It seems a little unfair when you had 10,708 athletes competing for 958 medals in 28 different sports, but the Beijing Olympics will mainly be remembered for the deeds of just two young men - a 22-year-old sprinter from Trelawny, Jamaica and a 23-year-old swimmer from Baltimore, USA.

In the space of a few weeks here in China, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps transformed themselves from notable names within their own sports into global sporting superstars.

One was fuelled by chicken nuggets and yams, the other by fried egg and cheese sandwiches with extra mayo, but on track and in water, they each made the impossible seem easy.


Bolt was born for those sorts of nights in the Bird's Nest. The gold medals alone were reason enough for hero status, but the times he ran and they way he did them - gliding gloriously clear in the 100m, working his golden spikes off in the 200m - and the poses, dancing and celebrations before and after were like nothing else athletics has ever seen.

Phelps's relentless brilliance in the Water Cube defied history and science.

As the seven world records and eight golds piled up, each swim trumped the last - the astonishing comeback in the 4x100m freestyle relay, the margin of victory in the 200m individual medley, the almost unbelievable push to snatch the 100m butterfly title off Milo Cavic's fingertips.


So dominant was he that one wag suggested we must have mistaken singular for plural - that there were eight men called Michael Phelp, competing together as Phelps, rather than one indefatigable swimming machine.

Britain had heroes of its own whose deeds weren't far behind, led by the beautiful brutality of Chris Hoy and his relentless, robotic velodrome victories.

Hoy began the Games by admitting in his BBC blog that other athletes in the Olympic village kept staring at his massive thighs. He ended it as Scotland's greatest ever Olympian and the first Briton in 100 years to win three gold medals at the same Games.

If his best nickname was the cause of much debate - for me, His Royal Hoyness just takes it from the Hoy Wonder and the Real McHoy - one quote above all others summed up his displays.

"It's like he has swallowed a motorbike," said his Dutch rival Theo Bos.

While Hoy's triumphs came as no surprise to Dave Brailsford and his team, no-one could have predicted that a 19-year-old from Mansfield would eclipse established icons like Roger Federer and Ronaldinho.

In winning Britain's first female swimming gold since 1960 and then powering to another a few days later, Rebecca Adlington did exactly that.


Everywhere you looked, however, there were British athletes waving from the top of podiums.

Wiggins, Pendleton and the rest kept the National Anthem on an almost perpetual loop in Laoshan. Ben Ainslie made it three golds in three Olympics. Christine Ohuruogu saved athletics blushes and the latest incarnation of the men's foursome led the way at the rowing.

If Team GB's 19 golds and wholly unexpected fourth place in the medal table caused delight at home, China's unprecedented place at the top of the pile sent waves of national pride surging through the host nation.

Even the absence of golden boy Liu Xiang, who silenced the Bird's Nest when he limped away without clearing a single hurdle, failed to dampen the mood for long.

As China dominated six medal-heavy sports - weightlifting, diving, shooting, table-tennis, gymnastics and badminton - other homegrown heroes stepped forward to fill the gap left by Liu.

Yang Wei added gold in the men's all-round final to the victories in both men and women's gymnastics team events. Guo Jingjing became the most successful woman diver in Olympic history by winning gold in the individual three-metre springboard.

For the USA, dethroned after three successive Olympiads, consolation came in the team events rather than from individuals. Jamaica's excellence on the track meant the former kings of the sprints failed to win an individual sprint medal for the first time since the boycott of 1980.

At the other end of the scale, Rohullah Nikpai won Afghanistan's debut Olympic medal when he took bronze in the taekwondo men's 58kg category. India's Abhinav Bindra took his country's first ever individual gold in the 10 metre air rifle event, and even Iraq sent a team, albeit a late, denuded one.

Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra shows his Olympic gold medal, to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Sometimes, being at these Olympics felt like you'd been invited to the best house party in the world. While it was great wherever in the house you found yourself, there was always the nagging sense that it might be even better in a different room.

You'd be at the most exciting boxing bout possible when news would break about a world record at the Water Cube. Just when you'd settled into your seat at the velodrome, rumours would start flying about an astonishing race up at Shunyi Lake.

Then there was the joy of the random sports you'd never seen before - popping in to the fencing or handball for 15 minutes between trips elsewhere and becoming so engrossed that within moments you'd be shouting tactical advice at athletes who'd been doing it all their lives.

New sports like BMX and open-water swimming made a big splash. Old favourites like diving and ping-pong were revitalised. Everywhere you went were smiling volunteers, outnumbering actual local fans by five to one in many venues.

The stadiums ranged from space-age spellbinding - the Cube, the Nest/Ball of Twine, the velodrome - to the stern stone edifices of the Peking Workers' Gymnasium.

The atmosphere inside swung from cathedral quiet (Olympic Green Tennis Centre) to caterwauling (Peking University Gymnasium whenever a Chinese table-tennis player picked up his bat).

Soon we learnt the definition of a Sino-sell-out - all the tickets gone, only half the seats taken.

Of the much-feared, much-discussed pollution, two separate days of thunderstorms did more than any closing of factories to clear the air. When it was bad, in the first week, the organisers told us it was only mist, anyway.

Six positive drugs tests failed to overshadow events, even as slower times and the failure of a few big names suggested anti-doping measures might be starting to bite.

If it depressed some that several horses were found to have been doped, the slew of jokes that followed - an-neigh-bolic steroids, hay and B samples - secretly tickled others of us pink.

There were tears, plenty of them, most memorably from giant German weightlifter Matthias Steiner, who held a photo of his wife Susann aloft on the podium just a year after she died in a car crash while on the way to see him compete.

Georgia's Nino Salukvadze and her Russian rival Natalia Paderina tried to end one war by embracing on the podium after their shooting final, even as the bullets were still flying back home.


Cuba's Angel Valodia Matos almost started another one when he kicked a referee in the head after disagreeing with the judging during his +80kg taekwando bout.

Some athletes helped each other out, most memorably the Croatian sailors who lent Denmark a boat when their mast split seconds before the 49er-class medal final.

Others did what they had to do to win that precious gold, even at the risk of causing offence. "I went after him because he was the only one who could beat me," said British sailor Paul Goodison, after shepherding Sweden's Rasmus Myrgren out of the race and thus the medals rather than risking him steal an unlikely win.

"I feel sorry for him but there can only be one winner. It is just sport and you have to do what you have to do."

As with any good party, you're left afterwards feeling tired, a touch emotional and rather sad that it's all over. Four years seems a long time to wait until the next one.

There are also the regrets.

At the Bird's Nest on Saturday night, long after all the action was done and dusted and the crowds gone home, stadium officials were amusing themselves by running down the home straight and posing for photos on the finish line.

I can't do that, I thought, as I watched them strike Usain archer poses on the podium. I work for the BBC. Standards of decorum must be maintained.

In retrospect, I was an idiot.

Tom Fordyce is a BBC Sport journalist covering a wide range of events in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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