BEIJING — Track and field needs a new hero.
It got one Saturday night who can fly.
In the most outrageous display of speed to ever burn across the Olympic Games, Usain Bolt of Jamaica rocketed to gold in winning the men's 100m dash in 9.69 seconds -- not only a new world record but the first time in the history of human beings a man has run the distance under 9.7 seconds without a significant tailwind.
Incredibly, Bolt, 21, could have gone faster.
With a full seven strides to go, he dropped his arms and let them fall outstretched to his sides, appearing almost to run sideways as he played to the sold-out crowd of 91,000 at the Bird's Nest. Just before the finish line, he started high-stepping and, for good measure, executed a chest-thump.
All that, and still — 9.69 seconds. Bolt simply ran away from the rest of the best of the world.
The U.S. men's Olympic team is halfway back to the top of the basketball world.
And not even the world champions - on paper anyway - could give the Americans a game.
Unleashing a lethal 3-point barrage for the first time in Beijing, the Americans turned the marquee matchup of the preliminary round into another romp, beating Spain 119-82 Saturday night to clinch the top seed in their group.
LeBron James scored 18 points for the United States (4-0), which hit seven of its first 10 attempts from behind the arc after making only 29 percent in its first three games. They finished at 48 percent (12-of-25), an almost unfair total for a team with unmatched athleticism.
Every U.S. player scored - even Jason Kidd for the first time in Beijing - as the Americans turned the matchup of unbeatens into their easiest victory yet. Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony each finished with 16 points.
Manu Ginobili scored 32 and Luis Scola added 20, leading reigning Olympic champion Argentina past winless Iran 97-82, and Andrew Bogut had 22 and eight rebounds to help Australia past European champion Russia 95-80.
Mindaugas Lukauskis scored 20 points to keep Lithuania undefeated with an 86-73 victory against Croatia, and African champion Angola dropped to 0-4 with a 102-61 thrashing by Greece.
Michael Phelps won the race and withstood the review, giving him joint custody of the record for most gold medals won at a single Olympics. Then he went off to rest up for his final swim, the butterfly leg of the 400-meter medley relay Sunday morning.
Considering the U.S. has never lost that race, his once-audacious quest to go 8-for-8 in Beijing is now practically a given.
Thus, let the debate begin over just how great he’s been.
Skip Olympic terms because he’s blown by that, and move into the realm of all sports. So, how does it compare to Lance Armstrong’s seven straight Tour de France wins? To Tiger Woods winning four straight major golf titles? To Roger Federer’s 4½-year reign in tennis?
Answers will vary. But the fact Phelps is in the conversation proves the bigger point, that his performance the last week has cemented a spot among the greatest athletes of the early 21st century.
“Epic,” said Mark Spitz, whose record of seven golds has held up since the 1972 Munich Olympics. “It goes to show you that 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.”
The record-tying victory came in the 100-meter butterfly, and by the slimmest of margins: 0.01 second. An extra half-stroke at the end thrust him past Serbia’s Milorad Cavic, who was coasting the last few feet. The finish was too tight to be seen by the naked eye and too important for blind faith in the scoring equipment.
So the Serbian delegation filed a protest and swimming’s governing body had to review the tape down to the 10-thousandth of a second.
“There is no doubt the first arrival was Michael Phelps,” said Cornel Marculescu of Switzerland, the executive director of swimming’s international federation.
The other big event was the finals of the 100-meter dash Saturday night, featuring world record-holder Usain Bolt and the guy he took it from, fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell. American record-holder Tyson Gay didn’t get out of the semifinals, his balky hamstring perhaps still bothering him. Walter Dix and Darvis Patton will represent the U.S. in the final instead.
“I did my best,” said Gay, who still has a chance for a medal in the relays. “I don’t have any excuses.”
Through 21 of Saturday’s finals, the United States was atop the medals table with 51. China was second with 45, but the hosts lead with 27 gold, more than the entire haul of any delegation except the Americans.
Sweden’s medal count dipped because the International Olympic Committee decided to strip two-time world champion Ara Abrahamian of his bronze for violating the spirit of fair play during the medal ceremony. Ya think? All he did was drop the medal on the mat after taking third in the Greco-Roman 84-kilogram division, still incensed over a penalty call that decided his semifinal loss to the eventual gold winner. The IOC executive board ruled Saturday his behavior was like a political demonstration and disrespectful to fellow athletes.
