BEIJING (Reuters) - A world record pole vault for Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva and an electrifying 800 meters run by 18-year-old Kenyan Pamela Jelimo lit up the Bird's Nest Stadium on Monday evening.
The shock withdrawal of local favorite Liu Xiang from the 110m hurdles in the morning had cast a long shadow over the Games but the home crowd had plenty to lift their spirits later.
Isinbayeva, with the gold secured, cleared 5.05 meters to beat her own mark of 5.04 and follow Usain Bolt in the 100 meters and Gulnara Galkina-Samitova in the women's steeplechase as world record breakers at the Games.
"It was really great because I feel I'm an actress and all the stadium was just for me," she said.
Brimin Kiprop Kipruto gave Kenya a seventh successive victory in the 3,000 meters steeplechase and Jelimo streaked to the 800 meters title.
The United States, who had endured a miserable weekend, roared back when Angelo Taylor led a sweep in the men's 400 meters hurdles and Stephanie Brown Trafton took an unexpected women's discus gold.
Irving Saladino earned Panama's first-ever Olympic gold when he won the long jump.
Isinbayeva's record vault sent the crowd off into the balmy Beijing night on a high but surely it will not be long before the sour taste of disappointment caused by Liu's absence returns.
The 2004 champion was under enormous pressure to deliver gold in his home Games but he came in struggling with a long-standing Achilles injury as well as competition from world-record setting Cuban Dayron Robles.
Liu was grimacing in his warm-up and when he left the blocks in the last of the heats, which was signaled a false start, he pulled up sharply.
He turned and tore his lane number from his thigh before trudging forlornly into the bowels of the stadium.
The 91,000 crowd, the envy of all China to have snared "Liu tickets," were stunned and the race went ahead in an eerie silence with TV cameras still focusing on the empty lane.
Feng Shuyong, the head coach of the Chinese athletics team, said the 25-year-old's Achilles problem had flared up over the weekend.
"Liu would not have withdrawn unless the pain was intolerable," he told an emotional news conference, where Liu's long-standing coach Sun Haiping and many Chinese journalists were in tears.
"We did all we could. I think all the Chinese people will understand this situation and will encourage him to come back to the track," added Feng.
Defending champion Isinbayeva came into the Games as one of the hottest athletics favorites and spent most of the pole vault competition dozing under a towel.
When she emerged she needed only two jumps to win it with 4.85m but then played her part by clearing the new record height at the third attempt.
Jennifer Stuczynski of the United States won silver and Svetlana Feofanova of Russia took bronze.
Kipruto, the meat in a Kenyan steeplechase sandwich four years ago, went one better this time when he held off fast-finishing French outsider Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad to maintain his country's 24-year grip on the event. Richard Kipkemboi Mateelong took bronze for Kenya.
The U.S. have been similarly dominant in the 400 hurdles and Taylor's second Olympic triumph in a personal best of 47.25 seconds, eight years after his Sydney win, made it 18 golds in the event.
Kerron Clement took silver and Bershawn Jackson bronze in the first U.S. sweep since 1960.
Jelimo added a golden luster to her all-conquering season when she won the 800 in 1:54.87, a world junior record for the 18-year-old.
Team mate Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei took silver ahead of Morocco's Hasna Benhassi.
Saladino dealt with the pressure of favoritism and stiff competition from South African Khotso Mokoena to win with his fourth-round jump of 8.34 meters.
Brown Trafton's 64.74-metre throw was enough to earn the U.S. their first women's discus gold for 76 years.
The highlight of Tuesday's program should be the men's 1,500 meters and Bolt continues his bid for a sprint double in the 200 meters semi-finals.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)