'Baltimore Bullet' has history in his sights

It is only a matter of time now, a few days probably, before Michael Phelps uses his magic hands to claw level with the four most golden Olympians of all time and then, before these Games are done, kick off into distance as the undisputed greatest.

The 23-year-old "Baltimore Bullet"� arrived in China seeking eight golds and won his first here yesterday morning, earning the 400m individual medley title by smashing his own world record – and high-class opposition.

On a day when world and Olympic marks were serially batted aside, even Britain had 10 reasons to smile – despite skies leaden with storm clouds and crackling with lightning – after progress by nine individuals and one relay team to either finals or semis scheduled for this morning in Beijing (the early hours back home).

The relay team in question was the men's 4 x100m freestylers, who qualified in eighth place as an American reserve team smashed the previous world record in the heats. Phelps came east with a 4x100m relay gold as one of his targets.

He intends to join, and then surpass, a quartet of people who jointly hold the record for having won nine Olympic golds in their careers: the Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi (whose first Games was 1920), the Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina (from 1956), Phelps' fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz (from 1968) and athlete Carl Lewis (from 1984).

Phelps won six golds in Athens. Thus he needs just three from eight chances here to tie with the legends. A dollar on him snaffling at least several of his five spare shots to hare off into the sunset would not be a buck wasted.

The company that the 6ft 3in phenomena drew to watch him yesterday was no less famous than the heroes he seeks to put in the shade. His President, George W Bush, was here, as was Dubya's pop, George Snr, and Henry Kissinger.

"Afterwards I looked up and saw President Bush giving me a thumbs up and holding up the American flag,"� Phelps said. "That was pretty cool."�

Less cool was the way the Chinese managed to mess up the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner". It cut short, with the scratch of a needle on an overplayed record. Phelps' wry smile gave way to a laugh, although his Commander-in-Chief did not seem as amused.

Possibly it was a genuine error, sincerely regretted, because later, when all the fans had gone and the Water Cube was virtually empty, a full and booming version was played. It was not hard to imagine some senior mandarin jabbing some hapless DJ in the chest, telling him how to play the piece all the way to the end.�

By the time Phelps has played to the end of the Games, he will have competed in both individual medleys, two butterfly events, the 200m freestyle and three relays. The mark of a truly great champion is not necessarily the way in which he lands his killer blows but in their timing, and if yesterday's win was indicative, we are in for some treat.

Phelps is capable of finding new and powerful ways to succeed. Against his compatriot rival, Ryan Lochte – a multiple champion in his own right – in the USA Olympic trials for the 400m individual medley, Phelps found a turn from the heavens to open an insurmountable lead in the last length, from being neck and neck.

He dived deep, did a dolphin kick, and surged to the surface almost a body length ahead of where Lochte was crawling. "Phelps has been using that as a weapon for a while," said Russell Mark, the biomechanics co-ordinator for USA Swimming. "Logic should say he shouldn't go down deep, but he beats people off that last wall. There is nothing scientific yet to explain why it is effective to take that trajectory."

Yesterday the blow was landed earlier, almost cruelly, when in the backstroke leg – a speciality for Lochte – Phelps stormed into an unassailable lead with one devastating burst.

His new record of 4min 3.84sec took 1.41sec off his own mark. He finished 2.23sec clear of Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, whose 4min 6.16sec was good enough for a new European record. And 4.25sec ahead of Lochte. "He had a great race all the way,"� Lochte said. Phelps said he had actually been nervous. "I got like these cold chills,"� he said. Spooky.

The British highlight of the day was Rebecca Adlington and Jo Jackson progressing to the 400m freestyle final, both swimming inside the 20-year-old Olympic record of America's Janet Evans to do so. Jemma Lowe in the 100m butterfly also qualified for a Monday morning final.

Before these Games, the last British woman to win any Olympic medal in the pool was Sarah Hardcastle, who won bronze in the 800m freestyle in Los Angeles in 1984. Even finals for Britons have been rarer than Phelps' golds.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders