Phelps survives close shave
BEIJING (Reuters) - Michael Phelps dodged a bullet to collect his second Beijing gold medal and stay on course for an unprecedented eight golds on an incredible record-breaking day at the Water Cube on Monday.
Phelps joined his American team mates Garret Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak to smash the 4x100 meters freestyle record after a ferocious struggle with France that nearly killed off his chances of breaking Mark Spitz's record of seven golds at a single Olympics.
France seemed certain to spoil his party when former world record holder Alain Bernard led by half a body length with one lap to go and U.S. President George W Bush watching anxiously from the stands.
But Lezak unleashed the fastest ever split time to overhaul Bernard by a fingertip to win the gold in three minutes 08.24 seconds, carving nearly four seconds off the previous record set the night before by the American second-string team in the heats.
"It could have stopped right then and there," U.S. head men's coach Eddie Reese said of Lezak's swim to ensure Phelps's record bid remained intact. "I've never seen anything like that before."
In a race full of drama and tension, Eamon Sullivan claimed the individual world record when he led the third-placed Australian team off in 47.24, wiping 0.26 off Bernard's record.
The French were unable to contain their emotions after the race with Bernard breaking down in tears.
"They (the U.S.) got lucky," growled his team mate Fabien Gilot.
"Experience prevailed over talent today, and I regret that," added France's Frederick Bousquet.
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima broke the world record to win the men's 100 breaststroke, confirming his standing as Asia's greatest swimmer after his two golds in Athens four years ago.
He touched in 58.91 to slice 0.22 off the mark set by American Brendan Hansen in 2006 while Norway's Alexander Dale Oen won his country's first swimming medal with silver while France's Hugues Duboscq was third.
"It was perfect. It was the ideal race. I've been looking forward for these Olympics for so long," said Kitajima.
Australia's Libby Trickett overcame an attack of nerves to win the 100 butterfly final while Rebecca Adlington ended Britain's long and frustrating wait for an Olympic swimming title with a surprise win in the women's 400 freestyle.
Trickett claimed her first individual title in 56.73 ahead of American Christine Magnuson and Australia's Jessicah Schipper.
"Before the race I felt as if I was going to vomit I was that nervous," said Trickett. "But just before I went out to race I had an enormous sense of calm and I just said more than anything I want to walk away with no regrets."
Adlington flashed home on the last lap to overhaul American Katie Hoff and win the gold in 4:03.22 seconds. Hoff held on to take the silver while Briton Joanne Jackson finished third.
"I don't think either of us expected it, especially two British girls on the podium and especially gold and bronze," Adlington said.
Italy's world record holder Federica Pellegrini bombed out to finish fifth but vented her frustration by breaking Laure Manaudou's 200 world record in the heats at night.
"I didn't want to break the world record in the heats," Pellegrini said. "(But) It made amends for what happened this morning. It shows I'm still able to do it."
Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry broke Natalie Coughlin's 100 backstroke world record during the semi-finals, adding to the total of eight records in the first three days of competition at the Water Cube.
The inexhaustible Phelps had a busy day even by his standards. He qualified for Tuesday's 200 freestyle final during the morning session then topped the qualifiers for the 200 butterfly in the heats in the evening.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)
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