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2008 Olympics: Shining Happy People

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After a brief period of less than fantastic returns around the various Olympic venues the last couple of days, the US went out and flexed some muscle to take a sizeable 43-36 lead over China in the medal count.

It was not the first event to take place in the Water Cube, but perhaps the most intriguing event happened during the women's 100m freestyle. In the semifinals yesterday, Australian Libby Trickett – one of the odds-on favorites – wound up finishing fourth in her semifinal and ninth overall with a time of 54:10, placing her 0.05 seconds out of the final.

However, China's Jiaying Pang, who had the best overall time of 53:49, was disqualified for a false start, thus bumping Libby Trickett into eighth place and the top lane of the final race, which she turned into a silver medal. American Natalie Coughlin finished just behind her for bronze, her tenth career Olympic medal.

Speaking of thanking other countries, the US picked up an extra bronze medal today thanks to a slip-up by North Korea. Shooter Jong Su Kim failed his post-event doping test and was stripped of two medals, one silver and one bronze, and his returned silver turned into an Olympic bronze for American Jason Turner (which is interesting in itself, because Turner actually tied with teammate Brian Beaman). Not surprisingly, Kim tested positive for propanolol, a type of beta blocker that shooters often use as a way to calm their nerves.

The US put on an impressive show in the rest of the events back at the Water Cube. Michael Phelps easily took gold in the 200m IM, but in my opinion his night was the second best story behind that of Ryan Lochte.

Lochte finished third to Phelps in the 400IM at the very beginning of swimming competition, pretty impressive considering he was sick with a stomach bug. Lochte then went into the pool tonight, took gold in the 200m backstroke over teammate and defending Olympic champion Aaron Piersol, then turned around a mere 26 minutes later and took bronze in the same 200m IM race where Phelps got his gold.

Come to think of it, maybe Phelps was only the third best story in the pool, if you consider Rebecca Soni. She had already raced once prior to last night, coming in second to Australian Liesel Jones in the 100m breaststroke. Popular opinion was that the 200 meter race would yield similar results — that Soni would be Jones' primary competition, and that even then she would need a very strong performance to do better than another silver medal.

It looked as expected early on, with Jones in first and Soni three tenths of a second behind after the first 50 meters. Soni gradually closed that gap, trailing by 0.23 at the halfway point, and kept closing until she was only 0.01 seconds behind Jones at the 150 meter turn. Much like earlier in the week with Jason Lezak, everyone watching began to think "this just might happen."

In this case, unlike with Lezak, not only did it happen, it happened in dominating fashion. Soni turned on the afterburners and turned that 0.01 second deficit into a gold medal final time that was almost two full seconds ahead of Jones.

Oh yeah, and there was even the women's gymnastics all-around final. Americans Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin were strong favorites to at least take home medals, but that didnt stop the drama from being present. Some shaky judging (including the head technical judge in charge of overrules storming angrily over to various judges several times to make corrections) left it down to Johnson, Liukin, and China's Yang Yilin as to how it would all play out.

Liukin had a 0.15 point lead over Yilin and a 0.6 point lead over Johnson heading into the final rotation, which meant floor exercise for all three. Yilin went first and was good, but not great, over-rotating on a triple spin that was the easiest move in her exercise, which opened the door for the Americans.

Liukin showed that she didn't need the help, turning in a near-perfect routine to solidify the gold. Johnson then took a risk and added a fourth tumbling pass back into her routine that she practiced during warm-up for the first time since she arrived in Beijing. It was absolutely stunning, and wasn't earth-shattering enough to dislodge Liukin, but it was just enough to creep 0.075 points ahead of Yilin and take home the silver.

There's still more interesting action left from these sports. Tonight will feature Elizabeth Beisel and Margaret Hoelzer in the women's 200m backstroke final, Phelps in the 100m butterfly final, and Ben WIldman-Tobriner in the men's 50m freestyle final. If you want to catch more gymnastics drama, the individual event finals for both men and women will be taking place between 6 AM and 9 AM EST on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

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