AUGUST 18, 2008
(STAR) Cheering from the pool deck, Michael Phelps won his record eighth gold medal of the Beijing Games yesterday to become the grandest of Olympic champions.

Jason Lezak held on to the lead Phelps gave him, anchoring the United States to a world record in the 400-meter medley relay against an Australian team that did its best to spoil history.

But Phelps, with a big hand from three teammates, would not be denied. He eclipsed Mark Spitz’s seven-gold performance at the 1972 Munich Games, an iconic performance that was surpassed by a swimmer fitting of this generation: a 23-year-old from Baltimore who loves hip-hop music, texting with his buddies and wearing his cap backward.

“I don’t even know what to feel right now,” Phelps said. “There’s so much emotions going through my head and so much excitement. I kind of just want to see my mom.”

Debbie Phelps was sitting in the stands at the Water Cube, tears streaming down her cheeks, her two daughters sitting with her. After receiving his eighth gold, Phelps quickly found his family, climbing through a horde of photographers to give all three of them a kiss.

Mom put her arm around his neck and gave him a little extra hug.

Her boy sure earned it.

“The Beijing Olympics has witnessed the greatest Olympian of all time - Michael Phelps of the USA,” the announcer said as Phelps posed on the deck with his teammates, yet another gold around his neck.

Even though the Americans have never lost the medley relay at the Olympics, the latest win was hardly a breeze.

When Phelps dived into the water for the butterfly - the third of four legs - the Americans were third behind Japan and Australia.

But Phelps, swimming the same distance and stroke that he used to win his seventh gold a day earlier, powered to the front on his return lap, passing off to Lezak with the Americans in front.

Australia’s Eamon Sullivan tried to chase Lezak down and appeared to be gaining as they came to the wall. But Lezak touched in 3 minutes, 29.34 seconds - Phelps’ seventh world record in his personal Great Haul of China.

The Aussies took silver in 3:30.04, also under the old world record, while Japan held on for the bronze.

“Nothing is impossible,” Phelps said. “With so many people saying it couldn’t be done, all it takes is an imagination, and that’s something I learned and something that helped me.”

Phelps patted breaststroker Brendan Hansen on the head and threw his arms in the air after Lezak finished, though the Americans still had to wait a couple of tantalizing minutes for the official results to be posted.

Finally, it flashed on the board.

World record.

Gold medal No. 8.

On deck, a beaming Phelps slapped hands with his teammates and thrust his arms toward the Water Cube roof.

The winning swimmers locked arms as if they were in a football huddle about to break for a play.

Aaron Peirsol swam the leadoff leg for the Americans.

Phelps, who won five individual races and three relays in Beijing, couldn’t stop smiling. He also gave a shout-out to those who helped him take down Spitz.

“Without the help of my teammates this isn’t possible,” he said. “I was able to be a part of three relays and we were able to put up a solid team effort and we came together as one unit.

“For the three Olympics I’ve been a part of, this is by far the closest men’s team that we’ve ever had. I didn’t know everybody coming into this Olympics, but I feel going out I know every single person very well. The team that we had is the difference.”

Phelps won some races by ridiculously large margins, others with the closest of finishes - most memorably, his seventh gold by one-hundredth of a second over Serbia’s Milorad Cavic in the 100 fly on Saturday.

He set seven world records and one Olympic record, doing a personal best time in every event.

“It’s been nothing but an upwards roller-coaster and it’s been nothing but fun,” Phelps said.

Ditto for Dara Torres, who capped her improbable comeback with two more silver medals, missing gold by one hundredth of a second in the 50 freestyle.

The 41-year-old Torres, a five-time Olympian and the oldest American swimmer ever, also anchored the American women to a runner-up finish in the 400 medley relay. She got silver in all three of her races in Beijing, giving her 12 medals in a remarkable career that began at the 1984 Los Angeles Games - a year before Phelps was even born.

Germany’s Britta Steffen nipped Torres at the wall to complete a sweep of the women’s sprint events in Beijing. The middle-aged American smiled, her head dropping back, when she saw a time of 24.07 - just behind Steffen’s winning effort of 24.06. The German added to her gold in the 100 free.

