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Phelps wins record eighth gold medal

US swimmer Michael Phelps went today where no man has been before to win a record eighth gold at one Olympics and better Mark Spitz's landmark 1972 feat.

Phelps held his arms aloft and hugged team mates after a relatively easy men's 4x100 metres medley relay win unlike the finger-tip finishes in two of his earlier Beijing golds.

The all-time most successful Olympian, who has over nine days in China proved himself to be one of the greatest sportsmen the world has seen, showed he was still human, though.

"I just want to see my mom," he said after a series of swims which will net him $1 million in sponsors' bonuses alone.

Phelps's 14th career gold, after six in Athens, took him past fellow American Spitz's record seven at one Games in Munich. He has five more now than any other Olympian in the 112-year history of the Games.

"It's been nothing but an upwards rollercoaster but it's been nothing but fun," he added at his moment of triumph, embracing his tearful mother and sister. "With so many people saying it couldn't be done, all it takes is an imagination."

Phelps achievement has dazzled the Chinese hosts, for whom eight is a lucky number, and brought welcome cheer to Americans during hard times.

"The economy and gas prices are always on your mind but Michael's success helps you forget depressing things," Los Angeles resident Samantha Higgins said among tens of millions glued to Phelps's every race on TV in the United States.

With Games spectators still agog at Usain Bolt's audaciously brilliant 100m win in the blue riband athletics race on Saturday night, Romania took the first gold of Day Nine in one of the Beijing Olympics' toughest events.

Constantina Tomescu had time to relax and wave at the crowd before crossing the finish line in the Bird's Nest stadium after a women's marathon run that began in Tiananmen Square.

Catherine Ndereba of Kenya took silver and Zhou Chunxiu of China the bronze, with Britain's world record holder Paula Radcliffe struggling for fitness and well back.

In the highest-profile doping case yet of the Aug. 8-24 Games, Greece's defending women's 400 metres hurdles champion Fani Halkia failed a drug test hours before she was to compete.

That recalled the doping sagas that darkened Athens 2004.

LIGHTNING BOLT

But it has been the scintillating sport, not scandals, in Beijing dominating attention and relegating the pre-Games focus on China's rights record and pollution problems.

Nobody doubted that Sunday was Phelps's day.

Blessed with an arm span bigger than his height, Phelps has pumped himself up with hip-hop before races and always looks for his mother in the stands at moments of triumph.

Phelps teamed up with backstroker Aaron Peirsol, breaststroker Brendan Hansen and freestyler Jason Lezak to help the United States smash the old men's medley relay mark of three minutes 30.68 seconds with a winning time of 3:29.34 on Sunday.

All but one of his eight golds have come in world record times -- and the other was an Olympic best.

Phelps, who comes from Baltimore and had to overcome attention deficit disorder in childhood, is now guaranteed a lifetime of multi-million dollar corporate deals.

"I wanted to put my mind to it and wanted to do something that no one ever did in sport," he added.

Jamaica's Bolt was the other name on everybody's lips.

He sprinted to victory in the 100 metres in world record time on Saturday night despite slowing at the end to check he was ahead and punch his chest in joy in front of 91,000 people.

"I was just having fun, that's me," said Bolt, 21.

While he danced around the Bird's Nest stadium in celebration, cars honked and crowds cheered in a victory party on his Caribbean island of 2.7 million people.

"This means a lot to my country. It means a lot to me," said the world's fastest man, whose favoured 200 metres comes next.

China are way ahead in the medal table with 27 golds to the United States' 17 in a Games that Beijing hopes will showcase a more open face as well as its new global economic clout.

The Americans should come back strongly in remaining track events, but they face a tough challenge to overtake China, who had only a one-gold lead at the same stage in Athens.

Replacing Russia as the main rival to the United States, China were second in 2004 with 32 golds. The world's most populous nation would love to come first on home soil.

Behind the big two, Germany stand third in Beijing with nine golds and Australia fourth on eight.

South Korea, Japan and Britain have seven.

Greek Olympic Committee officials said their athlete Halkia lost her chance of another gold due to an Aug. 10 test while she was preparing in Japan. "I can't believe it," Halkia told reporters, denying she had taken performance-enhancing drugs.

In a reminder of the political undercurrents around the Beijing Olympics, the Dalai Lama accused China of mistreating and torturing citizens in Tibet while the Games were on.

"Unfortunately the Olympic spirit is not being respected at all by Chinese officials in Tibet," he told a French TV station.

"Civilians are often arrested, violently tortured to the point where they die. It's really very, very sad."

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