DENNIS PASSA AP Sports Writer BEIJING
While Olympic watchers waited Wednesday for the Usain Bolt show to begin, three Russian swimmers one a marathoner, the other two who have made synchronized swimming's duet event their own 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 Wednesday. If 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 took advantage of a British duo's hard work by swimming closely in their wake. She then sprinted to a gold medal in the fi- nal 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. Synchronized swimmers Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova won duet gold medals in two straight Olympics. Performing a perfect free routine to the classic Peer Gynt Suite before a near capacity crowd at the Water Cube, the Russians won with a combined 99.251 points. The pair received all perfect 10s for technical merit. "Competition makes you achieve things you never thought possible," Ermakova said though a translator. "We waited four years for this gold and a whole row of 10s was our crowning achievement." In golds also 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. Tom Ashely of New Zealand won men's gold in the same class. World champion Ramazan Sahin of Turkey won the 66-kilomgram freestyle wrestling gold medal. Crystl Bustos hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning as the U.S. 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 games. 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. Track and field Sanya Richards was on the medals stand and she wasn't happy about it. She didn't like the color: bronze. The favorite in the women's 400 meters, Richards led in the stretch but faded at the end, ruining what would've been a great comeback from an illness that cost her most of 2007. Britain's Christine Ohuruogu won, with Jamaica's Shericka Williams taking silver. "I feel so betrayed by my body once again," said Richards, adding that her hamstring started tightening in the last 80 meters. In other medal events, Russia's Andrey Silnov won the men's high jump, Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi won the men's 1,500 meters and Estonia's Gerd Kanter won men's discus. Nothing too surprising happened in the heats of other races, with big names advancing in the men's and women's 200 meters, the men's 400 and the men's 110-meter hurdles. Gymnastics Johnson and Liukin went 1-2 in the all-around also, but it was the other way around. In fact, Johnson came into the balance beam finals with three silvers. While Johnson finally got her gold, Liukin's fifth medal of these games matched the most ever for an American female gymnast at a single Olympics. Mary Lou Retton did it in 1984 and Shannon Miller in 1992. China's men won two more events, with Zou Kai winning high bar and Li Xaiopeng winning parallel bars. For the meet, China took all but one men's event, the vault in which there was no Chinese finalist. The United States got its only men's individual medal when Jonathan Horton took silver on high bar. Also, China's Lu Chunlong won the men's trampoline. Women's basketball Not that there was much doubt, but the U.S. women are headed back to the Final Four of this tournament. Sylvia Fowles had 26 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Americans on their latest rout, a 104-60 victory over South Korea. The Americans have made the medal round in every Olympics they've entered, and have won 31 straight games since losing in the 1992 semifinals. The Americans will play Becky Hammon and Russia in the semifinals Thursday night. Russia rallied to beat Spain 84-65 Tuesday night. China plays Australia in the other semifinal. The Aussies advanced with a 79-46 victory over the Czech Republic. China moved on with a 77-62 victory over Belarus. It's the first time the Chinese are in the medal round since taking silver in 1992. Baseball Despite losing its opener, losing one key player to a gruesome injury and seeing another key player get hurt, the U. S. is headed to the medal round. The Americans advanced with a 4-2 victory over Taiwan, powered by John Gall's go-ahead homer and a solid outing by pitcher Brandon Knight. The fi- nal prelim test comes Wednesday night against medal favorite Japan. The semifinals start Friday. South Korea and Cuba are advancing, too. Those teams squared off in a battle of unbeatens, and South Korea won 7-4. "Since we beat the U.S. in our opener, the good luck has stayed with us so far," South Korea manager Kim Kyungmoon said. Also, Canada beat the Netherlands 4-0 and Japan beat China 10-0. Women's volleyball After a slow start, the U.S. took down Italy in five sets to advance to a semifinal matchup with undefeated Cuba. Afterward, the team celebrated with abandon. Ogonna Nnamani was joined by her teammate in a dance. They chanted "U-U-U-U-U-S-A!" And, of course, there were hugs all around. Brazil plays defending champion China in the other semifinal on Thursday. Women's water polo The U.S. will be playing for gold, taking on the Netherlands on Thursday, but will do so without center forward Lauren Wenger. Wenger, the team's most versatile player, broke her right hand in the closing minutes of a 9-8 semifinal victory over Australia. Brenda Villa scored three goals, including the winner with a minute left. The U.S. is guaranteed to keep alive its streak of winning a medal at every Olympics that has included women's water polo. The Americans won silver in 2000 and bronze in 2004.