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Beijing moments

Sports

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

Over the final 50 meters of the men's 4x100 relay, U.S. swimmer Jason Lezak erased a body-length lead for France's Alain Bernard, out-touching the world record holder at the wall by eight-hundredths of a second. Bernard, who had vowed to "smash" the Americans in the race, slumped his head as the U.S. team's victory yells echoed throughout Beijing's Water Cube. A French team official said of Bernard's ill-conceived trash talking, "I think he got it wrong."

Lezak and teammates Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, and Cullen Jones offered handshakes and conciliatory words to the French during the medal ceremony. Both teams bested the previous world record by more than four seconds. But Lezak's closing leg, a record-setting split of 46.06 seconds that helped preserve Phelps' quest for eight gold medals, will go down among the greatest swims of all time.

Mariel Zagunis captured the first American gold medal of the Games, outlasting teammate Sada Jacobson in a fencing event hardly noticed except on the Olympic stage. With American Becca Ward taking bronze, the three female saber champions vaulted the U.S. Olympic team to an early lead in the medal count and relished the wide exposure for their sport.

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With more than 100 heads of state, heads of government, and sovereigns present, the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Games demonstrated to the world's leadership that China is second to none in cultural beauty and technological sophistication. The four-hour extravaganza featured some 15,000 performers and cost upwards of $300 million.

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