Record-setting performances have highlighted Olympic action Sunday at the Beijing Games. VOA's Jim Stevenson reports from the Chinese capital where a world-best time opened perhaps an historic run for an American swimmer.
With U.S. President George Bush and his father, former president George H. W. Bush, in the stands, Michael Phelps won the 400-meter individual medley race early Sunday with a blistering time of 4:3.84. Phelps lowered his own world record by more than 1.4 seconds.
"I was not too comfortable after the first 200 [meters], after seeing everybody so close together," said Michael Phelps. "It is usually not how it is after the first 200. That is usually the first 300 mark. So, I think it made my breaststroke a lot stronger. And, at that point, coming home on freestyle, it is all adrenaline."
Phelps is seeking to break the record of seven gold medals in one Olympics, set by fellow American Mark Spitz in 1972 at the Munich Games.
American Katie Hoff was also looking to collect several gold medals, but began with a bronze in the women's 400-meter individual medley (4:31.71). Australian Stephanie Rice took gold by breaking Hoff's world record with a time of 4:29.45. The silver medal went to Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe (4:29.89).
The Netherlands set an Olympic record with a time of 3:33.76 in the women's 4x100 meter relay. The U.S. team, which included 41-year-old Dara Torres, placed second (3:34.33) ahead of Australia (3:35.05).
Park Taehwan of Korea was the gold medalist in the men's 400-meter freestyle race. Silver went to Zhang Lin of China (3:42.44) and the bronze went to American Larsen Jensen (3:42.78).
In a preliminary heat, the U.S. men's 4x100 meter freestyle relay team set a world record with a time of 3:12.23. Seven Olympic swimming records were also set in various heats.
A total of 14 gold medals were awarded Sunday. Guo Wenjun added one of those to China's total by winning the women's 10-meter air pistol competition. The men's trap final went to David Kostelecki of the Czech Republic.
China excelled in synchronized diving, as the pair of Gou Jingling and Wu Minxia topped the final standings after five dives. The American duo of Kelci Bryant and Ariel Rittenhouse placed fourth. Rittenhouse says they are a young tandem who enjoy learning from the Chinese.
"It is amazing being here, because, in the United States, you never have crowds like this or anything," said Ariel Rittenhouse. "And they go crazy. So, it is pretty amazing being here. My coach is Chinese right now. All of my coaches that I have had throughout my diving career have all been Chinese. So, this is where they are from. This is where they do it. So, it is fun to be here."
Thailand picked up a weightlifting gold (Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon) in the women's 53-kilogram category, while Long Qingquan of China was golden among the men in the same weight division.
South Korea was the winner in women's team archery, downing host China in the gold medal final. British cyclist Nicole Cook rolled through the soggy Beijing streets to win the women's road race with a time of 3:32:24. Xian Dongmei of China topped the podium in the 53-kilogram category of judo. In the men's 66-kilogram division, Japan picked up a gold thanks to Masato Uchishiba.
In fencing, Italian Matteo Tagliariol out-dueled his French opponent to claim the men's individual epee title.
"It looked easy, but it was not," said Matteo Tagliariol. "And it was easy only on the last touch [of his sword]. My strategy was to do my fencing and not his fencing."
With the results from Sunday, China has surged ahead in the early medal count with six gold medals and two silver. South Korea has three golds to place second followed by the United States and the Czech Republic with two gold medals each.
In other Olympic competition, women's gymnastics is under way, where six of the top seven spots in the all-around standings are occupied by American or Chinese athletes.
The United States men's volleyball team surged to a big lead before beating Venezuela in five sets, one day after a fatal knifing attack on a family member of the Olympic head coach. The Americans won their tournament opener, 3-2. U.S. men continue Pool A play on Tuesday when they face Italy.
Tennis got under way after a 2.5-half hour rain delay. American James Blake was first on the court, and he defeated Australian Chris Guccione, 6-3, 7-6.