Beijing: American swimmer Michael Phelps became the most successful Olympian of all time by winning two more Beijing gold medals on Wednesday to take his career tally to an unprecedented 11 victories.
The mighty Phelps overtook an elite group including Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis who had won nine golds by breaking his own world record in the men’s 200 metre butterfly.
Phelps brushed off a problem with his goggles that left them full of water. “Under the circumstances, it’s not a bad result,” he told reporters.
An hour later, the 23-year-old was back in the pool with his American team mates to win the men’s 200 metres freestyle relay, knocking over four seconds off the previous world best. It was his fifth gold from these Games adding to six in Athens in 2004.
Michael Phelps waves during the award ceremony at National Aquatics Centre in Beijing on 13 August 13 2008. (AP Photo)
Phelps is now within reach of Spitz’s record of seven golds in one Games. With each of his Beijing golds coming in record times he is also tracking Spitz’s achievement of winning each of the 1972 titles in world best times.
The day’s dry land highlight came when China took advantage of stumbles at key moments by the US to win one of the Games’ showpiece events, the women’s team artistic gymnastics.
It was the first victory in the event for the Chinese women.
Strong performances in the pool grabbed the early attention with swimmers breaking six world records.
France’s Alain Bernard briefly took Eamon Sullivan’s world record in the 100 metres freestyle semi-finals but the Australian recaptured it less than five minutes later.
Italy’s Federica Pellegrini broke the women’s 200m freestyle record to take gold in a victory that partly made up for losing in her favourite race, the 400 freestyle.
Australia’s Stephanie Rice won her second gold in record time in the 200 metre individual medley.
Phelps’s triumphs pushed him ahead of runner and jumper Lewis, Spitz, “Flying Finn” distance runner Paavo Nurmi and Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina on nine golds.
Latynina and fellow Soviet gymnast Nikolai Andrianov hold the record for the most career medals of any colour, with 18 for women and 15 for men respectively.
China and the United States are tussling for top place in the medals table. The Americans might have brushed China aside in a basketball match earlier in the week, but they trail the hosts 14 golds to nine in the medals table.
Few contests are as closely watched as the women’s team gymnastics. The Americans, who dethroned the Chinese as world champions in 2007, arrived with high hopes of winning their first Games team title on foreign soil.
But a series of injuries left them only four fit gymnasts and they were outclassed in qualifying.
Their best hope was that the Chinese would fail to cope with an unaccustomed early start, after the event was switched to the morning to catch the prime-time American television market.
But China’s women withstood the pressure to win in front of a crowd that expected nothing less than victory.
China’s men had grabbed gold in their gymnastics team event on Tuesday, sparking national rejoicing after returning home from Athens in 2004 without a medal.
In a reminder of the struggle to keep the competition clean, two more possible doping incidents were revealed.
Bulgaria said it had sent home its men’s volleyball captain after pre-Olympic doping controls showed he was close to anti-doping limits. Plamen Konstantinov would face further tests back home in Sofia, the volleyball federation said.
A Taiwanese baseball player tested positive for a banned substance in checks conducted before the Games started, the International Olympic Committee said. Chang Tai-Shan was out of the starting line-up Taiwan’s opening game against the Netherlands.
The road cyclists will be thankful that Beijing’s weather has improved for Wednesday’s time trial between two sections of the Great Wall. The women race a hilly 23.8km circuit, while the men race 47.3km.
Suffocating heat and smog forced a third of the field in the men’s road race to abandon their bikes on Saturday, while a day later thunderstorms and heavy rain left the women cyclists to face treacherously slippery conditions.