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Saber women give US most medals

Aug. 09, 2008, 9:39 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) With Day 1 of the Beijing Olympics almost done, the U.S. medal count was nonexistent. Cuba, Uzbekistan and 16 other countries all had bragging rights over the Americans. The closest thing to glory was a Colorado resident winning gold for the Czech Republic.

Then came some serious slicing and dicing at the fencing hall.

Thanks to a red, white and blue sweep by saber-swinging women, the U.S. not only landed on the chart, it came out smack dab on top with more medals than anyone else.

Americans were assured of going 1-2 when Mariel Zagunis and Sada Jacobson advanced to the final. Then it was up to Becca Ward to win the bronze. She did, followed by Zagunis taking gold and Jacobson silver.

China finished the day leading 2-1 in the gold race. It might've been 3-1 if not for Katerina Emmons, the Czech shooter who lives with her husband, American shooter Matt Emmons, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Emmons was the somewhat surprising winner of the first medal event of these games, the 10-meter air rifle. Reigning gold medalist Du Li of China was the favorite, but she wound up fifth. If the China-U.S. gold chase winds up close, remember Mrs. Emmons' contribution.

More help is on the way for the American medal count, and his name is Michael Phelps. The sensational swimmer opened his bid for eight golds by setting an Olympic record in his very first swim, a mere preliminary heat in the 400-meter individual medley.

Alas, Day 1 in Beijing will be remembered more for tragedy.

A relative of a U.S. men's volleyball coach was killed and another relative wounded by a knife-wielding Chinese man at a tourist site. The attacker also wounded the Americans' Chinese tour guide, then jumped to his death.



Phelps set the Olympic 400 IM record while winning the gold in Athens, but his time in this qualifying race was 0.44 better. He was under his world-record pace after 150 meters of the four-stroke race, but eased off to save something for the final Sunday morning.



Emmons was on target from the start, shooting a perfect 400 in qualifying then finishing with an Olympic record of 503.5.

Lioubov Galkina of Russia won the silver and Snjezana Pejcic of Croatia took the bronze. Jamie Beyerle of Lebanon, Pa., finished fourth.

Du was greeted with a roar from the fans in the upper balcony of the shooting range when she came out for the final. Overwhelmed, she followed with a misfire.

"I wasn't fully prepared for the pressure of competing at home," Du said.

Pang Wei handled it just fine, easily outlasting a pair of Koreans in the finals of the men's 10-meter air pistol. When it was over, Pang - the 2006 world champion - turned around and waved his hat in the air while the home crowd cheered. Americans Jason Turner and Brian Beaman were fourth and fifth.



The U.S. men finished atop their qualifying group with a score good enough to clinch a spot in the team finals. Thus, even without injured stars Paul and Morgan Hamm, the Americans still have a shot at a medal - even if it's a slim one.

"To make a major team personnel change, compete in the first subdivision and qualify for the team finals is a huge accomplishment, and we are looking forward to competing on Tuesday," U.S. coach Kevin Mazeika said.

China, winner of three straight world championships and the overwhelming favorite, lived up to it by soaring to the top of the pack.



Zagunis won this event in 2004, making her the first American in a century to win a fencing gold. Now, the U.S. is a force, an obvious favorite to win the team saber event.

Jacobson, who got bronze in Athens, was the top seed but Zagunis had one of her best performances in the final.

"That was probably the hardest bout I've ever fenced in my career," Zagunis said.

Ward, an 18-year-old who is part of the same Oregon fencing club as Zagunis, turned an early 6-1 deficit into a 15-14 victory.



Chen Xiexia, last year's world champion, dominated Saturday's competition from start to finish, lifting 210 pounds in the snatch and 258 in the clean and jerk.

By winning the second event of the games, she earned the first medal of any shade for the host country.

Turkey's Sibel Ozkan won the silver medal, while Chen Wei-Ling of Taiwan finished third. The 2004 Olympic champion, Nurcan Taylan of Turkey, was eliminated after three failed attempts in the snatch.



Samuel Sanchez of Spain emerged from a sprint to the finish in the shadow of the Great Wall to win the men's road race, a trek that covered 152 miles in hazy air.

