A mythical Mount Rushmore of Olympic champions used to be pretty easy to assemble. The four spots would've gone to the only athletes with nine gold medals: Americans Carl Lewis and Mark Spitz, Russia's Larysa Latynina and the Flying Finn, Paavo Nurmi.
Now, Michael Phelps has joined them. And he's already poised to leave them in his wake.
Phelps got No. 9 today in the 200-meter freestyle, getting so far ahead so quickly that most of the race it looked as if he'd been given a head start. His third gold medal in Beijing came in world-record time, just like the other two.
On Wednesday morning (Tuesday night in the U.S.), Phelps will be back at the Water Cube for the finals of the 200 butterfly and the 800 freestyle relay.
What are his chances? Well, he has the world records in both events.
Win either and he becomes the most-gilded Olympian ever. Win both and they might as well start carving Mount Phelps. Not only will he be far and away atop the career list, he'll be more than halfway toward his goal of eight in '08, which would break Spitz's record for a single Olympics.
"He's not just winning, he's absolutely destroying everything," teammate Aaron Peirsol said. "It's awesome to watch."
Awesome described a lot of Day 4 happenings in Beijing.
There were a bunch more medals and records at the pool, plus cancer patient Eric Shanteau getting into the semifinals of the 200-meter breaststroke. There was the practically flawless performance by China's men's gymnasts and the plucky bronze for the Hamm-less U.S. men. There was superb pitching and powerful hitting in a record rout by the U.S. women's softball team.
Even the weather was good. Sun and blue skies were seen for the first time since the flame was lit, proving there really is something behind the haze and clouds.
A different kind of haze is forming over the 2008 Summer Games.
If all the tickets were sold, why are there so many empty seats? Where's all the buzz in this bustling city of more than 17 million residents? And, uh, about that picture perfect opening ceremony ...
In their eagerness to make the show sound and look perfect, the chief music director told Beijing Radio that the 7-year-old girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland" was replaced at the last minute by a better-looking 9-year-old lip-syncher, and that images of fireworks shown in the Bird's Nest were not live but computer-generated. The faux footage was distributed to broadcasters; NBC said its announcers let everyone in on the secret.
The medal race, meanwhile, is very real.
The success in the pool helped surge the United States past China, 22-20. The Chinese still dominate the gold race 13-7 over the Americans; other than the U.S., no country has as many total medals as China has of the very best color.
After Phelps won, avenging the only individual race he lost in Athens, Americans won the next two events at the Water Cube and got second in the one after that.
Natalie Coughlin became the first woman to repeat as champion of the 100 backstroke, winning with an American record of 58.96, then Peirsol set a world record in becoming a repeat champion in the men's version.
Rebecca Soni won silver in the 100 breaststroke, an event she picked up only after Jessica Hardy's positive drug test.
"I just kind of had fun with it and that helped a lot," Soni said.
More U.S. medals from the pool: Matt Grevers, silver in Peirsol's race; Peter Vanderkaay, bronze in Phelps' race; and Margaret Hoelzer, bronze in Coughlin's race.
But the most inspiring performance came from a usually forgettable 200-meter breaststroke prelim heat. Then again, guys with testicular cancer aren't usually competing.
The Chinese were supposed to win. The Americans weren't even necessarily supposed to be in the finals, not after losing Paul and Morgan Hamm to injuries in the 10 days before the Olympics.
When the final standings popped up &
and the U.S. was behind China and Japan but ahead of Germany &
Jonathan Horton screamed: "Nobody believed in us! Nobody believed in us."
China was a heavy favorite because it won seven of the last eight world titles, including the last three.
With no Olympic veterans, nobody expected much from the Americans. They were second after four events, then slipped behind Japan going to their final apparatus, the pommel horse, which is their weakest routine.
Four no-hit innings from the starter. An inside-the-park home run and two of the over-the-fence variety. A record number of runs ending things after five innings.
Yep, the Americans are back to their old tricks on the softball diamond, beating Venezuela 11-0 for their 15th straight Olympic victory. Jennie Finch was the pitching star, with the homers coming from Natasha Watley, Crystl Bustos and Caitlin Lowe, whose shot didn't leave the yard.
"It was a great show and I hope we have many more," U.S. coach Mike Candrea said.
