While Olympic watchers waited on Wednesday for the Usain Bolt show to begin, a marathon swimmer from Russia, a power-hitting American softball star and a Spanish field hockey player provided some of the early thrills.
Bolt, who easily won the 100-meter sprint in world record time of 9.69 seconds at the Bird's Nest last Saturday, was heavily favored to repeat his gold in the 200 later on Wednesday.
It he wins both the 100 and 200, he'd be the first Olympic athlete since Carl Lewis in 1984 to achieve the feat. And Michael Johnson's 12-year-old world record of 19.32 seconds could fall in the process.
Early on the fifth-to-last day of the Beijing Games, Larisa Ilchenko drafted behind the leading British duo for most of the race before sprinting to a gold medal in the final stages of the first women's 10-kilometer marathon swim.
At the Olympic rowing basin, the Russian finished four grueling laps in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 27.7 seconds. She let leaders Keri-Anne Payne and Cassandra Patten do the hard work in front, then made her big move for the historic gold medal, reaching up to slam the yellow touchpad first.
"It doesn't bother me in the least," she said of her tactics through an interpreter. "It is a competition after all and the best athlete wins. I actually worked as hard as anybody else." Ilchenko's strategy has helped her dominate open water swimming since 2004, winning five consecutive 5k world championships and three consecutive 10k races.
Natalie du Toit of South Africa, an amputee who removed her carbon-fiber prosthetic left leg before diving in, finished 16th 1:22.2 behind Ilchenko's winning time.
In another gold achieved on the water at the sailing venue in Qingdao Yin Jian won China's first-ever sailing gold medal in women's RS:X, a windsurfing class.
Crystl Bustos hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning as the US Olympic softball team, forced into extra innings, beat Japan 4-1 and will play for their fourth straight gold medal. Blanked for eight innings by Yukiko Ueno, the Americans (8-0) pushed across four in the ninth to extend their Olympic winning streak to 22 and move into the gold medal game.
The United States could face Japan again for gold on Thursday. The Japanese played the Australia-Canada semifinal winner later Wednesday in the bronze-medal game, with the winner meeting the Americans.
Rocio Ybarra scored on a penalty corner in the second extra period as Spain defeated the United States 3-2 in the seventh-place game of the women's field hockey tournament. Ybarra's goal came in the 84th minute, about 90 seconds before the match would have gone to penalty strokes.
South Korea defeated Japan 2-1 in the ninth-place match. It was a disappointing finish for Japan, which was ranked No. 5 in the world. Reigning world champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser will play for the gold medal in beach volleyball after they beat Georgia 21-11, 21-13 in the semifinals Wednesday in one of the quickest matches of the Olympics.
The American pair will play on Friday against Marcio and Fabio, who upset Athens gold medalists Emanuel and Ricardo 22-20, 21-18 on Wednesday to reach the final.
The win by Rogers and Dalhausser gave the United States a chance to sweep the beach volleyball gold medals in Beijing. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, the defending Olympic champions, will play China in the women's final on Thursday.
With only four positive doping tests so far from more than 4,000, the International Olympic Committee credited the deterrent effect for keeping drug scandals to a minimum at the Beijing Games. IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said that 4,133 tests had been conducted so far, including more than 3,290 urine controls and 840 blood screenings. By the end of the games on Sunday, the IOC will have carried out around 4,500 doping tests in Beijing, up from 3,600 in Athens four years ago.
Greek hurdler Fani Halkia, North Korean shooter Kim Jong Su, Spanish cyclist Isabel Moreno and Vietnamese gymnast Thi Ngan Thuong Do are the four athletes who have tested positive under the IOC's testing program.