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Phelps passes Spitz with golden eight

By Andrew Cawthorne

BEIJING (Reuters) - Michael Phelps took a record-breaking eighth gold at one Games on Sunday in Beijing to beat fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz's seven from Munich 1972.

Phelps hugged his team mates in celebration after a comfortable men's 4x100 meters medley relay win contrasting with the finger-tip, split-second finishes that came in two of his earlier Beijing golds.

His 14 golds, which include six in Athens, make him the most successful Olympian of the modern era by a big margin of five.

With Games spectators still agog at Usain Bolt's audaciously brilliant 100m win in the blue riband athletics race on Saturday night, the first gold of Day Nine went to Romania.

Constantina Tomescu had time to relax and wave at the crowd before crossing the finish line in the Bird's Nest stadium after a marathon run that began in Tiananmen Square.

Catherine Ndereba of Kenya took silver and Zhou Chunxiu of China the bronze, with Britain's world record holder Paula Radcliffe struggling for fitness and well back.

In the highest-profile doping case yet of the August 8-24 Games, Greece's defending women's 400 meters hurdles champion Fani Halkia failed a drug test hours before she was to compete.

That recalled the doping sagas that darkened Athens 2004.

But it has been the scintillating sport, not scandals, in Beijing dominating attention and relegating the pre-Games focus on China's rights record and pollution problems.

Having passed Spitz's seven golds of 36 years ago, the 23-year-old Phelps now stands alone in the record books.

Blessed with an arm span bigger than his height, Phelps has pumped himself up with hip-hop before races and always looks for his mother in the stands at moments of triumph.

He is guaranteed a lifetime of multi-million corporate deals.

But Phelps has failed to match Spitz in one aspect. His 100m butterfly gold on Saturday was not in a world record time, unlike his other seven wins in Beijing.

All seven of Spitz's medals came in world record times.


It was Jamaica's Bolt on everybody's lips overnight after he scorched to victory in the 100 meters sprint in world record time. That came despite slowing at the end to check he was ahead and punch his chest in joy in front of 91,000 spectators.

"I was just having fun, that's me," said Bolt, 21.

While Bolt danced around the Bird's Nest stadium in celebration, cars honked and crowds cheered in a victory party on his Caribbean island of 2.7 million people.

"This means a lot to my country. It means a lot to me," said the world's fastest man, whose favored 200 meters comes next.

Sunday offers 37 golds, the most of any day in the Olympics.

China are way ahead in the medal table with 27 golds to the United States' 17 in a Games Beijing had hoped would showcase a more open face as well as its new global economic clout.

Replacing Russia as the main rival to the United States, China came second in Athens with 32 golds.

Greece's Halkia lost her chance of another gold due to an August 10 test while she was preparing in Japan, Greek Olympic Committee officials said.

"I can't believe it," Halkia told reporters, denying she had taken performance-enhancing drugs. "The first thing I thought of doing was to give all the nutritional supplements I have consumed, my vitamins, for testing."

The reputation of Greek sport took a blow on the eve of the Athens Olympics when sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, both medals hopes, missed a test and withdrew.

In a reminder of the political undercurrents around the Beijing Olympics, the Dalai Lama accused China of mistreating and torturing citizens in Tibet while the Games were on.

"Unfortunately the Olympic spirit is not being respected at all by Chinese officials in Tibet," he told a French TV station.

"Civilians are often arrested, violently tortured to the point where they die. It's really very, very sad."

Some pro-free Tibet protesters from abroad have braved a 100,000-strong security force in Beijing to shout or unfurl banners. But Chinese police have dealt with them swiftly.

Before the American men's triumph in the same event, Australia's 100m medley women's relay team took gold in world record time.

(Reporting by Beijing Olympic bureau, editing by Jon Bramley)

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