Image: Michael Phelps
MARTIN BUREAU  /  AFP/Getty Images
Michael Phelps anchored his 4 by 100 medley relay team to a gold medal Saturday, giving him a record eight golds at the Beijing games.
msnbc.com news services
updated 8/17/2008 12:17:50 AM ET 2008-08-17T04:17:50
DAY 9 HIGHLIGHTS

Michael Phelps got what he came for, capping the greatest Olympics for an individual athlete by winning his eighth gold medal in Beijing and 14th of his career.

Matt Emmons? Well, he probably prefers we talk more about Phelps.

The swimmer from Baltimore and the shooter who went to college in Alaska demonstrated Sunday how the Olympic experience can bring out the best and worst in people.

Phelps was the joyous part, of course, a big reason the U.S. team closed out a meet full of world records with yet another in the Olympic 400-meter relay. The victory also pushed him past Mark Spitz’s record of seven golds, a record that’s stood since 1972 and gave headline writers everywhere fodder for lines like “Great eight!” “Eighth wonder!” and “Eight is enough!”

“I guess it’s a lucky number for me now, too,” Phelps said. “Seeing eight in ’08, and opening ceremonies starting at 8:08, I guess it was maybe meant to be.”

Emmons thought he was headed for a meant-to-be moment, too.

After blowing gold by shooting at the wrong target four years ago, he was back in the lead on the last shot of the same event. He was determined not to make the same mistake again. He didn’t — he made a different one.

Emmons’ gun fired before he was ready. Instead of the measly 6.7 he needed, he got an atrocious 4.4, dropping him to the cruelest spot of all, fourth. At least last time he got silver.

“I didn’t feel my trigger shaking, but I guess it was,” Emmons said. “It just hit the trigger, the gun went off and I was like, ’Uh, that’s not going to be good.’ ”

Emmons is going home with three medals anyway: A silver from another event, plus a gold and a silver won by his wife, Katerina Emmons of the Czech Republic. They hooked up after she consoled him following the flub in Athens.

Sunday was the most medal-filled of these games, with 36 titles decided. Several were in track and field, and a few more in tennis, with headliners Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters going home with gold.

China won eight golds, giving the hosts a whopping 35 for these games, the most in the nation’s history. And there are still seven days left. The Chinese are second in the overall medal count, with the United States owning 65 (19 gold) to China’s 61.

Also Sunday, reigning women’s 400-meter hurdles champion Fani Halkia of Greece became the latest doping casualty, the fourth caught by the IOC’s Beijing anti-doping program.

The IOC and games organizers also called off their scheduled news conference for a second straight day, this time because it conflicted with Phelps.

Track and field
Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser broke away from the pack early and cruised to victory in the women’s 100 meters, a day after Usain Bolt set a world-record in the men’s race. About the biggest difference was that Fraser waited until crossing the finish line — well, almost — before celebrating. Two other Jamaicans, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart, tied for second, denying the American trio of Lauryn Williams, Torri Edwards and Muna Lee from making the medals stand.

The scoreboard flashed “Photo-Finish” for a couple of minutes before finally showing that Simpson and Stewart were both timed in 10.98 — and were both credited with finishing second. Williams was fourth, Lee fifth.

In the women’s 400, three-time U.S. national champion Sanya Richards won her semifinal in 49.90 seconds to move into Tuesday’s finals where she’ll go for an individual gold to go with the relay gold she won at the Athens Olympics. Americans Mary Wineberg and Dee Dee Trotter each failed to advance.

“Oh, man, I feel I can just taste it now,” said Richards, who has dominated the event but never won a world championship or Olympic gold medal, in part because she has suffered from a rare disease that caused painful sores on her body and in her mouth.

Francoise Mbango Etone of Cameroon defended her triple jump title, Russia’s Gulnara Galkina-Samitova set a world record in winning the first-ever women’s steeplechase, and Primoz Kozmus won the men’s hammer throw, giving Slovenia its first-ever track and field gold medal.

Kenenisa Bekele won his second straight 10,000 meters title, while Haile Gebrselassie — who won the 10,000 at the 1996 and 2000 Games — was sixth. He’s been running the marathon since Athens, but switched back because the asthmatic runner was worried about the polluted air in Beijing. Turns out, it wasn’t so bad for the women’s marathon, which was won by Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania. The race also was incident-free, thanks in part to heavy security.

World record-holder Paula Radcliffe of Britain persevered through injuries, but finished 23rd. American record-holder Deena Kastor dropped out early because of a broken right foot. With Magda Lewy also pulling out because of a knee ailment, the only American to finish was Blake Russell, in 27th.

Also, reigning hurdles champion Liu Xiang of China said on his Web site that he has an inflamed hamstring. Heats begin Monday.

Swimming
The U.S. women also had a nice morning at the pool.

Dara Torres came oh-so-close to capturing a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle, finishing second by 0.01 seconds. Still, silver was terrific for the 41-year-old mom who thought she’d retired a few years ago, only to dive back in and become America’s first five-time swimming Olympian.

