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Beijing 2008 - Overview

Beijing put on a Games to remember

Exceptional champions, historic records. New chapters of sporting legend were written at the 2008 Beijing Games where feats never to be forgotten were accomplished at the Water Cube aquatics complex and on the track of the majestic Bird's Nest stadium.

Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt stole the headlines as few other athletes before them while China showed the world that the massive hype surrounding the build-up to the Games perfectly fit the incredible display that was shown to the watching billions around the world.

At Athens in 2004, China finished second in the medal standings behind the United States but on home soil they set the pace from the opening day and never looked back as they racked up an astonishing 51 gold medals to better the Americans by some 15 titles.

The host nation virtually swept the board in some sports as they displayed dominance in such sports as diving, men's gymnastics and table tennis while other sports such as badminton, weightlifting and even beach volley also provided a source of triumphant success.

The only area where they failed to compete with their rivals was in athletics where China failed to even win one gold medal. Much of that was down to the heartbreaking injury breakdown of hurdles champion Liu Xiang.

Phelps and Bolt steal the show

No Olympic Games is complete without heroes and Beijing produced two of the greatest ever.

Three gold medals, three world records for Jamaica's Bolt who dominated the sprints like few before him winning the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay in a feat never seen before.

Even Jesse Owens in 1936 or Carl Lewis in 1984 who also achieved this treble did not register world records along the way.

Other stars on show at the Bird's Nest included peerless pole vaulter Elena Isinbayeva who defended her title in style with a new world record.

Ethiopia also had their day in the sun with tremendous displays by long distance runners Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba who both pulled off the rare 5000/10000m double.

Jamaica swept all the sprints apart from the women's 4x100m relay when they dropped the baton while the US were a massive disappointment on the track.

However the most amazing story of the Games was of course Michael Phelps.

The American broke the mythical record of seven gold medals set by Mark Spitz in 1972 with a mind blowing haul of eight gold medals including seven world records.

Not only that, he took his career tally to 14 titles, five more than any other athlete in history and with London 2012 in his sights, there is likely plenty more to come.

Phelps wasn't the only man to shine at the Water Cube where 25 world records were broken and Alain Bernard stole the glory in the 100m freestyle with a thrilling first ever victory for a French swimmer in the banner event.

Successful organisation

In the land where fireworks were invented, there was no lack of colourful and thundering displays of lights and explosions.

The opening ceremony was widely hailed as the best ever and was pulled off with impeccable organisation.

A ceremony of the highest grandeur which laid the groundwork for a warm and hospitable Games.

There was a series of Pro-Tibet demonstrations and arrests, but only six cases of doping compared to 25 at Athens, and these negative points failed to damper the spirit of the event.

During the closing ceremony, London took up the flag and promised the next Games would be based more on spirit and humanity than the somewhat restrictive nature of the Chinese.

Great Britain pulled off arguably their greatest performance ever with 7 track golds including a record three for Chris Hoy and 19 gold in a total haul of 47.

The Brits threaten to put in an even better performance when the Games are held on their home soil in 2012.

Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.