In other openers, Japan beat Australia 4-3; Canada's Laura Bay Regula &
the sister of Boston Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay &
allowed one hit in five innings and Megan Timpf drove in three runs in a 6-1 win over Taiwan; and China beat The Netherlands 10-2.
Coming off a 31-point win over host China and knowing that next up is Greece &
the team that stunned them two years ago in the semifinals of the world championship &
the "Redeem Team" merely had to take care of business against Angola. They did, winning 97-76 behind 19 points from Dwyane Wade, 14 from Dwight Howard and 12 from LeBron James.
"We were not looking ahead," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Overall I was very pleased with tonight."
Other games told more about the Americans' Group B foes; Dirk Nowitzki and Germany might not be that tough and Spain might be vulnerable.
Spain trailed by 14 going into the fourth quarter against China, then won 85-75 in overtime after Yao Ming fouled out early in the extra session.
Greece smothered Nowitzki, limiting him to 13 points in an 87-64 victory. The former NBA MVP spent most of the final quarter on the bench resting for the next game. Chris Kaman scored only four points for the Germans.
In other games, Manu Ginobili scored 21 points as Argentina bounced back from a loss to beat Australia 85-68, Linas Kleiza scored 22 points to lead unbeaten Lithuania past Asian champion Iran 99-67 and Croatia beat Andrei Kirilenko and Russia 85-78.
Serena won. Venus won. Then, they won together &
three victories in one day for the Williams sisters.
Each swept their way into the third round in singles, then together knocked off a Czech duo in doubles.
In men's singles, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both advanced with ease, with Nadal dropping only three games total against Australian Lleyton Hewitt. Federer next faces Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, who beat him at the last Olympics.
"He has got a great game," Federer said. "Obviously I'm aware of the danger."
Americans Lindsay Davenport and Liezel Huber won their first-round doubles match, as did the No. 1-seeded men's duo, Mike and Bob Bryan of the United States.
In women's singles, Jelena Jankovic moved atop the rankings and celebrated with a victory. James Blake, the lone remaining U.S. player in men's singles, also won, as did No. — seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia.
Rau'Shee Warren worked four years to become the first two-time American boxing Olympian in 30 years. Then, in his first match, he made the huge mistake of spending the last 35 seconds trying to protect a lead when he actually was behind and needed to go on the attack. He lost 9-8 and left the ring in tears.
"I don't even know what happened," he said.
France's Jerome Thomas, a two-time flyweight medalist, lost. Meanwhile, bantamweight Gu Yu extended China's great start with a 17-7 victory that left Britain's Joe Murray crying about judges being too partial toward the home country. China's relatively inexperienced team won four other first-round bouts.
"I knew they were going to give him everything he wanted," said Murray, who beat Gu in the quarterfinals of last fall's world championships.
The International Amateur Boxing Association already reviewed and denied a protest by the Ukrainian team over a loss Monday night.
Wearing the initials TB on one shoe and BB on another, the U.S. men paid tribute to their coach's in-laws in their four-set victory over Italy.
The letters were for Todd and Barbara Bachman, the in-laws of coach Hugh McCutcheon. Todd was killed and Barbara seriously wounded in a knife attack at a tourist site Saturday. McCutcheon has left the team to be with his wife, 2004 U.S. Olympian Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon; it's not known when he'll return.
"She has shown incredible strength," McCutcheon told The Associated Press. "The last couple of days we've been able to talk through it. Obviously it's a lot of tears and a lot of hugs."
Glenn Eller is a member of the U.S. Army. He's also the new double-trap champion, having set an Olympic record with his score. So it's no surprise that his spot in the military is being part of the Army Marksmanship Unit. Fourth went to Jeff Holguin, another Army marksman.
"I don't know how to better represent them than to sit here with a gold medal in my hand," Eller said.
South Korea's Jin Jong-oh edged North Korea's Kim Jong Su to win the men's 50-meter pistol despite a poor final shot.
Slovakia's Michal Martikan won the single canoe slalom, just like he did 12 years ago in Atlanta. He's taken silver at the last two Olympics. American Benn Fraker finished sixth.