Italy's Davide Rebellin won silver on his 37th birthday, while Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara took the bronze. Levi Leipheimer was the top U.S. finisher, placing 11th.

Sanchez won in 6 hours, 23 minutes, 49 seconds, conquering a route that went past Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and other landmarks in Beijing, then outside the city for seven punishing laps of a hilly loop course between two points on the Great Wall.


Women's basketball

WNBA star Lauren Jackson led medal favorite Australia with 18 points and 10 rebounds in an 83-64 victory over Belarus that featured Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in the stands. The Opals lost the last two Olympic finals to the United States but comes into the 2008 Beijing Games as world champion.

"We're just chipping away at a number of things - we've got quite a few things to work on, but I thought we executed pretty well," Australia coach Jan Stirling said.

In other matches, China held off Spain 67-64 and New Zealand edged Mali 76-72.



So much for the U.S. women's scoring drought. Midfielder Carli Lloyd scored on a first-half volley to lead them past Japan 1-0 in their first game since a 2-0 loss to Norway.

The Americans created a host of scoring opportunities, but were only able to capitalize in the 27th minute, when Lloyd volleyed a cross from defender Stephanie Cox just under the crossbar. Goals are at a premium for this club with scoring leader Abby Wambach out with an injury.

Also, Sweden beat Argentina 1-0 and Germany beat Nigeria 1-0.



Romania's Alina Dumitru won the women's 106-pound gold, throwing Cuba's Yanet Bermoy to the mat for the prize after stunning world champion Ryoko Tani of Japan in the semifinal. Argentina's Paula Pareto and Tani, winner of the last two golds, won bronze.

In the men's 132-pound class final, South Korea's Choi Min-ho, the bronze medalist in Athens, defeated European champion Ludwig Paischer of Austria. Choi won all his bouts with match-ending throws.


In other sports:

-South Korea's Park Sung-hyun, the defending Olympic women's archery champion, tied the Olympic record in the first day of competition.

-American sailor Zach Railey was second in an Olympic Finn race, first in a series of 11 that will determine the medals.

-American middleweight boxer Shawn Estrada beat Ezequiel Maderna of Argentina.

-The American beach volleyball team of Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs beat a Dutch duo.

-Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, who will become the No. 1 tennis player in the world Monday, said a sore right calf may knock her out of the Olympics. She's supposed to play Sunday against Zimbabwe's Cara Black.


Elsewhere around the games:

-The U.S. Olympic Committee said in a statement that two family members of a coach for the men's indoor volleyball team were stabbed at the Drum Tower "during an attack by what local law enforcement authorities have indicated was a lone assailant." Few other details were given.

"They were not wearing apparel or anything that would have specifically identified them as being members of our delegation" or as Americans, USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel told The Associated Press.

He said it is "too early to say" whether the U.S. delegation or athletes will require additional security.

Said U.S. softball pitcher Jennie Finch: "Of course, my heart skipped a beat (hearing the news). I get concerned. But at the same time you just have to be smart and live your life."

-President Bush went mountain biking on the Olympic course, got sandy at beach volleyball and got a chalk handprint left on his back after a photo with the softball team. His wife and daughter, meanwhile, went on an early tour of the Forbidden City.

-Greek sprinter Tassos Gousis was excluded from the Olympics a few days before the games after failing a doping test in his home country.

The Greek national Olympic committee said the 200-meter runner tested positive for the steroid methyltrienolone on Monday. He has been sent home from a pre-games training camp in Japan after being informed of the result.

-The Chinese gymnast age issue is settled. They're old enough, despite documents and media reports saying three athletes are as young as 14, two years less than rules allow.

Chinese officials have insisted the girls are all of eligible age, and have given International Gymnastics Federation and IOC passports to back that up.

-A pro-Tibet group said five activists staged a "peaceful protest" in Tiananmen Square, breaching heavy security that has surrounded the heart of Beijing for the Olympics.

Lhadon Thetong, executive director for Students for a Free Tibet, said the protesters draped themselves in Tibetan flags and lay down in the square. It wasn't immediately clear if they were stopped by authorities.

-A diesel generator used to create the underwater bubbles that formed the finish line at the rowing-canoeing park overheated, belching out black smoke during women's pair heats, but races were not delayed.