Swimming may well be an unlikely candidate to produce the sports story of the year. But such was the case in Beijing, when American Michael Phelps stroked to a record-setting eight gold medals at the Olympic Games. The athletic feat ranks among the greatest in modern history and included all the requisite nail-biting drama and jaw-dropping dominance of an instant classic.
From a fingertip stunner to a come-from-behind shocker to several overwhelming breakaways, Phelps helped steer the focus of the Games onto athletic achievement over politics. His August swims combined with the record--shattering sprints of Jamaican Usain Bolt largely overshadowed the propagandistic aims of the Chinese government-namely, to demonstrate its glory to the world and obscure human-rights abuses.
Bolt, for his part, posted times in the 100- and 200-meter sprints long thought humanly impossible. Phelps set seven world records. The $300 million opening ceremonies, spectacular as they were, could not compete.
Beneath the Beijing 2008 buzz China faced a health crisis many suspect it knew about before the Olympics began. On Sept. 13 the government detained 19 people in a probe to identify the source of melamine-tainted baby formula. Soon officials admitted that the compound-a cheap formation of nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen used to strengthen plastic and used in food as filler- had sickened over 1,200 babies and killed two. Before the month was out, ingesting melamine had made over 54,000 children ill and killed four. A melamine scare spread round the world as parents from New Zealand to Nova Scotia demanded that imports of Chinese dairy products be recalled. Experts say trace amounts of the substance are not harmful to adults, but small amounts over time can be deadly to children. On Dec. 11 the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered spot checks on kid favorites like breaded chicken nuggets and pizza snacks, having months before halted imports of milk-based products from China.
The release of the Mitchell report in late 2007 sent shock waves through Major League Baseball. The 409-page document, which resulted from former Sen. George Mitchell's 20-month investigation, charged such big name players as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Andy Pettitte with use of illegal performance-enhancing substances.
More than any other player, Clemens went on the offensive in an effort to clear his name. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner denied all allegations in an interview with 60 Minutes. He then filed a defamation lawsuit against his former trainer Brian McNamee, the source for Mitchell's allegations. In February, Clemens testified before a congressional committee and swore to his innocence under oath, contradicting sworn statements from McNamee and Pettitte. A federal investigation into possible perjury ensued and remains unresolved. The heightened media scrutiny resulting from such events further sullied Clemens' already damaged reputation when digging reporters unearthed evidence of marital infidelity with multiple women.
But Mitchell's report accomplished more than simply discrediting star players. It made any opposition to tougher doping policies a public--relations no-no, forcing players union chief Donald Fehr to give ground and the league to adopt promptly many of the report's recommendations-eliminating the one-day notice for random tests, doubling the number of offseason tests, and requiring background checks of all clubhouse personnel.
February 3: The New York Giants win Super Bowl XLII over the New England Patriots.
June 17: The Boston Celtics win the NBA Finals over the Los Angeles Lakers.
October 29: The Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series over the Tampa Bay Rays.