazil’s Cesar Cielo shared the bronze.
“It’s enormous,” Bernard said. “I can’t believe it. After the relay I could have sunk, but I told myself that after all these years of hard work, I can’t let myself go down. My legs were shaking at the start. I was really tense, just like the other seven guys.”
Sullivan was gracious after a race in which bravado is everything.
“To bounce back from that relay takes a lot of guts and he showed that today,” the Aussie said. “Full credit to him. He swam a better race and the better man won on the day.”
With five golds and five world records already, Phelps merely had to get by the semifinals of the 200 IM. No problem. He won his heat and moved on to Friday with the second-best qualifying time, 1:57.70. Fellow American and leading rival Ryan Lochte posted the top time of 1:57.69, ensuring they’ll be side by side for the final.
Lochte had a busy morning, also qualifying for the final of the 200 backstroke. He advanced with the second-best time, 1:55.40, trailing teammate Aaron Peirsol’s 1:55.26.
Now, Lochte faces a daunting doubleheader: He’ll go against Peirsol, the guy with whom he shares the world record in the 200 back, then come right back to race against medley record-holder Phelps, using all four strokes.
“I just get ready for one race,” Lochte said. “The most important thing is being able to separate (the two events) and just move on. I’ve trained for it. I’m used to it. The biggest part for me in the psychological part.”
Pieter van den Hoogenband called it a career. The 30-year-old Flying Dutchman announced his retirement immediately after a fifth-place finish ruined his hopes of winning a third straight gold in the 100 free.
“Way too fast,” said Van den Hoogenband, who won three golds and seven medals overall in two previous trips to the Olympics. “It’s a new generation and it’s now time to step aside. They did a great job. I’m from the previous generation.”
Liu was stunned by her triumph in the 200 fly, though she brushed off questions about whether the Chinese held her out of major meets so they could spring her on the world at Beijing.
Liu’s time was more than a second below the previous record of 2:05.40 set two years ago by Australia’s Jess Schipper, who could only manage a bronze against the two Chinese.
“I didn’t expect that I could swim so fast,” Liu said. “I’ve only improved in the last year.”
Kitajima lived up to his favorite’s billing in the 200 breast, winning easily in 2:07.64 but coming up 0.13 short of his own world record, set in June. With top rival Brendan Hansen not even in the field ” he shockingly failed to qualify for the event at the U.S. trials ” Kitajima finished a half-body length ahead of silver medalist Brenton Rickard of Australia (2:08.88) to match his two breaststroke golds in Athens four years ago. France’s Hugues Duboscq claimed the bronze.
“I was so calm that I think I could have seen each face in this venue,” Kitajima said. “I enjoyed my race.”
So did Lezak, the oldest man on the U.S. swim team at 32.
After chasing chased down Bernard in the relay to make sure Phelps stayed on course for eight gold medals, Lezak added to his tally with the first individual medal of his Olympic career.
Four years ago, Lezak made a grievous mistake in the preliminaries of the 100 free. He tried to conserve his energy in the preliminaries and wound up getting eliminated.
“It’s been eating at me for a long time,” the three-time Olympian said. “So to go out there and accomplish a medal is really exciting. It doesn’t top the relay medal, but it’s something I’ve been pushing for for four years.”
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