Including the start of the Olympic football tournament two days before the Opening Ceremonies, the Beijing Olympics have reached the halfway point of scheduled competition.  VOA's Jim Stevenson has this preview of the action Friday, which is highlighted with 18 event finals.

The midway point of the Olympics marks the gradual shift from swimming to track and field, the two marquee series of events of the games.  China's National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest because of its intertwined steel exterior, is the venue for the first two athletics finals of the 29th Olympiad.  

Gold medals will be awarded for the longest distance in men's shot put and the fastest time in the women's 10,000-meter final.

Swimming continues inside the nearby Water Cube, where four more events will produce Olympic champions.  American Ian Crocker has his own explanation for the tidal wave of records set at these Olympics.

"It is unique versus track and field because there is more resistance in the water.  And so you are trying to overcome a little bit more in swimming.  And therefore there is more room for improvement.  And that is why I think the world records keep improving year after year," says Crocker.

The women go for speed in the 100-meter freestyle and 200-meter breaststroke.  The men will swim the 200-meter backstroke, a race that features Americans Ryan Lochte and Aaron Piersol.  Both men share the world record in the event (1:54.32).  

The men's 200-meter individual medley will be highlighted by world-record holder Michael Phelps.  The American will be trying to win his sixth gold medal in Beijing.  

Badminton awards its first title of the games in women's doubles.  Arrows fill the air in the men's individual archery final while the swords slash and jab in the men's team epee final.  The coveted women's individual all-around gymnastics title will come at the National Indoor Stadium.

Judo culminates with its heaviest weight categories as the women compete in the over-78 kilogram division and the men go for gold in the over-100 kilogram class.  The most accurate aim will be needed to win the men's 50-meter rifle in the prone position.

Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics is the location for weightlifting finals in the women's 76-kilogram and men's 85-kilogram weight divisions.  The men's team sprint finals open track cycling.  Canoe and Kayak finals are also scheduled.

Tournament play continues in basketball, baseball and softball.

The U.S. women are 2-0 so far in softball.  With the event being dropped after Beijing, U.S. infielder Crystal Bustos says the tournament will hopefully show that softball should remain an Olympic sport.

"Our sport is not necessarily popular in some parts of the world," said Bustos. "It is definitely a worldwide sport, but there are some parts of the world that is not as popular and there is some confusion as to exactly what softball is.  And I think if we go over there to Beijing and we put on the best show you have ever seen of Olympic softball, that people are going to understand this needs to stay in the Olympics."

In volleyball, the U.S. women have a 2-1 record in Pool-A.  Nicole Davis says her team knows which nations will likely be the most challenging.

"Brazil, Russia, Italy, China, I think we are all at a very, very high level now, pretty even," said Davis.

Other tournament action includes beach volleyball, boxing, field hockey, football, sailing, table tennis, handball, tennis and water polo.