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Back To Beijing, Day 7: Nastia Outlasts Shawn In An Iconic Gymnastics Showdown; Gold #6 For Phelps

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 15, 2018, 12:01 a.m. (ET)

(L-R) Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin pose together with their medals from the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 at the “TODAY” studio on Aug. 15, 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 7, Aug. 15, 2008.


Shawn and Nastia? Or Nastia and Shawn?

Going into the women’s all-around gymnastics final on Day 7 of the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, the question was less about who would take the top two spots on the podium, and more about which American gymnast would stand where.

Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin were the undisputed stars of the sport.

Johnson, a 16-year-old from Iowa, was the favorite, a 4-foot-11 powerhouse who came to Beijing as the reigning world champion in both the all-around and floor exercise.

Liukin, with her long lines and elegant gymnastics, was two years Johnson’s senior and the defending world champ on balance beam. Had she been old enough, she would have been the favorite to win the Olympic all-around title in 2004. But four years later, the Texan had beaten Johnson just once in a competitive all-around.

In Beijing, the Americans qualified 1-2 — Johnson and then Liukin — for the all-around final. Back in the National Indoor Stadium just two days after winning an emotional silver medal in the team competition, the teammates again went around the apparatuses together, starting on vault.

Johnson, the more powerful of the two, took an early .85 lead, only for Liukin to move ahead on her signature event, uneven bars. Performing one of the most difficult routines in the world, Liukin outscored Johnson by 1.375 points. With two rotations to go, the tables were turning.

Balance beam, a strength for both gymnasts, proved to be just that, though again Liukin posted the higher score to extend her lead up to six-tenths.

With one event left, Johnson wasn’t out of it, though the defending world champ knew she’d have to perform “the routine of my life” on floor exercise. And though she didn’t disappoint, Johnson’s score — perhaps fittingly — matched that of her teammate, giving Liukin the gold medal and Johnson silver.

“I gave my heart and soul out there today,” Johnson said. “Nastia deserved the gold.”

Said Liukin: “Standing on the podium and hearing ‘Olympic champion’ next to my name was a dream come true.”

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If this iconic gymnastics battle had been the only American highlight of Day 7, it still would have been one of the more memorable days of the Beijing Games. As it turned out, though, Team USA was clicking all around Beijing on Aug. 15.

Outside of gymnastics, most eyes were on the Water Cube next door, where Michael Phelps faced off against rivals Laszlo Cseh of Hungary and Ryan Lochte of Team USA in the 200-meter individual medley. 

The result matched that of the 400 IM back on Day 2, with Phelps using a strong breaststroke leg to set up an unstoppable freestyle close, leaving Cseh, of Hungary, with the silver and Lochte the bronze. After six swimming finals, Phelps now had six gold medals and six world records. The quest for a record eight gold medals remained intact.

Lochte also won his first individual gold medal in the pool, holding off teammate Aaron Peirsol to win the men’s 200 backstroke in world-record time. Meanwhile, Rebecca Soni set a world record of her own in winning the women’s 200 breaststroke, adding to a medal haul that also included her silver in the 100 breast. Natalie Coughlin’s medal haul continued as well, as she won her fifth medal of the Games by finishing third in the 100 free.

With the track and field competition finally getting underway in the Bird’s Nest, Americans Shalane Flanagan (women’s 10,000) and Christian Cantwell (men’s shot put) each added silver medals, while shooter Matt Emmons added another silver in the men’s 50-meter rifle prone. Flanagan’s medal was a bronze at the time but upgraded to silver in 2017.

In women’s soccer, Team USA survived a scare from rival Canada in the quarterfinals when substitute Natasha Kai broke a 1-1 deadlock in extra time.

Meanwhile, the knockout stage in women’s beach volleyball got underway with the U.S. teams of Kerri Walsh Jennings-Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh-Elaine Youngs both picking up victories in the round of 16.

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.