Changing China

Giant on the move

Snapshot Beijing, 6: Michael Phelps wins eight golds

August 25, 2008

Phelps in full flow

Michael Phelps trouncing his rivals is always something fantastic to see, and here in Beijing it took your breath away to watch him so often leave everyone else for dead.

But the races which stick most vividly in my mind are the two in which gold appeared to have escaped him.

First of those was the 4×100 freestyle relay. I thought the race was lost for the U.S. when Frenchman Alain Bernard turned for the last length nearly a second up. But Jason Lezak had other ideas and snatched victory with the swim of a lifetime. I’ll never forget the sight of Phelps roaring his joy and release.

Then there was Miroslav Cavic reaching for gold in the 100 fly, only for Phelps, charging through the faster, to swing his arms over, hit the wall first in that final lunge and win by just one hundredth of a second. I’d expected Phelps to catch him earlier but thought, at the death, he’d run out of time to do it.

The next day Phelps made it eight in the medley relay and I had been lucky enough to witness each movement of his swimming symphony.

Swimming is my sporting passion. I’d been in Munich for my first Olympics in 1972 but was covering gymnastics and couldn’t get to the pool nearby to see any of Mark Spitz’s seven golden swims. Thirty-six years on, it was all the sweeter to watch Phelps take his place as arguably the greatest Olympian of them all.

I may have missed the seven but I got the eight.

Kevin Fylan adds: This is the sixth in our series of snapshots from the Beijing Games, where Reuters reporters give their thoughts on what it was like to be there at the key moments of the Olympics.

Read Snapshot Beijing, 1: Matt Emmons, by Erik Kirschbaum here.

Read Snapshot Beijing, 2: Matthias Steiner, by Sophie Hardach here.

Read Snapshot Beijing, 3: Usain Bolt, by Paul Majendie here.

Read Snapshot Beijing, 4: Matthew Mitcham, by Emma Graham-Harrison here.

Read Snapshot Beijing, 5: Fair play gets forgotten, by Lindsay Beck here.

One more to come.

PHOTO: Michael Phelps of the U.S. competes during his team’s victory in the men’s 4×100 meters medley relay swimming final during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Aquatics Centre, August 17, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray

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