Back To Beijing, Day 5: Ronda Rousey Wins Bronze, Phelps Wins 2 Golds, Women’s Gymnastics Battles China

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 13, 2018, 4:01 a.m. (ET)

Ronda Rousey (top) competes at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 on Aug. 13, 2008 in Beijing.

 

From the thrilling Opening Ceremony to Michael Phelps’ iconic eight gold medals, the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 were truly unforgettable. Relive the 10-year anniversary of the Games through Aug. 24 as TeamUSA.org recaps the daily highlights from Beijing. Here’s a look at Team USA's performance on Day 5, Aug. 13, 2008.

 

Between an unexpected test for Michael Phelps in the pool and a dramatic finish next door for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, Team USA ran the gamut of emotions on the fifth day of competition at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.

Phelps, going for his fourth gold medal in a quest that aimed to ultimately reach a record-breaking eight, found himself in trouble soon after diving in to start the 200-meter butterfly.

“I dove in and (my goggles) filled right up with water,” Phelps said. “It got worse and worse through the race.”

With 75 meters left, his vision was gone. Phelps made his last turn blind and hoped for the best.

Turns out, sight is overrated.

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Phelps still touched the wall first, breaking his own world record by 0.06 seconds and holding off longtime rival Laszlo Cseh of Hungary by 0.67 seconds. It was one of two gold medals Phelps won that day, as he also raced the first leg of the winning 4x200 freestyle, which also set a world record.

Those were two of seven medals won by U.S. athletes on Wednesday, Aug. 13, and two of the three gold medals. Cyclist Kristin Armstrong added the third gold medal with a decisive victory in the women’s time trial. Afterward, she stayed at the finish line to watch Levi Leipheimer finish third in the men’s time trial.

Also in the pool, Natalie Coughlin, swimming in the women’s 200 IM, won a bronze medal, marking her third so far of the Games. Meanwhile, Ronda Rousey won a bronze medal in women’s judo, setting the stage for more success to come in mixed martial arts.

The most dramatic result of the day, however, was at the National Indoor Stadium.

Two heavyweights dominated at the Beijing Games, with hosts China and perennial powerhouse Team USA racking up medals throughout. But in no sport did the countries meet head-to-head with more on the line than in women’s team gymnastics.

The two powers in the sport, China had won the 2006 world title with Team USA taking it in 2007. In 2008, the Americans brought Shawn Johnson, the defending all-around world champ, and her surging sidekick Nastia Liukin. For China, five-time world champion Cheng Fei led the way.

With a captive audience at the National Indoor Stadium, located adjacent to the iconic Water Cube and Birds Nest stadiums on Beijing’s Olympic Green, the teams traveled around the four apparatuses together. Team USA led on vault and balance beam, but in between China had opened up a wide gap on the uneven bars. That sent the Americans into the final rotation, floor exercise, down a point.

With the gold medal still in reach, however, the three U.S. gymnasts each had a mistake, leaving the Americans in second place while the host country celebrated one of its most coveted gold medals of the Games.

“We gave it our hearts,” said Bridget Sloan, “but China was just having a really good day today.”

Chrös McDougall covered the 2008 Games for the Olympic News Service. He has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.