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Phelps wins sixth gold

Michael Phelps scorched to his sixth gold and his sixth world record at the Beijing Olympics in a great morning for the United States in the pool and in women's gymnastics.

With the sun shining the Olympics got into full swing. Crowds poured into the Bird's Nest stadium for the start of the track and field events, with the big names coasting through their heats in the men's 100 metres.

Controversy, though, has never strayed far from these Games.

Organisers were forced to acknowledge that children dressed in ethnic costumes who carried the Chinese flag at the opening ceremony were not actually from those ethnic groups.

Given the strained relationships between the government and some of those groups, especially the Tibetans, it could be an embarrassing admission, but authorities said it was normal practice to show "people are friendly and happy together".

It is 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 lip-synched to a key song as the real singer was not pretty enough.

Many sports are struggling under the shadow of drugs cheats, and Korean Kim Jong-su, who won silver and bronze in shooting, became the first medallist to test positive for drugs. Organisers said his medals had been rescinded.

Nevertheless sporting achievements are helping to dispel many of the clouds which had gathered around the Games.

In the magnificent, colour-changing Water Cube, Mr Phelps is closing in on Mark Spitz's 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. Mr Phelps showed little reaction apart from a quick shake of his fist after victory in the 200 metres individual medley but burst into a broad smile on the podium later.

He races in the 100 butterfly final just after 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Saturday morning, and if all goes well could be in the running to break Spitz's record in the 4x100 medley relay final, to be held just before 11 a.m. in the Water Cube 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 Mr Phelps. "I'm just going to try and rest and recover as much as I can."

China had dominated in gymnastics in the first week, winning the first three golds on offer. But the US team made up for disappointment in the women's team event by winning gold and silver in the individual all-around event.

Nastia Liukin fought back the tears after winning gold, ahead of compatriot Shawn Johnson and China's Yang Yilin.

"It's amazing, I'm kind of speechless right now," 18-year-old Ms Liukin said as she caressed the gleaming medal around her neck.

In the pool it was also America's morning. 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," Mr Peirsol said.

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

It was a double disappointment for Australia's women, dominant in the pool until now, when world champion Libby Trickett was also overhauled right at the finish by Germany's Britta Steffen in the 100 freestyle.

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. By early afternoon on day seven, China led 22 golds to the Americans' 14.

The Communist Party is desperate to underline the country's growing superpower status by overtaking the United States, and its 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 gold medals are decided, and the Americans have high hopes in today's shot put.

In one of the most eagerly anticipated contests of the Games, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay comfortably won their heats in the men's 100 metres.

There was joy for the hosts in the baseball park, China defeating arch-rivals Taiwan 8-7. Cuba beat the United States 5-4 in another tightly fought match.

Security has been gradually ratcheted up at the Games since the father-in-law of the American volleyball coach was stabbed and killed in Beijing on the first full day of the Games. X-ray and scanning machines have now been deployed at the most heavily visited section of the Great Wall just outside Beijing, an official said.

Sporadic protests have continued in Beijing despite the clampdown. Foreign activists unfurled a banner proclaiming "Free Tibet" over an Olympics poster at the newly built headquarters of China's state television broadcaster.

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