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Sabre women get United States on medal board

The United States went without a medal for the nearly the entire first full day of the Beijing Olympics, but that all changed at the fencing hall.
/ Source: news services

The United States went without a medal for the nearly the entire first full day of the Beijing Olympics, but that all changed at the fencing hall.

Americans were assured of going 1-2 when Mariel Zagunis and Sada Jacobson advanced to the final. Then Becca Ward to took bronze for a red, white and blue sweep. Zagunis followed by beating Jacobson for gold. Zagunis also won gold in 2004.

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

In women's basketball, the defending champion U.S. squad rolled past the Czech Republic 97-57 behind 18 points from Diana Taurasi. Sylvia Fowles added 16 points and 14 rebounds.

The U.S. also had good day in women's soccer, as the Americans bounced back from an opening loss to Norway with a 1-0 win over Japan on midfielder Carli Lloyd's first-half goal.

It wasn't such a good day for the the American beach volleyball team of Philip Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, 21-19, 21-18 losers to a Latvian squad. On the women's side, the U.S. team of Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs beat a Dutch.

Just hours after learning that a former team member's father was stabbed and killed in Beijing, the U.S. women's indoor volleyball team dig deep to win their opening round match against Japan 3 games to 1.

China finished the first day leading 2-1 in the gold race.

Glittering ceremony
China opened the Olympics on Friday night with a glittering ceremony that celebrated its ancient history but also demonstrated its modern image and economic boom.

But calls to honor the Olympic truce were ignored as fierce fighting erupted between Russian and Georgian troops in South Ossetia, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin watched the opening. As many as 1,500 people may have been killed.

“It is contrary to what the Olympic ideal stands for,” said International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies.

More than 80 world leaders, including President George W. Bush, joined 91,000 spectators on Friday night for an opening show of fireworks, drums and dance at the Bird’s Nest stadium.

“It was spectacular, really unbelievable, we liked it a lot,” First Lady Laura Bush told reporters in the Forbidden City.

As she engaged in cultural tourism, her husband took in some beach volleyball, watching the American men and women practice.

After some coaxing, he even joined the women on court to volley a few balls, hitting two but missing the third.

At one point, 2004 gold medal winners Misty May-Treanor jokingly bent over and offered Bush a chance to give her a pat on the rear. Instead, he playfully tapped her back.

The hosts fended off wet weather for the opening by firing 1,104 rain-dispersing rockets into the skies, the first time this technology has been used at such a high-profile event.

But the spectacle was marred for some by the sight of goose-stepping soldiers raising the Olympic flag.

“The heavy presence of Chinese (People’s) Liberation Army officers throughout the proceedings left many wondering exactly what image the hosts were intending to project to the international community,” the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Up for grabs
Seven golds are up for grabs on Saturday. The attention of many fans is on American swimmer Michael Phelps, the lanky 23-year-old aiming for an unprecedented eight golds.

He plunges into the shimmering new Water Cube aquatics center for his heat in the 400 meters individual medley, as he tries to beat Mark Spitz’s record seven golds in 1972.

Olympic chief Jacques Rogge used his speech at the opening ceremony to appeal to the better nature of the 10,500 athletes from 204 teams taking part in the Games, reminding them they are “role models for the youth of the world.” In case that does not work, he has introduced tougher drugs tests.

Rogge’s campaign claimed another victim on Friday, a Greek sprinter sent home for failing an earlier test, in an uncanny echo of Athens 2004.

Four years ago, two Greek sprinters, both major medals hopes, were involved in a doping scandal that overshadowed the start of the Games. This time it was another sprinter Tassos Gousis.

Thundershowers are forecast later on Saturday, and the Olympic flame burnt above the stadium in hazy skies. Smog has been a feature of the run-up to the Games despite an $18 billion campaign to clean the skies around the city.

Cyclists were the first endurance athletes to test the effects of heat and pollution in the men’s road race, which winds from the Forbidden City to the hilly Great Wall, and has already been described as one of the toughest tournament courses ever.