Swimming superstar Michael Phelps set the Olympics alight Sunday when he launched his quest for Games immortality by smashing a world record in winning the first of a potential eight gold medals.
Phelps, wearing the new form-fitting Speedo LZR Racer swimsuit, launched an American charge which saw them win five medals in the pool for a Games total of eight including two gold.
A second shooting win put hosts China back on top of the table with three golds and a silver.
On the second day of competition Phelps leads a galaxy of stars on show including basketball's Yao Ming and LeBron James, as well as tennis players Roger Federer and Jelena Jankovic.
At the pool, where the first four finals produced two world records, 23-year-old Phelps commanded centre stage as he successfully opened his bid to break Mark Spitz's 36-year record of seven golds at one Games by winning the men's 400m individual medley.
With US President George W Bush applauding in the stands, Phelps carved 1.41 seconds off his world record 4:05.25 set last June, but admitted afterwards he didn't have high expectations before the race.
"I was in the ready room. I didn't feel so good, I got, like, these cold chills," he said.
"Afterwards, I looked up and saw President Bush giving me the thumbs up and holding up the American flag. That was pretty cool."
But the Olympics, with its theme of "One World, One Dream", continued to be dogged by political reality.
A series of bomb blasts followed by gunfire rocked a town in China's mainly Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang, state media reported, adding two policemen were injured and five attackers killed.
The bloody turmoil unfolding in the troubled, breakaway region of South Ossetia, meanwhile, came perilously close to sparking a walkout from the Games by Georgia's 35-strong squad in protest at Russia's role in the fighting.
Crisis was only averted when Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili told the squad to stay and take out their anger and frustration in the sporting arena.
Hours later, Russian and Georgian shooters competed side by side in Beijing where Russia's Natalie Paderina won silver in the women's 10m air pistol final and Nino Salukvadze of Georgia took bronze behind winner Wenjun Guo of China.
There were a total of 14 gold medals at stake Sunday in archery, cycling, synchronized diving, fencing, judo, shooting, swimming and weightlifting.
After Phelps won the first swimming gold, Park Tae-Hwan won South Korea's maiden gold of the Games in the men's 400m freestyle, Australia's Stephanie Rice set a world record in taking the women's 400m individual medley, and the Netherlands were upset winners in the women's 4x100 freestyle relay.
The US relay team, anchored by 41-year-old Dara Torres at her fifth Olympics, finished second for her 10th career Olympic medal.
A Games viewing record of more than one billion is expected to be set late in the evening in a mouthwatering men's basketball clash between the US and China.
It is a match-up that features Chinese hero and flag-bearer at the opening ceremony Yao Ming and his NBA rivals in the US squad including Kobe Bryant and James.
"It's probably going to be the most watched game in the history of the world," said James. "It's going to send a lot of chills through my body just to be there and be part of it."
Federer, looking to reclaim his world number one ranking from Spaniard Rafael Nadal, opens his Games tennis account against Russian Dmitry Tursunov.
American Serena Williams is the first of the women's stars on court, playing Olga Govortsova of Belarus, after the start was delayed more than two hours by rain.
Swimming superstar Michael Phelps set the Olympics alight today when he launched his quest for Games immortality by smashing a world record in winning the first of a potential eight gold medals.