Phelps faces final hurdle in record bid

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Michael Phelps confronts the last obstacle in the way of an astounding sporting feat when he goes for his eighth gold of the Beijing Olympics on Sunday.

Updated: August 22, 2008 09:10 IST
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Swimming star Michael Phelps confronts the last obstacle in the way of an astounding sporting feat when he goes for his eighth gold of the Beijing Olympics in the 4x100 metres medley relay on Sunday.

Already the most successful winner in terms of gold medals the Olympics has ever seen, with a career-haul of 13 to his name, yet another victory for Phelps at the Water Cube would see him take sole possession of the record for the most titles won at a single Games.

Phelps tied fellow US pool legend Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record of seven golds at the one Olympics in spectacular fashion Saturday.

He won the 100m butterfly by just one-hundredth of a second, the smallest possible margin, from Milorad Cavic and then had to wait on a protest by the beaten Serb's federation the race ought to be declared a dead heat.

Few would dispute Phelps's phenomenal ability but it was only a remarkable last leg by Jason Lezak in the 4x100m freestyle relay which prevented his bid for the 'great eight' falling at the second hurdle after the veteran came from behind to ensure victory over France.

So far everything has gone Phelps's way and rival teams may be dispirited rather than heartened by the knowledge a botched relay change by Ian Crocker cost Phelps the chance of winning eight golds at the 2007 world championships because, surely, the Americans won't make the same mistake twice?

"Unfortunately, I remember last year," said Crocker as he recalled his moment of madness in Melbourne. "It's hard to forget about that.

"After this week, all that Phelps has done, you don't want to be the guy who stood in his way, do something stupid.

"I want him to have every shot at doing it."

After her agonising collapse in Athens four years ago, bleary-eyed British television viwers may well be watching the women's marathom from behind their sofas as Paula Radcliffe attempts to win the one title that has so far eluded her in an otherwise stellar career.

The 34-year-old has yet to win an Olympic medal of any colour and doubts persist over whether she is fully fit following a stress fracture of her left leg in May.

Haile Gerbrselassie refused to run the marathon because he feared for his health running 26 miles and 385 yards in Beijing, a city notorious for its pollution problems.

However, the task the Ethiopian distance running great and two-time Olympic 10,000 metres champion has set himself in trying to regain the title from compatriot Kenenisa Bekele is scarcely much less arduous.

It may be hard for the final of the women's 100 metres to match the thrilling climax of the men's event, where Usain Bolt won in a new world record time, but an intriguing race is in prospect nonetheless with more Jamaican gold a distinct possibility.

Medal table-toppers China will look for another badminton success when local hero Lin Dan takes on Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei in the men's singles final.

Lin will want to make some amends for his girlfriend, Xie Xingfang, being beaten in the women's final by fellow Chinese star Zhang Ning.

The hosts will also be confident of podium-placings as the individual appartus gymnastics finals get underway.

Britain have dominated the first two days of competition in track cycling and they are assured of another gold at the Laoshan Velodrome on Sunday when Rebecca Romero faces team-mate Wendy Houvenaghel in the final of the women's individual pursuit.

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