'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.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape