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Gymnastic gold and Phelps spur on U.S. PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 16 August 2008

REUTERS, BEIJING - The United States fought back against China in gymnastics on Friday and won handsomely in the pool to restore some of the might of the traditional sporting superpower.

Nastia Liukin led a one-two U.S. victory in women's all-round individual gymnastics, relegating the Chinese to third place and denying them a four out of four sweep of golds in gym events.

"My dad is the reason why I became Olympic champion today," said Liukin, 18, after they became the first daughter-father act to win golds in artistic gymnastics. Father and coach Valery won two golds for the Soviet Union at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

On the first day of track and field events in the Bird's Nest stadium world record holder Jamaica's Usain Bolt went through to the semi-finals of the men's 100m in ominous ease.

He sauntered through his quarter-final race in 9.92 seconds to qualify fastest, ahead of his big rivals, American world champion Tyson Gay and compatriot Asafa Powell.

The semi-finals and final of the showcase event of the Games are in Saturday's evening session of athletics.

American Michael Phelps scorched to his sixth gold and his sixth world record in the Water Cube pool, closing in on Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven golds in a Games.

The 23-year-old now has 12 career Olympic golds, three more than anyone else. Like Spitz in 1972, all of his golds at these Games have come in world record times.

Another faking controversy enveloped the opening ceremony, again underlining the enormous lengths China is going to make the Games a showcase of its resurgent might.

Children supposedly from different ethnic groups who carried China's red flag in a show of unity were actually mostly Han Chinese, who make up 92 percent of the 1.3 billion population, Games organizers admitted.

Many ethnic groups, particularly Tibetans, chafe under Beijing's control. The ruling Communists stress on national unity is regarded by critics as code for the repression of dissent.

It is the third faking incident to hit the opening ceremony, after it emerged that computer-generated special effects had replaced "live" fireworks and an angelic little girl had lip-synched a song as the real singer was not pretty enough.

TUSSLE AT THE TOP

A dazzling floor exercise by Liukin somersaulted her to victory ahead of fellow American Shawn Johnson and China's Yang Yilin. Victory was sweet after China had profited from nervous mistakes by the U.S. women to win their first team gold.

The quest for dominance in the medals table is proving a fascinating contest between the United States and China, which came second in Athens in 2004. With evening competition underway on day seven, China led with 25 golds to the Americans' 14.

The Communist Party is desperate to underline the country's growing status by overtaking the U.S. in sporting success.

Chinese athletes have been playing to strengths in events like diving, gymnastics, table tennis and weightlifting.

The gap between the top two may narrow when track and field golds are decided, and the Americans have high hopes of a clean sweep of the medals in Friday's shot put.

Phelps gave a quick shake of his fist after victory in the 200 meters individual medley but burst into a broad smile on the podium later.

He could equal Spitz in the 100 butterfly final just after 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Saturday and could break the record in the 4x100 medley relay final just before 11 a.m. on Sunday.

"I have to conserve as much physical and emotional energy as I can now that I'm down to the last two races," said Phelps. "I'm just going to try and rest and recover as much as I can."

America's Ryan Lochte set another world best time as he won the men's 200 backstroke, ahead of compatriot Aaron Peirsol.

"That's the theme of the meet, you have to break a world record to win," Peirsol said.

Team mate Rebecca Soni, who had minor heart surgery two years ago, also won the women's 200 breaststroke in a world record time, coming from behind to overtake the 100 meters winner Leisel Jones from Australia.

LOST MEDALS

Many sports are struggling under the shadow of drugs cheats, and on Friday North Korean Kim Jong-su, who won silver and bronze in shooting, became the first medalist to test positive for drugs. Organizers said he had been stripped of his medals.

The baseball park played host to a couple of politically tinged thrillers which went down to the wire. It was a good day for communism: Cuba beat the United States 5-4 and rookies China defeated Taiwan 8-7.

The match-ups perhaps meant more to the political underdogs. In Havana, Cubans crammed around TV sets late in the night, and work stopped in Taipei as enthralled locals watched events unfold.

"It's just like in history," said Mao Ai-fen, a government employee in Taiwan. "Last night we lost to (former coloniser) Japan and today we lost to the Communist bandits."

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