Phelps joins exclusive club

Beijing, August 12:

US swimmer Michael Phelps joined an elite list of Olympic greats today by becoming only the fifth competitor in history to win nine gold medals.

Phelps added his name to the prestigious group of Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz and Larysa Latynina when he won the men’s 200 metres freestyle with a world record swim for his third gold medal in Beijing. He appears destined to become the greatest Olympian as he continues his quest for an unequalled eight gold medals in one Games here.

Phelps won six gold medals in Athens four years ago and has already won gold in the 400m individual medley and 4x100m freestyle relay, both in world record time. Ahead lie the 200m individual medley, 200m butterfly, 100m butterfly, 4x200m free relay and 4x100m medley relay. “That’s great,” said Phelps as he emerged from the water after leading all the way in the 200m freestyle final to post a new world record of one minute 42.96 seconds.

Phelps’s freestyle victory launched a dominant morning for the United States in the pool. Aaron Peirsol lowered his own world record in winning the men’s 100m backstroke, setting a new mark of 52.54 secs, and Natalie Coughlin defended her women’s 100m backstroke crown. Australian Leisel Jones broke the US stranglehold when she won the women’s 100m breaststroke title.

China lead the medals table with 13 gold, ahead of the United States on seven and South Korea with five.

In Beijing, security was stepped up around Olympic sites today after recent violent incidents, including the fatal stabbing of a US Olympic coach’s relative, and there were reports of further trouble in the north-west region of Xinjiang.

China added four more golds to their tally today, winning men’s team gymnastics, women’s 10m synchronised diving while Zhong Man took men’s individual fencing sabre gold and Liao Hui men’s 69kg weightlifting crown. The hosts also went close to pulling off one of the biggest upsets in Olympic basketball history when they pushed world champion Spain to over-time before losing 85-75 in a men’s preliminary round game.

Former European judo champion Ole Bischof won Germany’s first gold of the Games in the men’s -81kg weightlifting, and in Hong Kong their three-day eventing team won the second. But tennis player Rainer Schuettler had a brief Games, beaten by Novak Djokovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-2.

The top three men’s seeds Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, all moved into the third round, and the women’s draw also saw dominant performances from the Williams sisters and Serbia’s world No 1 Jelena Jankovic.

Swiss top seed Federer breezed to a 6-2, 6-4 win over Rafael Arevalo of El Salvador, and Nadal crushed Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 6-2. Serena Williams dispatched Australia’s Samantha Stosur and Venus beat Iveta Benesova in straight sets. Jankovic came back from a slow start to put away Alona Bondarenko 7-5, 6-1.

Japan’s Olympic fortunes suffered when defending women’s marathon champion Mizuki Noguchi pulled out after failing to recover from a thigh injury, dashing her hopes of securing back-to-back titles on August 17.