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Everyone wanted to get a look at history, including the U.S. men's basketball team. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were among those cheering on Phelps from poolside seats. James posed for pictures with Phelps' mom.
Three worlds records fell before Phelps even walked on deck the first time. By the end of the morning, six new marks were set. It was impossible to win gold without putting up the fastest time in history.
So much for concerns that morning finals would hurt the competition.
In the semifinals of the 100 free, Australia's Eamon Sullivan and France's Alain Bernard played takeaway with the record Sullivan set two days earlier.
In the first heat, Bernard won in 47.20 to knock down Sullivan's mark of 47.24 from the leadoff leg of the memorable 400 free relay. That record lasted all of two minutes. Sullivan won the second heat in 47.05, setting up a thrilling showdown in Thursday's final.
"Records don't mean much," Sullivan said. "They don't win medals at the end of the day, unfortunately. But it gives me confidence that I can swim my own race under pressure."
American Jason Lezak, who chased down Bernard in the relay, advanced to the final with the sixth-best time, 47.98. The other U.S. swimmer, Garrett Weber-Gale, failed to advance.
Then it was Federica Pellegrini's turn in the women's 200 free. The Italian broke the mark she set a day earlier in the semifinals, winning gold in 1:54.82. The old record was 1:55.45.
Sara Isakovic of Slovenia claimed the bronze in 1:54.97, and China's Pang Jiaying thrilled the home fans by passing Katie Hoff on the final lap to take bronze in 1:55.05.
Hoff's disappointing day wasn't done.
In the 200 individual medley, she again finished in the first spot that doesn't give a medal. Australia's Stephanie Rice completed her IM sweep with another world record, her time of 2:08.45 erasing the mark of 2:08.92 set at the Australian trials in March.
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe took the silver in 2:08.59, also below the previous world record. Natalie Coughlin of the U.S. won the bronze in 2:10.34, her third medal of the games, beating Hoff by 34-hundredths of a second.
"It's a big surprise for me," said Coughlin, who only began swimming the IM a few months ago. "Any medal in an event that is not on your (regular) program is great."
The glamorous Rice, wearing big green earrings that matched her country's colors, added to her victory in the 400 IM.
Then there's Hoff, who looked to be one of the big stories of the game when she qualified in five individual events -- the same number as Phelps.
The 19-year-old, who says Phelps is like a big brother, has yet to match his success in the water. In her first two races, Hoff settled for a bronze and a silver, which look pretty good after Wednesday. Now, she's got only one more event -- the 800 free -- to win an individual gold.
"I went out there and I raced tough and that's all I can do," Hoff said. "It was definitely a tough day, but I think I handled it pretty well."
An inspiring Olympic story came to an end in the semifinals of the 200 breaststroke.
Eric Shanteau, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer just before the U.S. Olympic trials and put off surgery until after the games, failed to advance to the final.
He finished sixth in his semifinal heat and 10th overall, 13-hundredths of a second out of the last spot into the final.
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, trying for his second straight sweep of the breaststroke events, cruised along as the top qualifier at 2:08.61. He already won the 100 with a world record after taking both golds in Athens four years ago.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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