"He is the icon of the Games," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said yesterday.
Phelps was on course to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at a single Olympics.
"The quest to have more medals than Spitz will be something very important," Rogge told the Associated Press. "And he's keeping the attention of the public. He is a great athlete."
Rogge put Phelps in a select pantheon of Olympic idols.
"The Olympic Games live around superheroes," he said. "You had Jesse Owens, you had Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis and now you have Phelps. And that's what we need to have."
On a separate topic, Rogge downplayed the flap over lip-synching at the opening ceremony as "rather insignificant."
Beijing organizers have faced tough criticism after it was revealed that the 9-year-old girl who performed a song during the ceremony was lip-synching to another girl's vocal track.
•More PhelpsMore than 2million people have clicked on NBCOlympics.com to watch a video replay of the thrilling men's 400 swimming relay, in which the Americans scored a come-from-behind victory over the French. Phelps won gold for his role in the relay, although it was teammate Jason Lezak's surge at the end that was the indelible image. That race alone accounts for more than 40percent of the nearly 5million video on demand orders from the Web site, NBC Universal said. Three of the next four most-ordered clips were also Phelps gold medal races.
•GymnasticsJust nine months before the Olympics, the Chinese government's news agency, Xinhua, reported that gymnast He Kexin was 13, which would have made her ineligible to be on the team that won a gold medal this week. The AP found the Xinhua report on the Web site www.hb.xinhuanet.com yesterday morning and saved a copy of the page. Later that afternoon, the Web site was still working but the page was no longer accessible. Sports editors at the state-run news agency would not comment for publication. If the age reported by Xinhua was correct, that would have meant He was too young to be on the Chinese team that beat the United States on Wednesday and clinched China's first women's team Olympic gold in gymnastics. Questions have also been raised about the age of Yang Yiln, also on the winning team, and that of a third team member, Jiang Yuyuan. Gymnasts have to be 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible for the games.
•DopingKim Jong Su, a two-time North Korean medalist in shooting, and Thi Ngan Thuong, a Vietnamese gymnast, failed doping tests. The International Olympic Committee said both athletes have been kicked out of the games after testing positive for banned substances. Kim was stripped of his silver medal today in the 50-meter pistol and bronze in the 10-meter air pistol.
•CrashTwo people involved in a crash near the Olympic rowing venue have died, the Beijing Olympic organizing committee said. A bus from the athletes' village collided with a van Wednesday on the way to the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park. Committee spokesman Wang Wei said two of the four van passengers died in a hospital. Two Croatian rowers, the doubles sculls team of Mario Vekic and Ante Kusurin, were on the bus but were not seriously injured.