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Stolen spotlight
Liukin overshadowed by Phelps' sixth gold

BEIJING - Under other circumstances, Nastia Liukin would have been the star of the Olympics for the U.S. delegation Friday. After all, she was crowned the all-around champion of women's gymnastics, with a heck of a backstory about overcoming the exact obstacle that stopped her father 20 years ago.

Alas, her performance came on the same day Michael Phelps was in action.

Phelps ratcheted up the buzz surrounding him by winning his sixth gold medal in as many tries, this time the 200-meter individual medley. The bigger news is that he's now on the cusp of catching Mark Spitz for the most medals ever won at a single Olympics, and still has a chance to bump the record to eight.

Phelps has already branded himself the greatest Olympian by shattering the record for most career golds; this was his 12th, further separating him from Spitz and three others, who each have nine.

Watch Phelps during the award ceremony and you can tell it never gets old. But his pursuit is a grind. After collecting his latest prize, he was in such a rush to get to a preliminary swim for the 100 butterfly that he shoved the medal into a pocket of his warmup jacket.

'The next two races are pretty important,' said Phelps, who matched his gold total won in Athens. 'I have to conserve as much physical and emotional energy as I can.'

The finals for the 100 butterfly - his signature stroke - is today. His last event is the 400 medley relay Sunday. Then, immortality.

Liukin's victory likely will inspire a generation of youngsters just like Mary Lou Retton did with her all-around win in 1984 and Carly Patterson did four years ago.

The difference this time is that Americans finished 1-2, with reigning world champion Shawn Johnson getting silver. And that's where Liukin's saga gets so interesting.

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Valeri Liukin got silver in the men's all-around, losing to one of his Russian teammates. He won two individual golds, but never forgot that loss. History seemed to be repeating as the toughest foe in the world for his only child was her teammate.

In addition to the world championship, Johnson beat Liukin at the national championships and at the Olympic trials only a few weeks ago. But not when it counted most.

'There is nothing bigger or greater than this,' Liukin said.

Swimming

Phelps wasn't the only American to set a world record Friday.

Ryan Lochte did it in the 200-meter backstroke and Rebecca Soni took the 200 breaststroke. Then Lochte faced a double-whammy - another race 29 minutes later, and a foe named Phelps. He wound up with bronze, with the silver going to Hungary's Lazslo Cseh, another guy with a hard-luck story. Cseh has finished second in three straight races, trailing Phelps each time.

Soni beat Australia's Leisel Jones and took away the record Jones had held for 21/2 years, an eon considering how quickly standards are dropping at this meet. (Phelps' win made it 21 world records set at the Water Cube.)

Soni had already claimed a surprising silver behind Jones in the 100, a race she entered only because Jessica Hardy failed a doping test at the U.S. trials and was dropped from the team.

American Natalie Coughlin won bronze in the 100 freestyle.

Softball

Turns out, the U.S. women are as dominant as ever.

First they set an Olympic record with four homers in a 7-0 victory over Japan. Then they resumed a rain-stopped game against Canada, trailing 1-0. After being five outs from losing, they wound up winning by the lopsided score of 8-1.

Women's basketball

The U.S. women started slowly, then got clicking, pounding Spain 93-55. Tina Thompson scored nine of her 17 points during a game-breaking 20-5 run in the third quarter and Lisa Leslie added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Tennis

An American won't win the men's singles title.

James Blake, the last hope left, lost to Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, who blew four match points before winning 6-4, 5-7, 11-9.

Baseball

The U.S. baseball team is in trouble. They fell to 1-2, lost a key player to an injury and have angered the mighty Cubans by accusing them of dirty play after losing to them 5-4 in 11 innings.

Women's soccer

Natasha Kai scored on a header in extra time, sending the defending champion Americans into the semifinals with a 2-1 victory over Canada.

Brazil advanced with a 2-1 win over Norway, Japan beat China 2-0 and Germany won against Sweden 2-0.

Japan will play the United States in the semifinals, while Brazil will take on Germany.