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Bolt steals some of Phelps' thunder

Each edition of the Summer Games sees a great champion emerge and at Beijing 2008 fans were treated to a double dose of heroism as Michael Phelps' utter domination of the Water Cube was equalled by Usain Bolt's breathtaking sprint performances at the Bird's Nest stadium.

Way before the Games got started, Phelps had openly declared he was heading to China with ambitions to equal or better the gold haul of Mark Spitz in 1972, who won seven titles in the Munich pool.

His quest began August 9 when he dived into the state of the art pool for the first time in the heats for the 400m medley, an event he won in world record time, the following morning.

But the true battle cry came the following day when the US 4X100m relay team pipped France. Phelps' primordial scream of joy will go down as one of the lasting images from Beijing. That title was the key to his bid for eight gold he explained, having been arguably the hardest task on the agenda.

On the Tuesday he won the 200m free title and the picked up another two on the Wednesday; the 200m butterfly and the 4x200m free, all so far in world record times.

14 Olympic titles

There was no final on the Thursday, for Phelps at least, but Friday he won the 200m medley and by a hundredth of a second beat the Serb Milorad Cavic in controversial fashion in the 100m fly to equal Spitz's record.

Phelps had been tired, way down the field at the turn he also misjudged his strokes and threw in a half stroke at the death to edge Cavic, who to the naked eye appeared to have won.

Title number eight and world record number seven came on the Sunday, in his 17th race in nine days when the American relay team won the 4x100m medley.

At just 23-years-old, Phelps added these eight titles to the six he won at Athens and vowed he'd be at London 2012 with a fresh set of objectives.

Bolt's lightening pace forks all comers

But despite Phelps' feat he was to an extent blown out of the water by the sheer unexpectedness of Usain Bolt's landmark and jaw dropping performances in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m sprints.

Just 21-years-old, the Jamaican was horsing around at the start-line but his world record crushing, field flattening 9.69sec dash, which saw him cross the line yards ahead of anyone else, simply shook the Olympic stadium to its foundations.

He got off to a poor start but at 6ft 5in with his unorthodox low knee style he was level at 20m and maintained top speed to power way clear before slowing at 80m. He completed the race with 42 strides, six fewer than his rivals and Trinidad's Richard Thompson was two tenths of a second back in second place.

An exultant Bolt went on to do a now trademark dancehall shuffle before a disbelieving Bird's Nest public.

Two days later he produced an equally emphatic performance by smashing Michael Johnson's long standing 200m world record, despite a head wind, to reinforce his newfound reputation as the fastest man on earth with a time of 19.30sec.

Another two days and another world record and third Olympic title came in the 4x100m relay, there he ran the third leg in a barely believable 8.9sec, passing the baton to Asafa Powell, whom he hounded down to the wire screaming encouragement.

It really does appear that like Phelps, there simply is no rival on anything like the same level as Bolt, and to choose one above the other is all but impossible.


Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.