Asia's greatest swimmer Kosuke Kitajima stole the spotlight from Michael Phelps on Thursday with an unprecedented double-double in the Olympics breaststroke.
France's Alain Bernard won swimming's blue riband event, the men's 100 freestyle, by a whisker from Australia's Eamon Sullivan in a thrilling race, after trailing at the half-way stage.
In the men's 200 breaststroke, Kitajima led all the way for his second gold of the Games. He also won the 100 breaststroke on Monday and both events in Athens, a rare Olympic achievement and the first time it has been done in the breaststroke.
He raised a finger in triumph as he left the poolside.
"I was not thinking about winning two gold medals at two consecutive Olympics," he said. "That was never my goal. I was just focused on doing my best in Beijing."
For France's Bernard, sprint gold made up for the agony of being overhauled in the last lap of the 4x100 freestyle relay final by the Americans.
"I can't believe it. I know I was feeling down after the relay but I didn't want to get beaten," he said. "I didn't panic. When I looked at the board, I thought 'wow I did it'.
Sullivan, who had broken Bernard's world record twice in the last week, said "the better man won on the day".
It was better news, though, for Sullivan's former girlfriend Stephanie Rice, the glamour girl of Australian swimming, who got her third gold of the Games in the women's 4x200 freestyle relay.
The Australian team screamed and hugged each other after chopping nearly six seconds off the world record and holding off a strong challenge from the Chinese. Sullivan and Rice had split up just before the Games to concentrate on their events.
China did better in the women's 200 butterfly, scoring a surprise one-two, with Liu Zige winning in a world record time from compatriot Jiao Liuyang. World champion Jessica Schipper, who led at half-way, had to settle for bronze.
"I just took it easy," the 19-year-old Liu told state television, brushing off the pressure of the home crowd to maintain a Phelps-like calm. "I am always like this," she said.
In the women's 100 freestyle, Australia's world record holder Libby Trickett needed a lucky break to sneak into the final, qualifying only after China's Pang Jiaying, who touched first in the second semi-final, was disqualified for a false-start.
After becoming the all-time most successful Olympian with 11 career golds, American swimming phenomenon Phelps had a quieter day, sailing through a semi-final in the 200 individual medley.
Phelps, though, saw friend and compatriot Ryan Lochte come in one-hundredth of a second faster in the second semi-final, setting up a mouth-watering clash in Friday's final.
"I just wanted to win my heat," Phelps said, implying he had something in reserve. "I guess it's going to be me and Ryan in the middle tomorrow. It's fine, it's all I wanted to do."
CHINA SAYS MEDALS UNDERLINE POWER SHIFT
In another of the Games' blue riband events, Chinese gymnast Yang Wei, unbeaten on the international stage since 2006, won the men's individual all-round round gold, cupping his hands around his ears to accept the crowd's cheers after the final round.
It was a fitting end to eight years of frustration for Yang, who had won silver in Sydney and drawn a blank in 2004, and maintained China's 100 percent success rate in gymnastics.
There was relief, too, for Chinese shooter Du Li, who broke down in tears after missing gold in her best event on Saturday. She steadied her nerves to win the 50m rifle three positions.
Despite Phelps's exploits, China lead sporting arch-rivals the United States in the medals table by 20 golds to 10, although that may change after track and field events next week.
The Chinese-language People's Daily, the official paper of the ruling Communist Party, said Asia's global growing clout was reflected in the medals table, and warned Western powers they would face more such challenges ahead.
Chinese fans have roared on their country's every success in Beijing but some play down the significance of coming first.
"What is important is to show China and to show Beijing to the whole world," said local businessman Sun Weiming, 46.
"Several months ago, everyone was talking about Tibet but foreigners need to know the truth about China, and we believe that through the Olympic Games the world will know the truth."
Many Chinese resent the focus on Tibet and Beijing's smog, though they remain scrupulously kind and hospitable to visitors for the Olympics. Critics say Beijing is using the Games to gloss over suppression of dissent.