News & Current Affairs

August 24, 2008

Beijing primed for Olympic finale

Beijing primed for Olympic finale

The Bird's Nest stadium hosts the closing ceremony

Plenty of fireworks are in store at the closing ceremony

The Beijing Games draw to a close on Sunday after what many have described as one of the best Olympics ever held.

China, having beaten the United States to top the medals table, will hand the Olympic flag to the 2012 hosts London at a closing ceremony from 1300 BST.

Great Britain surpassed all targets by winning 19 golds at the 2008 Games – their best haul for a century.

Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru won the men’s marathon on the final day, with basketball and boxing finals to come.

Six boxing titles are being decided while the men’s basketball final, featuring the United States and Spain, starts at 0730 BST.

Later, the spectacular farewell in front of a packed house of more than 90,000 at the Bird’s Nest stadium is set to last three hours and will include fireworks displays at 18 locations across Beijing.

The organisers have promised a more light-hearted show than the opening ceremony, which focused heavily on Chinese history.

Scottish cyclist Chris Hoy, who claimed three gold medals at the Games, will carry the flag for Team GB at the closing ceremony.

The ceremony will also see London mayor Boris Johnson receive the Olympic flag to signal the countdown to the 2012 Games.

Team GB have been congratulated for their efforts in a message from The Queen.

“As a nation we now look forward to holding the Olympic Games in London in 2012,” she said.”The golden triumphs of the present British team can only serve as further inspiration to those who will be working hard over the next four years to make the London Games a shining example of Olympic success.”

China staged the Olympics against a background dominated by fears of pollution, worries over security and protests about its human rights record.

But the sporting action has been enthralling, with highlights including Michael Phelps swimming to a record eight gold medals and Jamaican Usain Bolt breaking three world records as he bagged a sprint title treble.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who spoke on Sunday of his hope that a UK football team could compete in the next Olympics, will attend the closing event.

Prime minister Gordon Brown and footballer Beckham

Brown rubs shoulders with Beckham in Beijing

The London Olympics will also have a eight-minute slot that will feature a version of Led Zeppelin classic Whole Lotta Love performed by the group’s guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Leona Lewis.Footballer David Beckham will be involved as will the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra.

The closing show will also feature a duet by Chinese folk singer Song Zuying and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, along with a performance by a 350-strong kung-fu group.

There promises to be another spectacular show earlier in the day when the US basketball team, aka the ‘Redeem Team’, look to reclaim their crown against world champions Spain.

There are also six boxing gold medals to be decided, with Ireland’s Kenny Egan going in the light-heavyweight final.

Other finals are taking place in the men’s water polo (0840), men’s volleyball (0500), and men’s handball (0845).

In the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around event, Russia defended their title to take gold, while China claimed silver and Belarus bronze.

In total, there will be 12 gold medals won on the final day of action before the Games are handed on to London.

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August 16, 2008

Phelps equals Spitz’s seven golds

Phelps equals Spitz’s seven golds

Swimming superstar Michael Phelps matched Mark Spitz’s 1972 Munich Games record of seven gold medals by winning a thrilling 100m butterfly final.

Phelps, 23, was seventh at the turn but stormed back to edge out Serbia’s Milorad Cavic by just one hundredth of a second in a time of 50.58 seconds.

Serbia lodged a complaint against the result but the American’s win was subsequently confirmed by officials.

Phelps is seeking a record eighth gold medal in Sunday’s 4x100m medley final.

He had already won the 400m medley, 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 4x100m free relay, 4x200m free relay and the 200m medley, all in world record time.

I feel a little bit of everything – relief, excitement, everything
Michael Phelps

And while his victory in the 100m fly was not a world record, it was a new Olympic record after making up a deficit of more than half a second in the final length.

Like a pair of heavyweights before a title bout, Cavic and Phelps tried to stare each other out on the starting blocks.

And Cavic’s self-belief and ferocious effort meant Phelps trailed his rival with just 10m to go.

It looked as if Phelps’s incredible bid to equal Spitz’s record was over but the American turned on the power and, as Cavic reached for the wall, gambled with one more stroke.

“I actually thought I had lost the race right there, but I guess that was the difference in the end,” said Phelps, who pounded the water in triumph and screamed with delight after checking the result on the scoreboard.