Other track and field
While the buzz built for the men’s 100, U.S. sprinters Lauryn Williams, Torri Edwards and Muna Lee advanced to the quarterfinals of the women’s version, as did a trio of Jamaicans.
“It’s nerve-racking, the first round even,” said Williams who finished second in her heat in 11.38 seconds, 0.01 behind Christine Arron of France. “You don’t want to go out there and take it for granted — then you’re going to mess up.”
In the men’s 20-kilometer walk, Russia’s Valeriy Borchin won, then collapsed soon after and was taken away on a stretcher. After medical attention for dehydration, he was back on his feet.
In qualifying for the women’s pole vault, Yelena Isinbayeva — the Olympic and world champion and world record-holder — waited and waited for her first attempt until the bar went up to the automatic qualifying height of 15 feet, 1 inch. She cleared it with ease to get to the final, as did American rival Jenn Stuczynski.
The way world records have been falling at the Water Cube, Janet Evans’ 19-year-old standard in the women’s 800-meter freestyle — swimming’s oldest world record — was doomed to go down. And Britain’s Rebecca Adlington dropped it en route to her second gold medal; she also won the 400.
Cesar Cielo won the 50-meter freestyle, earning Brazil its first-ever gold medal in swimming.
Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry defended her Olympic title in the women’s 200-meter backstroke in a world-record time. Her old roommate at Auburn, American Margaret Hoelzer, got the silver.
Also, 41-year-old Dara Torres was the fastest qualifier in the women’s 50 freestyle. She’ll have the middle lane for the final Sunday morning.
“That’s a little more pressure,” said Torres, whose collection of 10 medals includes bronze in this event in Sydney, “and I’m old enough to be able to handle it.”
The U.S. beat China in three sets, but the bigger news was coach Hugh McCutcheon rejoining the team a week after a knife attack that killed his father-in-law and wounded his mother-in-law. The woman, Barbara Bachman, arrived in her home state of Minnesota on Friday for treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
After the final point, Riley Salmon embraced his coach. McCutheon joined in a team high-five on the court.
“I wouldn’t have come back if I wasn’t ready to come back,” McCutcheon said. “It’s what I do — get out on the sidelines and get the boys fired up.”
The Americans went 3-0 without their coach, clinching a spot in the quarterfinals before he returned.
The American juggernaut crushed another opponent, with Jessica Mendoza hitting her third home run in two days and Jennie Finch pitching five shutout innings for a 7-0 victory over Taiwan. They’ve outscored their foes 36-1, have allowed just four hits in 29 innings, and have now won 19 straight Olympic games.
“USA is too strong to defeat,” Taiwan coach Chang Chia-Hsing said.
In other games, Japan beat China 3-0, Australia beat the Netherlands 8-0 and, at night, Venezuela plays Canada.
Venus and Serena Williams clinched at least a silver medal in doubles, beating Ukraine’s Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko to advance to the gold-medal match. The Williams sisters improved to 9-0 lifetime in Olympic doubles. They won the gold medal at Sydney in 2000 but didn’t play doubles in 2004 because Serena was hurt.
Give the women’s singles gold to Russia. Which Russian will be determined Sunday, when Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva square off. Dementieva beat another Russian, Vera Zvonareva, and Safina knocked out China’s Li Na.
American twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who have won all four Grand Slam championships, won the bronze in men’s doubles.
Novak Djokovic beat American James Blake for bronze in men’s singles. Blake lost consecutive matches after beating Roger Federer.
It was another one-run game for the Americans, although this time they wound up on top — after erasing a four-run deficit.
Brian Barden homered and had a tying double, then Terry Tiffee doubled in the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh in a 5-4 victory over Canada.
Barden played in place of injured second baseman Jayson Nix a day after Nix fouled a ball off his left eye and needed micro surgery that will keep him out the remainder of the Olympics.
Vincent Hancock, a 19-year-old member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, won a shoot-off to claim the gold in skeet.
American Keith Sanderson was in first place after qualifying in the men’s 25-meter rapid-fire pistol, but wound up fifth. Ukraine’s Oleksandr Petriv won it.
