On This Day

  • August 17 down the years

Phelps swims his way into the record books

Michael Phelps smashed the records © Getty Images
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2008
The landmark Michael Phelps had been waiting four years for. In 2004 he won six Olympic gold medals (August 21). Today he completed his set of eight at these Games, overtaking the record set by Mark Spitz in 1972 (September 4). Number eight was a shoe-in for Phelps. America were always going to win the medley relay (the same event which gave Spitz his seventh gold). Aaron Peirsol was the top backstroker of the day, Brendon Hansen one of the very best breaststrokers - and when Phelps completed the butterfly leg, he handed over to Jason Lezak, who finished relays with a blistering freestyle. This was the fourth consecutive world record they'd set as a foursome: 3:29.34, the first swim under three and a half minutes. Surprisingly, they had company over the last length. Eamon Sullivan, the world record holder in the 100 free, came back at Lezak, and Australia finished only 0.70 seconds behind. But Phelps had done the real hard work the day before, when he equalled Spitz's record by the smallest fraction.

These were very successful Olympics for Britain too. They won four gold medals on this day alone. Like Phelps, they liked the water at these Games.

In rowing, Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter won the lightweight double sculls. A triumph for willpower as much as anything. To stay below the weight limit of 11 stone 6 lbs, they had to stick to a brutal diet, with Hunter losing more than stone. They stayed strong enough to take the lead after 600 metres and hold off the Greeks, with Denmark's double world champions third.

On a different stretch of water, there were two British golds in sailing. Ben Ainslie won his third, retaining his title in the Finn class. Iain Percy, who won gold in the Finn in 2000 (September 30), won one in another event here in Beijing.

Meanwhile the 'three blondes in a boat' won three blonde medals. Pippa Wilson, Sarah Webb, and skipper Sarah Ayton won gold in the Yngling class, with Webb and Ayton retaining the title they won in 2004 (August 20). In the decisive race, they regained the lead on the run to the line and finished a minute ahead of their main rivals the Dutch.

Britain dominated the track cycling events at these Games. In the individual pursuit, Rebecca Romero emulated Bradley Wiggins (August 16) by winning the individual pursuit. Before the final, she was already assured of being the first British woman to win Olympic medals in different sports. Four years earlier, she'd finished second in the quadruple sculls. Today the British woman again won silver in that rowing event - while Romero was building up a hefty lead in the first half of her own race. She finished just over two seconds ahead of team-mate Wendy Houvennaghel.

Not such good news for Britain in athletics. After her purgatory in the heat of Athens four years earlier (August 22), Paula Radcliffe struggled in the Marathon again, although at least this time she finished. Less than three months after a stress fracture of her thigh, she simply didn't have enough training in her legs. She kept pace with the leaders for 19 miles, but then dropped back, stopped for a while, and eventually finished 23rd. Her time was more than 17 minutes slower than the world record she set in 2003 (April 13). Her team mate Mara Yamauchi did well to finish sixth. When Radcliffe recovered, she began looking forward to London 2012. She'll be 38 by then - but that's the same age as the winner here in Beijing, Constantina Tomescu of Romania...

1938
A great sporting first as Henry Armstrong (born December 12, 1912) became the first boxer to hold three world titles simultaneously. Real world titles, at three completely different weights, not 'junior this' or 'light that'. After knocking out featherweight champion Petey Sarron in 1937, he moved up two weights to welterweight and won a unanimous decision that sent the great Barney Ross into retirement. Now he filled the sandwich by taking the lightweight title from the tough Italian American Lou Ambers. It was a split decision this time - but only because Armstrong was penalised four rounds for low blows. He built up a big early lead, held off Ambers's brave comeback, and - typical Hustlin' Hank - was fighting as hard at the last bell as at the first. Ambers won a rematch the following year, but Armstrong defended the welterweight title 19 times.

1969
Ray Floyd won a Major for the first time, the first of his two US PGA titles. Opening rounds of 69 and 66 left him a shot clear of Gary Player, who dropped a further four behind after the third. But then Floyd followed a third-round 67 with 74 in the last, and Player closed to within one stroke. Player was faced with anti-Apartheid demonstrations during the tournament, but they were easy to ignore for a white man winning titles and making a lot of money.

In 1997, Davis Love III became the latest to throw off the tag of best golfer never to win a Major. Three rounds of 66 gave him a five-shot margin over the rest of the field.

On the same day, Karrie Webb of Australia won the British Open for the second time in three years at the age of 22. After shooting a record-breaking 63 in the third round, she held on to her eight-shot lead by making 71 in pouring rain.

2004
Yana Klochkova did the double double at the Olympic Games. After winning both individual medleys in 2000, Ukraine's top swimmer did the same this time, adding the 200 IM to the 400 she'd won three days earlier.

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