Phelps begins record quest on day one of Games

Fri Aug 8, 2008 7:09pm EDT
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By Andrew Cawthorne

BEIJING (Reuters) - Swimmer Michael Phelps plunges into his quest for an unprecedented eight golds on Saturday after China dazzled the world at the Olympics' opening ceremony.

With competition starting in 18 sports, seven gold medals are up for grabs on the first full sporting day of the Games after a run-up dominated by political criticism of China.

Hoping to overtake the United States after its second place finish in the 2004 Athens medal table, China had a great chance of winning the first gold with Du Li in the 10-metre air rifle.

Doping again reared its head when Greek media reported on Friday that sprinter Tassos Gousis had failed a test days before he was due to compete in Beijing. Olympic authorities have been urging international federations to stamp out cheats.

But most attention is on 23-year-old Phelps who will try out Beijing's shimmering new Water Cube aquatics centre for his heat in the 400 meters individual medley: the first of 17 starts in nine days as he tries to better Mark Spitz's seven golds in 1972.

That would make him the most titled Olympian in history.

"I'm here having fun," said Phelps, who lowered the 400 meters medley world record for the seventh time in June but had fellow American Ryan Lochte less than a second behind.

China opened the Olympics on Friday night with a glittering ceremony that celebrated its ancient history but also demonstrated its modern image and emerging superpower status.   Continued...

<p>Michael Phelps of the U.S.swims during a training session ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 8, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed</p>