LONDON (Reuters) - Eight women badminton players were disqualified by the sport's federation on Wednesday for deliberately trying to lose at the Olympics and manipulate the draw, angering fans and fellow athletes who said they undermined the spirit of the Games.
They were disqualified following a formal disciplinary hearing by the Badminton World Federation, but were not expelled from the Games. It was not clear what that meant for their future participation in London.
The controversy overshadowed spectacular action in the pool late on Tuesday, when U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps's historic 19th medal made him the most decorated Olympian of all time.
On the fifth full day of full sporting competition, Britain also won its first gold of the Games when Helen Glover and Heather Stanning rowed to victory in the women's pair, ending an increasingly agonised wait for host nation fans.
The euphoria was tempered by the previous night's events at Wembley Arena in London, where the crowd shouted abuse at the players as badminton matches descended into farce when the teams deliberately sprayed shots and duffed serves.
The players involved were China's world champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang, Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari and two South Korean pairs - Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, and Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung.
Men's singles champion Lin Dan broke ranks with his badminton compatriots, saying such tactics were not in the Olympic spirit.
Lin, the men's singles world number one and a national hero in China, also criticised the Badminton World Federation for instituting a system that was ripe for manipulation.
"I think it will definitely bring a negative impact, because all of these fans came to watch this tournament," the 28-year-old told reporters at Wembley Arena. "This situation really is not in the Olympic sporting spirit."
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Britain won its first gold of the London 2012 Games when Glover and Stanning dominated before a screaming crowd of 25,000, including Princes William and Harry, and many more glued to television screens beyond.
"Ecstatic," Glover told reporters at Dorney Lake in southern England. "It's so surreal, it will take forever to sink in."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, during a visit to Northern Ireland, said he received the news after sitting on the "Wishing Chair" at Giant's Causeway, one of Northern Ireland's top tourist attractions.
"I was sitting in the Wishing Chair," he told reporters.
"I was told I could make a wish. I won't say what it was but as soon as I got back to my mobile phone I got the good news. Fantastic news, well done to them, it's a great success for the United Kingdom team."
In other rowing action, Germany powered to victory in the blue-riband men's eight, and Ukraine won the women's quad scull to claim their first Olympic rowing gold.
Britain, who dazzled in Beijing in 2008 to take fourth place with 19 golds, has become increasingly impatient after a series of disappointments in the opening days of the Games.
Bradley Wiggins, the first Briton to win the Tour de France, will aim to land his fourth Olympic gold when he rides in the individual cycling time trial at Hampton Court Palace outside London later in the day.
China topped the medals table on Day Five with 13 golds and 23 overall, followed by the United States on 10 golds and 25 in total.
In the pool on Tuesday night, Phelps surpassed the previous medal benchmark of 18 held for nearly half a century by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
Phelps saluted his team mates in the 4x200 metres freestyle relay who flung their arms around him. "I thank those guys for helping me get to this moment," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama personally tweeted his congratulations: "Congrats to Michael Phelps for breaking the all-time Olympic medal record. You've made your country proud. - bo," he wrote on the micro-blogging site.
Sebastian Coe, chairman of the Olympic organising committee, revived a debate held the world over when asked who he thought was the greatest Olympian ever.
"I think you can say it is self-evident that he is the most successful. I am not sure he is the greatest," Coe said of Phelps. "It is a pretty good haul, but who is the greatest? In my opinion he is probably not."
The swimming has dominated the first days of the Games, with high-profile athletics yet to start.
Australian James Magnussen, American Nathan Adrian and Brazilian Cesar Cielo, the world record holder, were due to thrash it out on Wednesday evening in the men's 100 metres freestyle final.
Chinese prodigy Ye Shiwen won her second gold of the Games on Tuesday, setting an Olympic record in the 200 individual medley after stunning swimming pundits with her victory and world record in the 400 medley three days earlier.
The 16-year-old was forced to fend off insinuations of doping - voiced by a top American coach and not backed by any evidence - that drew a sharp response from Chinese officials as well as athletes and officials from other countries.
Even the U.S. team backed away from the comments, made by executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association John Leonard, making clear Leonard was not in any way connected to the U.S. delegation to London.
THE DARK SIDE
The flap over the badminton was a reminder of the lengths to which countries and athletes will go to win gold, even if the Olympic charter says the Games are about sport pursued in "a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play".
South Korea head coach Sung Han-kook admitted his two pairings attempted to throw their matches against China's world champion duo and the Indonesians, but said it was in retaliation against the Chinese team.
"The Chinese started this. They did it first," Sung told reporters through an interpreter.
He said the Chinese deliberately tried to lose the first of the tainted matches to ensure their leading duo of Yu and Wang would not meet the country's number two pair until the gold medal decider.
"It's a complicated thing with the draws. They didn't want to meet each other in the semi-final. So we did the same. We didn't want to play the South Korean team again (in the knockout stages)," Sung said.
Players and coaches of other teams said such tactics were not unknown, especially from the Chinese team.
"They did (it) so many times last year, they did not play between each other like 20 matches. They do what they want," said Belarus singles player Alesia Zaitsava.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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