Americans Shawn Estrada and Luis Yanez lost, leaving only two U.S. fighters in the tournament.
Yanez tied his match against Mongolia’s Serdamba Purevdorj after three rounds, but couldn’t pull it out.
Estrada lost to James Degale, the hard-punching Brit known as “Chunky.”
Russian Matvey Korobov lost his first fight in five years, going down in a middleweight bout against Bakhtiyar Artayev of Kazakhstan, the welterweight winner in Athens.
The U.S. trio of Emily Cross, Erinn Smart and Hannah Thompson settled for silver in team foil, losing the final match to Russia 28-11. It’s the first ever for Americans in women’s foil and the first for the U.S. in all of foil since 1960.
Two U.S. men’s teams remain on course for a showdown in the finals.
Reigning world champions and heavy gold-medal favorites Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers of the United States overcame mental mistakes, mis-hits and an 0-6 deficit in the first-to-15 final set to beat a Swiss pair.
Later, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal had a much easier time getting past a Spain team.
American Michelle Guerette took silver in women’s single sculls, finishing behind Bulgaria’s Rumyana Neykova. Norway’s Olaf Tufte won his second straight men’s single sculls title.
Australia’s Drew Ginn and Duncan Free won men’s pair. Ginn won in Athens, too, but with a different partner. The Romanio duo of Georgeta Andrunache and Viorica Susanu won the women’s pair, bringing their combined career Olympic gold medal haul to a whopping nine. Andrunache has five and Susanu four from the pair and other events with different partners.
Twin sisters Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell won women’s double sculls, defending their Athens triumph by 0.01. Australia’s David Crawshay and Scott Brennan of Australia won the men’s double sculls.
Britain continued its dominance in men’s four rowing, winning gold for a third straight time.
Teenager Taylor Phinney won’t be adding to his family’s medal collection just yet. The son of 1984 medalists Connie Carpenter-Phinney and Davis Phinney failed to qualify for the medal round in the individual pursuit, losing in a round-of-eight matchup. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins won the event for his second straight gold medal.
Phinney still had the best Olympic finish by a U.S. men’s pursuit racer since 1984.
“There’s going to be a lot more Olympics in my future,” said Taylor Phinney, who wasn’t even thinking about competing a year ago. “I’ll be back.”
Two-time world champion Sarah Hammer failed to advance to the medal round in women’s pursuit, and fellow American Giddeon Massie failed to advance in keirin, which was won by Britain’s Chris Hoy.
With Hoy winning and countryman Ross Edgar taking silver, the British already have eight cycling medals, four of them gold.
Joan Llaneras of Spain won the men’s points race, adding that gold to the one he claimed in the event at Sydney in 2000 and the silver won in Athens four years ago.
Boing, boing, boing. That’s the bouncing of the trampoline and the sound of the Americans Chris Estrada and Erin Blanchard getting bounced out in qualifying.
“I was pretty calm until I got on the trampoline,” Estrada said. “Then the nerves hit.”
Do you believe in ... the U.S. men’s water polo team?
After raising doubt with a loss to Serbia, they showed strong defense in knocking off world No. 1 Croatia 7-5. The Croats came in having won three games by a total of 15 goals.
“They’ve got to know now that if they play like that, they can win this thing,” U.S. coach Terry Schroeder said.
The Americans must knock off Germany to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
American Cheryl Haworth was sixth in the women’s super heavyweight division. Jang Mi-ran of South Korea broke three world records on the way to gold and the unofficial title of the world’s strongest woman.
Belgium’s Moussa Dembele scored two goals after his club was reduced to 10 men, giving the Belgians a 3-2 victory over Italy and moving them one win from its first Olympic soccer medal since taking gold in 1920.
Rafael Sobis and Marcelo each scored a goal in extra time, giving Brazil a 2-0 win over 10-man Cameroon and sending the Brazilians into the semifinals for the first time since 1996.
In later games, Argentina was to play the Netherlands and Nigeria was to face Ivory Coast.
So much for bronze. The U.S. women were ousted from the third-place playoff
bracket by South Korea.
The second-seeded Germans will face the winner of the China-South Korea contest to be played later Saturday for men’s gold.
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