2008 - Beijing

Last Updated: 20/06/12 11:44am

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The most populous nation on the planet was finally given the chance to host the world's biggest sporting event, as China served up a spectacular and iconic celebration of the 29th Olympiad.

In this year...

  • Katerina Emmons won the of the Czech Republic won the first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics in the women's 10 metre air rifle.
  • Nicole Cooke won Britain's first gold medal after coming out on top in a thrilling conclusion to the women's cycling road race.
  • A concerted drive to lower the pollution level in the air around Beijing paid off as the Games occurred with no major 'smog' problems.
  • The new Speedo LZR swimsuit dominated in the pool, with world records tumbling as almost every gold medallist wore one. Germany's Britta Steffen did win the women's 50 metres and 100m freestyle in Adidas gear.
  • Jamaica emerged as the new dominant force in sprinting, winning the 100m and 200m on both the men's and women's side.
  • Spain win the European Championships in football, while Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Carlos Sastre win Wimbledon and the Tour de France respectively.
  • Lewis Hamilton wins the Formula One world championship at the final corner after a dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix.
  • The New England Patriots are unable to complete a perfect NFL season after being beaten by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
  • Barack Obama becomes the first African American ever to be elected as President of the United States of America.
  • Spanair Flight 5022 crashes moments after taking off Barajas Airport in Madrid, killing 154 of the 172 people on board
  • American investment bank Lehman Brothers collapses, triggering a global financial crisis.

Concerns over the country's human rights record often dominated the news agenda leading up to the Games, but when the sporting action did actually get underway the thrilling competition forced the focus to be shifted.

A total of 37 venues were used for the Olympics, with the most eye-catching being the Beijing National Stadium, which became known as the 'Bird's Nest' due to its eye-catching design. It was here where the brilliant opening and closing ceremonies that bookended a brilliant event took place.

It is often the case that the first week of the Olympics is dominated by swimming and the second by athletics, and superstars in the pool and on the track ensured that those two sports would once again hog the limelight.

Michael Phelps' quest to become the most successful Olympian in history was realised as the American won eight gold medals to break Mark Spitz's record of seven at a single Games and also surpass the overall mark of nine as his tally rose to an incredible 14.

Just when the worldwide audience was beginning to take in his incredible achievement, an arguably even bigger star was being born inside the Bird's Nest, as Usain Bolt put on one the most remarkable displays of sprinting ever seen at an Olympic Games. The Jamaican won three gold medals and set three world records in the 100 metres, 200m and 4x100m relay.

But in terms of the medal table, the overall honours went to host nation China, who claimed 51 gold, 21 silver and 28 bronze medals. Liu Zige took a memorable gold in the pool while the feat of winning both the men's and women's artistic gymnastics team titles will also live on in the memory. There were disappointments for major stars Liu Xang and Yao Ming, however.

The Beijing Olympics also saw the best collective British performance since 1908 as Team GB won 19 gold medals, 13 silvers and 15 bronzes to finish fourth in the medals table. The track cyclists were undoubtedly the main stars as they contributed seven gold medals to the total, with three of those being won by Sir Chris Hoy.

Rebecca Adlington also claimed double gold at the Water Cube, Christine Ohuruogu grabbed a dramatic victory on the track in the 400 metres and Britain's sailing representatives were almost as dominant as their cyclists.

The media coverage of the Games also continued to evolve, with 2008 the first Olympics to be covered entirely in high definition television. Beijing also set a new record for total viewers at an incredible 4.7 billion, over two-thirds of the world's population.

Olympics Stars:

Michael Phelps arrived in Beijing attempting to win an unprecedented eight gold medals and did not buckle under the intense media hype and scrutiny. He won gold in both medleys, both freestyle relays and the medley relay, with the latter event bringing him the record.

He also won the 200 metres butterfly and 200m freestyle, but his most dramatic victory came in the 100m butterfly as he staged a remarkable come-from-behind charge down the final length to edge out Milorad Cavic by one hundredth of a second.

The idea that Phelps could be upstaged after his swimming exploits seemed laughable, but Usain Bolt unarguably managed it with his extraordinary performances on the track.

Bolt won the 100m in a new world record despite celebrating several metres before the finish line, before breaking Michael Johnson's previously untouchable record in the final of the 200m. He finished his campaign by running the third leg of Jamaica's 4x100m relay victory, which brought him yet another world record.

British cyclists brought seven gold medals home from the Games and Sir Chris Hoy led the dominance by taking three of them despite his preferred event, the kilo, being taken out of the programme.

He refocused his goals on the sprint events and was rewarded as his first gold medal of the Games was achieved in the team sprint alongside Jason Kenny and Jamie Staff. He then claimed a second gold in the keirin and beat Kenny in the individual sprint to become the first Brit for a century to win three golds in a single Olympics.

While Phelps stole most of the headlines in the pool, the performance of Australian youngster Stephanie Rice was also a major highlight.

Rice dominated both the 200m and 400m women's medley, winning both in world record time, and was part of another world record in the 4x200m relay, when she led the Australia team off to secure her third gold medal of the Games.

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