Germany's Alexander Grimm won the single kayak slalom. Togo won its first-ever medal in any Summer Olympics when Benjamin Boukpeti took bronze. He also became the first black man to ever medal in a slalom event, according to the International Canoe Federation.
Way to go, Togo.
Teenagers Chen Ruolin and Wang Xin won the women's 10-meter synchronized platform title, making the hosts 3-for-3 in diving thus far with five events left.
Individual platform is theirs to lose. The 15-year-old Chen and Wang, who turned 16 on Monday, are ranked 1-2.
Americans Mary Beth Dunnichay and Haley Ishimatsu, a pair of 15-year-olds, were fifth among eight teams.
China's He Kexin, who fell off the uneven bars during Sunday's preliminaries, will be back on the apparatus in the finals Wednesday. It's the only event He will do.
As expected, American Samantha Peszek will be on the sidelines for the finals because of a twisted left ankle.
There will be a new women's marathon champ. Japan's Mizuki Noguchi pulled out because of injuries to her left thigh and groin.
Paula Radcliffe, the world record-holder from Britain, told the BBC she'll be racing despite a nagging thigh problem.
"Of course, I could do with a bit more time, but I'll just go in and give it a go," Radcliffe said.
Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor keep looking good in their bid for a second straight gold, improving to 2-0 with a straight sets victory over Cuba that virtually assures them of a spot in the medal round. It was their 103rd consecutive victory.
There were surprise winners of the first two Greco-Roman golds and both were Russians: 19-year-old Islam-Beka Albiev in the 60-kilogram division and 21-year-old Nazyr Mankiev in the 55-kg field.
Albiev is believed to be the second-youngest wrestling gold medalist. Mankiev beat the three-time defending world champion from Iran in the quarterfinals.
Heather O'Reilly scored 40 seconds into the match, leading the U.S. past New Zealand 4-0 and into the quarterfinals. Better yet, they won their group, avoiding a match with title contender Brazil.
Here's the quarterfinals slate: United States vs. Canada; Brazil vs. Norway; Sweden vs. Germany; and China vs. Japan. The winners of the first two games, and the last two games, will meet in the semis.
China's Liao Hui won the men's 69-kg category, making the hosts 5-for-5 in events it has participated in.
North Korea's Pak Hyon Suk won the women's 63-kg division. American Natalie Woolfolk finished fourth in the B-competition and Carissa Gump was sixth.
Athens champion Ayumi Tanimoto of Japan won the women's 63-kg class and Germany's Ole Bischof won the men's 81-kg division.
Howard Bach and Bob Malaythong have gone where no American badminton tandem has ever gone &
the quarterfinals. Next up, though, is a second-seeded Chinese pair with a loud, loyal following.
American Gina Miles, riding McKinlaigh, won the individual silver medal in eventing. Gold went to German Hinrich Romeike, riding Marius.
Germany won the gold in team eventing in an exciting showdown with Australia that went down to the final two riders.
Jeffrey Powers had three goals, Tony Azevedo added two and the Americans barely escaped with a 12-11 victory against Italy in preliminary play. At 2-0 in the Group B pool, they're in solid position to advance to the quarterfinals even with Serbia and gold-medal favorite Croatia in the next two games.
The U.S. women again tied a highly ranked team, matching Japan at 1-1, but could use a victory to get into the next round.
China's Zhong Man won men's saber fencing, making him the second fencing winner ever from his country. American Keeth Smart lost in the round of eight.
The U.S. men's eight crew advanced to the final with a win in the second-chance race, keeping alive hopes of defending the Olympic title. Three members from the 2004 team are back.
American favorite Anna Tunnicliffe topped the rankings in Laser Radial sailing after two opening races, while Australia maintained its lead in both the men's and women's 470 dinghy classes.
China's 2004 windsurfing silver medalist Yin Jian remained on top in her quest for the host country's first-ever sailing gold, as did Israeli Shahar Zubari in his bid for his nation's second Olympic gold ever.
American Jennifer Nichols tied an Olympic record in the first round, then was ousted in the second round. Teammate Khatuna Lorig moved on, as did South Korea's top-seeded trio.
Three men's games were decided in the final 2 minutes: Russia over Egypt, South Korea over Denmark and Spain over Poland. Other winners were Croatia, France and Iceland.
Phelps takes gold in record time