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Superhuman performances light up Beijing


American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt have turned in once-in-a-generation performances at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

On Sunday, Phelps broke into uncharted territory with a record eighth gold medal in one Olympics, bettering countryman Mark Spitz, who had held the record since the 1972 Munich Games.

That accomplishment came just one day after Bolt astounded the world with his own mind-boggling performance in the 100 metres race, effortlessly finishing with a record-breaking time of 9.69 seconds before 90,000 roaring fans at the Beijing National Stadium.

"In the Olympic final, he made the competition look ridiculous," wrote Remo Geisser of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper.

Together, Bolt and Phelps created one of the most amazing 24-hour periods in sport history.

Phelps, cheering from the pool deck on Sunday, would watch as teammate Jason Lezak held on to the lead in the 4x100 metre medley relay, anchoring the United States to a world record against an Australian team that did its best to spoil history.

For Phelps, 23, it was the 14th career gold medal. He has five more than anyone else in the 112-year history of the Olympics.

Switzerland's entire team, in comparison, won five medals in Athens four years ago and has the same number so far in Beijing.

"Everything was accomplished," said Phelps, who tried to win eight in 2004 but went home with six. "I will have the medals forever."

Greatest Olympian

Phelps - 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," said Phelps, who as a child in Baltimore had a screaming fit at his first swimming lesson because he did not want to get his face wet. As a child, he took medication for Attention Deficit Disorder.

For day after day, year after year he practised in his club pool, building his strength, perfecting his technique and feeding his ambition to redefine the boundaries of his sport. His first Olympic experience came in Sydney eight years ago, when Phelps was just 15. He finished fifth in one race.

"He may be human, but he's from a different planet," Russian swimmer Alexander Sukhorukov said this week after Phelps had moved one step closer to the landmark.

"A different galaxy," he added.

Lightning Bolt

Bolt too, is different. At 1.93 metres tall, Bolt was previously a 200 metre specialist. He only began racing the 100 metres in the last year, putting his fellow sprinters in the shade with his performances. He first really showed his threat in May, when he set a world record time of 9.72 in New York.

With world champion Tyson Gay out in the semi finals of the 100 metre on Friday night, the 21-year-old Bolt seemingly had only countryman Asafa Powell to beat, but when he looked around and realized he was all clear with 30 meters to go, he coasted, grinning and pounding his heart as he crossed the finish line.

He is the heavy favourite for the 200 metre race and will now set his sights on becoming the first man to win both since the great Carl Lewis in 1984.

The Jamaican, who kept his Caribbean nation of 2.7 million glued to their television sets, is uncharacteristically lanky. But his long strides helped him finish 0.2 seconds ahead of Trinidadian Richard Thompson, an eternity in sprinting.

"Usain Bolt is a phenomenal athlete. It was only a matter of time before he began producing times like he's producing now," Thompson told reporters after the race. He said it was a "great accomplishment" to finish behind Bolt.

American Walter Dix won bronze in 9.91 seconds while Jamaican Asafa Powell, the previous world record holder, finished fifth.

"I didn't even know I got the world record until after I finished my victory lap, actually," said Bolt. He is the first Jamaican to capture gold in the world's most-watched race.

"One aim was just to come here and be Olympic champion. I did just that, so I was happy with myself. It means a lot to my country and it means a lot to me."

swissinfo with agencies

Swiss medals

As of August 17, Switzerland has won five medals:

Gold: Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, Tennis, Men's Doubles

Gold: Fabian Cancellara, Cycling, Men's Individual Time Trial

Bronze: Fabian Cancellara, Cycling, Men's Road Race

Bronze: Karin Thürig, Cycling, Women's Individual Time Trial

Bronze: Sergei Aschwanden, Judo, Men's Middleweight (81-90 kg)

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World's fastest men

On June 21, 1960, West German sprinter Armin Hary ran the 100 metre race in 10.0 seconds in Zurich.

In 1968, American Jim Hines set a new world record of 9.95 seconds in Mexico City.

Canadian Ben Johnson posted a time of 9.79 seconds at the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 only to be caught doping.

Americans Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell traded the world record back and forth until 1994, with Burrell posting a time of 9.85 seconds in Lausanne on July 6, 1994.

Canadian Donovan Bailey ran a new record of 9.84 seconds in 1996 in Atlanta, and Maurice Green of the US held the time of 9.79 seconds from 1999 until 2005.

Jamaica has been king since then, starting with Asafa Powell, who ran in a time of 9.77 seconds.

Usain Bolt ran 9.72 earlier this year in New York and 9.69 in Beijing.

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