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Phelps' gold hunt on in Beijing

August 11, 2008 11:04 IST

American swimmer Michael Phelps [Images] needed a little help from his friends on Monday to keep alive the dream of an unprecedented eight Olympic golds.

- Abhinav Bindra wins India's first gold

But a familiar shadow fell over the sporting achievements in China on the third day when a Spanish cyclist became the first competitor to fail a drug test at the Games.

Phelps, who has made the early headlines in China, left the US team second after the first leg of the 4x100 metre freestyle relay. It took an astonishing comeback from American team mate Jason Lezak to pip France [Images] at the death.

The usually cool Phelps, 23, pumped his arms in the air and screamed for joy amid wild celebrations on the U.S. team whom France had boasted about "smashing" in the relay build-up.

In perhaps the most exciting moment of the Olympics [Images] so far, the Americans took nearly four seconds off the world record, an extraordinary margin in swimming. France were a finger-tip behind, and the first five teams all beat the old record.

That left Phelps with two golds, after he destroyed his own world record on Sunday to win the 400m individual medley. He is still on course to beat Mark Spitz's [Images] record of seven in 1972.

Phelps now has eight Olympic golds -- he won six in Athens -- and needs 10 to have the record overall haul.

China had so far avoided the doping scandals that so tarnished the Athens Olympics four years ago but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on Monday cyclist Maria Isabel Moreno was the first here to fail a test.

The Spaniard tested positive for the endurance-boosting EPO drug on July 31, it said. "She has left Beijing [Images]. The case came to light this morning," IOC spokesperson Giselle Davies said.

Thrilling a capacity crowd at the shimmering Water Cube, the most decorated Asian swimmer of all time, Japan's [Images] Kosuke Kitajima, also justified pre-race hype by shaving 0.22 seconds off the world record to win the 100 metre breaststroke.

"It was perfect. It was the ideal race," he said.

It was a day for the women too.

Australia's [Images] Libby Trickett was told by coaches to do what every woman hates -- build up her backside -- before Beijing due to a weakness in gluteal muscles. That paid off when she won gold in the women's 100 metres butterfly.


Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry had vowed to show her nation in a postive light in China despite its well-known economic and political crisis. She did just that by shaving 0.20 seconds off the world record for 100 metres backstroke during her semi-final.

Later on Monday in the pool, British diving prodigy Tom Daley [Images] needs an upset to steal the limelight from the record-makers.

The 14-year-old's cheery grin and diving prowess have made him a media sensation at the Beijing Games and back home in Britain. But he faces a tough task to win a medal in the 10m synchronised platform competition with partner Blake Aldridge.

"I can't wait, I just want to go out and have fun," he said ahead of the competition, playing down his chances of a medal.

Daley is the second youngest Briton to compete in the Olympics and modestly said his real goal is to prepare well for the 2012 Games in London [Images]. A 13-year-old swimmer from the Seychelles is the only younger competitor in Beijing.

Daley is just 1.56m (5ft 1in) and 47kg (104lb), a featherweight beside other platform divers and Aldridge, 26, whose previous partner died in a hit-and-run incident last year.

Thunderstorms have cleared away Beijing's notorious smog and temperatures have dropped, easing athletes' health fears over pollution and summer heat.

The rain caused havoc with rowing and tennis schedules on Sunday, delaying the appearance of big names like Roger Federer [Images].

Another 13 golds are being awarded on Monday, with China hoping to add to the six it has already won, giving it an early lead in the overall medals table.

China came second to the United States in Athens 2004 and wants to go one better this time. That would underline the message of growing economic might China is hoping to project by hosting a spectacular, no-expense-spared Games.

Chinese national pride has swelled with a jaw-droppingly lavish opening ceremony and early sporting triumphs. That has pushed into the background pre-Games criticism of its human rights record and stifling of anti-government dissent.

An ugly stabbing murder of a U.S. tourist in broad daylight and separatist violence in distant Xinjiang have left China and the Games relatively unperturbed.

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