London Spy

Olympic history: Beijing 2008

London Spy

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Beijing: a mixture of the stern and the spectacular

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Beijing had narrowly lost out to Sydney for the 2000 Games, but finally earned its chance to host the Olympics eight years on in spite of concerns over China's human rights record.

This was coupled with calls from Tibetan activists for a boycott in protest at Chinese rule and as the Games approached, fears were voiced over media censorship and air quality.

Some reports alleged crackdowns on public protest by the authorities, but such was the level of excitement when the action began that the coverage was overwhelmingly positive.

American swimmer Michael Phelps improved on his 2004 success by winning all eight of his events to boost his medal total to 14 golds and 16 overall, but even his performance was eclipsed by the achievements of Usain Bolt.

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Michael Phelps: more gold than Fort Knox

The Jamaican sprinter's famous, archery-style celebratory pose became a symbol of the Games as he entered three events, took three gold medals and set three world records.

In the 100 metres Bolt eased up with the tape in his sights and still recorded 9.69 seconds, breaking the mark of 9.72, which he had notched less than three months earlier.

Four days later Bolt stormed home in the 200m in 19.30 seconds, improving by 0.02 the world record registered by American Michael Johnson in 1996.

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Usain Bolt lights up the track

Then, in the 4x100m relay, Jamaica struck gold with another world record of 37.10 seconds, finishing nearly a full second ahead of second-placed Trinidad and Tobago. Competition was eased by the United States dropping the baton during qualifying, but most observers doubted whether their presence would have made any difference.

The Americans also slipped up in the 200m, but found compensation over that distance. Wallace Spearmon finished third, only to be disqualified along with second-placed Churandy Martina, of the Netherlands Antilles, after both athletes stepped out of their lanes. American duo Shawn Crawford and Walter Dix were duly promoted to silver and bronze respectively.

Jamaica's sprint success extended to the women's events, where only American Allyson Felix, with a silver at 200m, prevented a clean sweep.

Felix was beaten by Veronica Campbell-Brown, who now has three Olympic gold medals, a silver and a bronze. She was denied further success when two of her team-mates fumbled the baton in the 4x100m relay, a blunder also committed by the Americans.

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Rebecca Adlington won the 400m and 800m freestyle

Kenenisa Bekele had missed out on the men's 5,000m-10,000m double in 2004 by 20 seconds, but in Beijing the Ethiopian became the first man to triumph in both events since compatriot Miruts Yifter in 1980.

Another Ethiopian, Tirunish Dibaba, emulated Bekele's double success in the women's equivalent events, while her husband, Sileshi Sihine, followed his 2004 silver in the 10,000m with another one in Beijing.

The field events brought a second successive gold for Yelena Isinbayeva. As an 18-year-old, the Russian had finished well down the field in the inaugural women's pole vault event in 2000, but she was a serial world record-breaker by the time she appeared in Athens and maintained that form in Beijing.

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That's SIR Chris Hoy to you...

In cycling Great Britain confirmed their resurgence with 14 medals — the highest total since the Americans claimed 21 as the only cycling contestants in St Louis in 1904 — and Bradley Wiggins equalled Burton Downing's record of six men's cycling medals set at those Games.

China didn't compete in gymnastics until 1984, but they were only denied a clean sweep of the men's medals in Beijing by Poland's Leszek Blanik in the vault.

Italy's Giovanna Trillini equalled the record of Ildiko Ujlaky-Rejto of competing in five consecutive foil tournaments and took an eighth medal to become the most decorated female fencer, but in boxing Cuba failed to deliver a gold medal for the first time since 1968.

So the Beijing Games were a huge success for Bolt, Phelps and China, but there was one massive disappointment for the hosts. Liu Xiang, dubbed the 'Shanghai Express', brought the nation to its feet when he began his defence of the Olympic 110m hurdles title — and to its knees when he pulled up with an Achilles injury and had to pull out of the Games.

Top three performances
1-Usain Bolt - The Lightning Bolt delivered iconic performances in the 100m and 200m, winning both in world record times.

2-Michael Phelps - Beat Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record by winning eight gold medals, setting six world records in the process.

3-Chris Hoy - Provided three stand-out moments for a dominant British track cycling team, scooping a hat-trick of golds in the individual and team sprints and the keirin.

Did you know?
Officials used planes and fired a total of 1,241 rockets into the air to disperse rain ahead of the opening and closing ceremonies.

China topped the medal table for the first time, winning 51 golds. American media ordered their tables on medal count, ensuring the US stayed top by 110 to 100 despite winning only 36 golds.

Former gold medallist Angel Matos of Cuba was banned for life after kicking a referee in the head.

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