It's Ladies Day (and Night) in Beijing as the world's greatest female athletes will be featured at venues across the city. The highlights:
• After a thrilling nine-inning, 4-1 win over Japan, the U.S. women's softball team goes for its fourth consecutive gold medal against ... Japan. (Japan defeated Australia 4-3 in 12 innings to earn another shot at the American juggernaut). First pitch is 6:30 a.m. ET Thursday morning. The U.S. has won 22 consecutive Olympic softball games, and has outscored opponents 57-2 in Beijing.
• Mercenary or post-Cold War progressive? The saga of Becky Hammon (From Rapid City With Love) has been chronicled often over the past few weeks. On Thursday (8 a.m.), the WNBA All-Star with the All-American reputation suits up for Russia (5-1) against the undefeated Americans in the semifinals of the basketball tournament.
"I feel she's a part of us," says Russian center Ekaterina Lisina. "It doesn't matter if she's from the States or Belgium, China or Mars. She's Russian now."
Center Sylvia Fowles (14.1 points per game) is the leading scorer for the U.S. Hammon leads Russia with 13.2. Two years ago, at the FIBA World Championships, Russia beat the U.S. 75-68. "We've been waiting a long time for an opportunity to play them again," says U.S. guard Diana Taurasi.
• Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl weighs in on the women's soccer final (9 a.m.) between the U.S. and Brazil: "If the U.S. can upset Brazil in the women's soccer gold-medal game, you could argue that it would be the greatest on-field achievement in the history of the U.S. women's team," he says. "Not only did these Brazilians spank the U.S. 4-0 in last year's Women's World Cup semifinals, but this U.S. team has also had to overhaul the way it plays over the last month after losing star forward Abby Wambach to a broken leg. Both teams scored four goals in their semifinal victories, so I'm looking for some fireworks. In the end, though I think the remarkable talent of Brazil's Marta and Cristiane up front will just be too much. Brazil 4, United States 2."
• One of the hottest tickets in Beijing is the beach volleyball gold-medal match (11 p.m. ET Wednesday) featuring Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh of the U.S. against China's Tian Jia and Wang Jie. The U.S. hasn't lost in 107 matches, and has never been beaten in Olympic play.
• The U.S. faces Cuba in what should be a heated semifinal (12:30 a.m.) in women's volleyball. Cuba has won three of the last four Olympic Games. Earlier in the tournament, Cuba beat the U.S. in pool play.
• The women's water polo gold medal match (6:20 a.m.) pits the U.S. against the Netherlands. The teams last played in December 2007 at the Holiday Cup in Long Beach, Calif., an 8-5 win for the Dutch.
• It's a loaded field in the women's 200 final (7:30 a.m.): Veronica Campbell-Brown, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart of Jamaica, and pre-race favorite Alyson Felix of the U.S.
• The men's 400 final (10:20 a.m.) sets up as one of the most-anticipated events of the Games. Can defending champion Jeremy Wariner hold off teammates LaShawn Merritt and David Neville? Or will Chris Brown of the Bahamas play the spoiler?
• Oh, what could have been. With Liu Xiang and Terrence Trammell out of the competition, Cuba's Dayron Robles, the world-record holder in the 110 hurdles, should run away in the final (9:40 a.m.). Americans David Payne and David Oliver have a shot at the podium.
• The 4x100 relays begin preliminary heats. The U.S. runs at 8:20 a.m. and mighty Jamaica (Usain Bolt alert!) goes at 8:30 a.m. Tyson Gay is expected to run for the U.S. after flaming out in the 100. Jamaica has never won a gold medal in the event. Asafa Powell will run for Jamaica along with Bolt.
• BMX will declare its first Olympic champion today and it's a good bet an American will be on the podium. U.S. riders Kyle Bennett, Mike Day and Donny Robinson each advanced to the semifinal round (9:08 p.m.). In the women's BMX, Jill Kintner finished seventh on her time-trial run and will compete in the semifinal round. The women's final race is 10:30 p.m. The men follow 10 minutes later.
• Diana Lopez is the first of the three Lopez siblings to take to the mat in taekwondo. Her opening match (10 p.m.) is against '05 world lightweight bronze medalist ChonnapasPremwaew of Thailand. Chonnapas defeated Lopez 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the '07 World Olympic Qualifier, the last time these two met.
• Chen Wang will play in the fourth round of women's singles table tennis. The paddle action begin at 10 p.m.
• Women's 10-meter platform holds its semifinals (10 p.m.). The top 12 from the semis will then return for finals at 8 a.m. The Americans to watch are '00 gold medalist Laura Wilkinson and Haley Ishimatsu.
• Some other finals: The women's 20km walk (9 p.m.), men's open-water swimming 10km final (9 p.m.), the individual jumping equestrian final (7:15 a.m.) and the multihull-tornado race in sailing (1 a.m.). Men's freestyle wrestling will award golds in three weight classes: 84 kg (5:20 a.m.), 96 kg (6:15 a.m.) and 120 kg (7:20 p.m.).
• Finally, it's the first day of competition in the men's decathlon. The events include the 100, shot put, high jump, long jump and the 400. American BrianClay won the silver in Athens.
"It's the most impressive athletics feat I've ever seen in my life."-- Former 200 world-record holder Michael Johnson, on Bolt's world-record 19.30 time in the 200.
"I didn't see that I was given a yellow card. Maybe it was where I was pulling away from the two Brazilian girls who were quite aggressive, and bordering un-sportsmanlike-like. This is swimming, not boxing."-- Women's 10km marathon swimming gold medalist Larisa Ilchenko on being given a yellow card in the event
SI staffers weigh in on the television coverage, hot stories and hot button issues surrounding the Games.
• Just when you thought the rest of the Olympics would be a snooze after Michael Phleps finished his vision quest with eight gold medals on Sunday, along comes Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. After setting a world record in the 100 over the weekend, Bolt came back on Wednesday and broke Michael Johnson's 12-year-old record in the 200 with a remarkable time of 19.30 seconds. Bolt became the first man to pull off the 100-200 sweep since Carl Lewis in 1984. Which brings us to the impossible question: which feat was more impressive?
• There are certain Olympic results that have come seemingly out of nowhere and whose aftershocks have altered the landscape. Bolt's strikes me as belonging on that list. What other summer events would you say have had such seismic impact? And where does Bolt rank on the seismic scale?
• E.M. Swift says the IOC should be ashamed for not investigating the ages of the Chinese gymnasts and needs to level the playing field. After all is said and done, what will you remember most about the gymnastics competition? Will a dark cloud hang over the sport? Or is controversy just inherent in gymnastics?
1. Undeniably a champion (by Sally Jenkins, The Washington Post): Writes Jenkins, "Here's one way to deal with personal disappointment at the Olympics: Hop on a piece of wood that's four inches wide and intolerant of mistakes, and stick your landings as if you're driving nails into it with your feet, until you force the judges to give you a gold medal."
2. Get well soon: a message from Liu Xiang's sponsors (by Sky Canaves, The Wall Street Journal): A look at the corporate impact of Liu's withdrawal.
3. Have the British peaked too soon? (by Kevin Fylan, Reuters): Britain's tally of 16 golds is its best since 1908.