Completing a race for all ages, 16-year-old Australian Cate Campbell claimed the bronze in 24.17.

Australia’s women - Emily Seebohm, Leisel Jones, Jess Schipper and Libby Trickett - took the gold with a world record of 3:52.69.

The Americans claimed silver with the second-fastest time in history, 3:53.30, while China took the bronze.

Torres was joined on the US team by Natalie Coughlin, Rebecca Soni and Christine Magnuson.

Coughlin received her sixth medal of the games, giving her 11 in her career.

Grant Hackett fell short in his bid to become the first man to win the same event at three straight Olympics.

Australia’s distance king was upset in the 1,500 freestyle by Ous Mellouli, who won Tunisia’s first Olympic swimming gold in 14 minutes, 40.84 seconds.

“It’s like 90 yards of a touchdown. It was so close, but I didn’t have much of a response,” Hackett said. “It’s disappointing I didn’t win. I have no regrets, it certainly was a close race.”

Mellouli held off Hackett in the closing meters of the grueling race, swimming’s version of the mile. Hackett earned the silver in 14:41.53, well off his 7-year-old world record of 14:34.56.

“He’s never hung on like that in the past,” Hackett said of the winner.

“He did a great effort. Good on him for winning. He was the better competitor.”

Mellouli was coming off a suspension after testing positive for amphetamines. Ryan Cochrane of Canada took the bronze in 14:42.69. - AP

All quiet on RP front; 4 athletes standing By Gerry Caprio Monday, August 18, 2008

BEIJING – Time stood still in the Philippine camp as the last four men and women standing went about their quiet preparations to salvage whatever is left of the country’s pride in the XXIX Olympic Games.

With 11 of the 15-member Philippine delegation having left for Manila or the US or extending their stay for the closing ceremonies, the Philippine camp now goes through its shortlist of four athletes – taekwondo jins Tshomlee Go and Mary Antoinette Rivero, diver Rexel Ryan Fabriga and long jumper Marestella Torres.

Yesterday’s program should have included Philippine results in the finals of the women’s 3m springboard diving and the women’s 50m freestyle and men’s 1,500m freestyle in swimming.

But Sheila Mae Perez, hoping at least to make today’s 12-woman finals in diving, was out of it after the first round Friday.

Christel Simms and Ryan Arabejo ripped their swimsuits – Simms before she bended at the start of the 50m freestyle, and Arabejo on his way to the pool – and failed to rip their own Philippine marks.

The swimming show belonged to the Americans, notably Michael Phelps who capped his quest for a record eight-gold medal haul with the US Team’s win in the 4x100 medley relay.

The powerful squad, also featuring Aaron Peirsol, Branden Hansen and Jason Lezak, assured Phelps’ honored place in history by winning the event over Australia in a new world record time of 3:29.34.

Simms, at 17 being groomed for the 2012 London Olympics, will have four years to improve on her record of 26.31 seconds to match the new Olympic record (24.06) of gold medal winner Brittan Steffen of Germany.

Arabejo bowed out with a time 15:42.27 in the 1,500 meters. At least he gets the consolation that big stars also fall as Grant Hackett, one of the greatest long distance swimmers of all time and bidding for a historic third gold, finished only second to Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia.

Henry Dagmil was the last to take the exit when he finished 18th in the long jump preliminaries Saturday at the Bird’s Nest.

Awed by the sheer power of the strongest men of the world and the roar of a full-packed crowd of over 90,000, the 27-year-old two-time Southeast Asian gold medalist managed only 7.58m on the long jump event and didn’t make the 12-man.

His effort was below his personal best of 7.87m he established in last year’s SEAG in Nakhom Ratchasima.

MarestellaTorres, also a wild card entry, will try to do better than her personal best of 6.63 meters she established in the 2005 SEA Games to move past the preliminaries tomorrow.

Go and Rivero, the only athletes with a realistic chance of winning a medal, will go for it on Aug. 20 and 22, respectively, when they close out the Philippine campaign.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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