“When I saw the 50.58 and the 50.59 and I saw the ‘1’ next to my name, that’s when I let my roar out.

“I really don’t know what to say. I guess I’ve had the perfect situations all week.

“I was shocked at the end, it was kind of a little bit of a delayed reaction.

“I feel a little bit of everything – relief, excitement, everything. I had to take my goggles off to make sure the ‘1’ was next to my name.

“I just have one race left, the relay, and then it’s done.

“Tying Spitz’s record is pretty cool. It’s great to be a part of all of this.”

Spitz himself, now 58, had nothing but praise for Phelps’s achievement.

“Not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time,” said Spitz.

Cavic lost out on the final stroke but there was a feeling around the Water Cube that officials had been too quick to award the gold to the American.

But race referee Ben Ekumbo said: “Under our rules we do listen to protests. We looked at video footage and it was very clear the Serbian swimmer touched second, after Phelps. One was stroking and one was gliding.

“Two independent timing systems showed exactly the same on the time. Phelps was 50.58, Cavic was 50.59.

“The automatic timing systems are in perfect order and there are no doubts.”

Ekumbo added: “Although the rules don’t allow for team leaders to watch the video footage I had a meeting with the Serbia team leaders to afford them the opportunity to see the video themselves because we don’t want them to go away feeling something is lost.

“The Serbian team were very satisfied and agreed with the comments of the referee.”

Ekumbo also stressed there was never any danger of Phelps losing his gold medal.

“Michael Phelps is the greatest ever and he would have been first in this race any how. The question was whether to share (the gold medal) or not to share,” he said.

Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic surge for the wall at the end of the race

Phelps (left) needed a desperate late surge to pip Cavic

“But what the referee saw was very clear. There was no doubt whatsoever, the first arrival was Michael Phelps.”

Cavic himself said he was happy with the result despite the controversy surrounding the finish.

“I’m stoked with what happened,” Cavic said.

“I don’t want to fight this. People will be bringing this up for years and saying you won that race. If we got to do this again, I would win it.

“I am not angry. I knew it would be a fast race, and I knew Michael would be fast.

“I knew he would be coming at me, there was no need to look over to try and see him, I saw his shadow coming in my goggles.”

Cavic watched the replay adding: “It’s kind of hard to see.

“I know I had a long finish and Michael Phelps had a short finish.”

August 15, 2008

Sixth gold for unstoppable Phelps

Sixth gold for unstoppable Phelps

Swimming superstar Michael Phelps won his sixth gold medal of the Beijing Games, breaking his own world record in the 200m individual medley.

The American won in a time of 1min 54.23secs, shaving 0.57secs off his previous best set in July and setting his sixth world record of the Games.

Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh took silver and Ryan Lochte of the US won bronze.

Phelps, who is chasing an unprecedented eight gold medals in Beijing, now has 12 career Olympic golds to his name.

He led from the start of the race and finished strongly on his favoured freestyle leg, 2.29secs ahead of Cseh in second.

Lochte held on for third despite having raced just half an hour earlier, when he broke the world record to take the men’s 200m backstroke title.

Phelps, 23, the dominant story of the Beijing Olympics, has now won the 400m medley, 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 4x100m free relay, 4x200m free relay and now the 200m medley, all in world record time.

But he showed little reaction apart from a quick shake of his fist after his latest victory.

He is now closing in on Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven golds at a single Games.

Moments after receiving his medal for winning the 200m medley Phelps returned to the pool for the semi-final of the 100m fly, winning in a time of 50.97secs.

“I switched from my dress sweats to my parka, shoes, threw my cap and goggles on and then they pushed us on out. No time,” he said.

“The medal was in my warm-up jacket.”

He added: “There wasn’t much time but I think there’s going to be a lot of time for me to rest over the next 18 hours or so, and I’ll be able to be ready for tomorrow morning’s 100.”

His main rivals in that final will be Milorad Cavic of Croatia and US team-mate and world record holder, Ian Crocker.

“It’s definitely a tough race,” said Phelps.

“With (Cavic) and Ian having a great semi-final, it’s going to be a good race tomorrow.

“I’m going to do everything I can to be a little bit closer in the first 50 and hopefully if I’m there at the 50, I’ll be there at the finish.”

Assuming the US qualify, Phelps will then race in the 4x100m medley relay final on Sunday.

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