Then Torres was part of the 400 medley relay squad that finished behind Australia. That silver upped her total to three medals here and 12 for her career.

Natalie Coughlin also was on that relay. She got her sixth medal of these games and 11th of her career — not that anyone has noticed much because of Phelps.

Tennis
Rafael Nadal becomes No. 1 in the world Monday. He’ll also wake up an Olympic champion.

Nadal overcame two set points in the second set and held every service game to beat Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

The Williams sisters won the women’s doubles title by romping past a Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-2, 6-0. They also won in Sydney.

“I’m so excited, I can’t even speak,” said Venus, who has already won seven doubles Grand Slams and a gold medal in Sydney alongside her sister. But, winning as a family never grows old. “To share this kind of moment with your sister,” she said, gives her “chill bumps.”

In women’s singles, Russia became the first nation to sweep a tennis event since Great Britain in 1908 women’s singles. (Note that tennis was not a medal sport between 1924 and 1988.)

Elena Dementieva won over Dinara Safina 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, and Vera Zvonareva beat Li Na of China 6-0, 7-5 for the bronze.

Fencing
After missing out on a medal four years ago because of consecutive 45-44 losses, Keeth Smart and the U.S. men’s saber team got to the gold-medal bout with a pair of 45-44 victories. But they couldn’t get past the French in the finals.

Smart, Tim Morehouse and James Williams celebrated the silver — especially Smart, who endured the death of both parents and a rare blood disorder since 2004.

Gymnastics
Shawn Johnson keeps making memories in Beijing. Bad ones, even if she doesn’t act like it.

Two days after losing the all-around to teammate Nastia Liukin, Romania’s Sandra Izbasa — the very last competitor — grabbed the floor exercise gold that was almost in the American’s hands. Liukin got bronze in the event. Johnson barely flinched when Izbasa’s mark came up, and the 16-year-old American also had a hug for the winner.

China’s Cheng Fei lost for the first time in three years in women’s vault. North Korea’s Hong Un Jong won it. American Alicia Sacramone was fourth.

China dominated the men’s event finals, with Zou Kai winning the floor exercise and Ziao Qin taking pommel horse. Counting team and all-around, the hosts are 4-for-4 in men’s events.

Women’s basketball
Tina Thompson scored 10 points during a 21-0 run, sending the U.S. women past New Zealand 96-60. The Americans went 5-0 in pool play, winning by an average of 43 points.

Reigning WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson scored 16 points, helping Australia rally past Russia 75-55 to clinch the top seed in its pool and avoid playing the U.S. until the championship game.

Becky Hammon, an American turned naturalized Russian, led her team with 20 points. Russia dropped to 4-1.

Softball
The U.S. women won their 20th straight Olympic game with as little drama as they usually provide. Monica Abbott pitched five perfect innings and Crystl Bustos, Jessica Mendoza and Tairia Flowers homered in an 8-0 victory over the Netherlands.

Next up: China, which lost 2-1 to Taiwan to get eliminated from the medal round.

In other games, Japan beat Venezuela 5-2 and Australia beat Canada 4-0.

Boxing
The Americans won’t be going home empty-handed, thanks to heavyweight Deontay Wilder getting to the semifinals, assuring him of at least bronze.

“I don’t want the world to remember Team USA as being failures,” Wilder said.

The only other U.S. boxer left, Demetrius Andrade, was ousted by South Korea’s Kim Jung-joo, a bronze medalist in Athens.

Beach volleyball
There won’t be an all-American women’s finals.

Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh were ousted with a loss to a Chinese team. Earlier Sunday, Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor advanced to the final four with a straight-sets victory over Brazilians Ana Paula and Larissa.

Rowing
The U.S. women’s eight took gold and the U.S. men’s eight took bronze. Canada won the men’s eight, becoming the first world champion crew to follow up with Olympic gold in 35 years.

China won its first-ever rowing medal in women’s quadruple sculls, prompting wild celebration at the venue in Beixiaoying Town.

Cycling
The British are rolling through this tournament. Rebecca Romero — a silver-winning rower in Athens — gave Britain its fourth gold in five events, taking the women’s individual pursuit. Also, their men’s and women’s pursuit team broke the world record on their way to the final.

American Jennie Reed advanced to a sprint quarterfinal, continuing her bid for the first medal by a U.S. woman in 20 years. Michael Blatchford didn’t make the quarterfinal.

Women’s volleyball
The U.S. closed preliminary play by beating Poland in five sets. The Americans already secured a spot in the quarterfinals.

Cuban and Brazil finished prelims undefeated.

Poland, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Algeria were eliminated.

Sailing
The winds were up in Qingdao. Were they ever.

In strong winds, heavy waves and rain, Britain’s Finn sailor Ben Ainslie won his third Olympic gold medal and American Zach Railey got silver, shortly after a trio of British women took the Yngling sailing gold.

Women’s water polo
There’s going to be a new champion. The reigning winners from Italy were knocked off by the Netherlands, sending the Dutch into the semifinals against Hungary. Australia and the United States, the top two teams in the world rankings, will meet in the other semifinal.

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