China wins two golds to cap dazzling opening

China overcame early nerves to win two quick golds when Olympic competition began in earnest on Saturday after a dazzling opening ceremony.

Beijing is determined to stage an awe-inspiring Games that will underline its status as an emerging superpower, and would love to displace the United States on top of the medals table.

But sweeping security measures failed to prevent the death of an American tourist in the capital on Saturday, attacked by a Chinese man who later jumped to his own death, state media reported. No motive was given for the attack.

In the sporting arena, China’s dream of winning the first gold were dashed in the women’s 10-metre air rifle as pressure got to favourite Du Li, who finished fifth and left in tears.

Instead, Katerina Emmons won for the Czech Republic.

“There was pressure for all of us but for her it was even harder,” Emmons said of her competitor. “I’m sorry, but the Chinese press is putting a lot of pressure on Chinese athletes.”

The Chinese did not have to wait long though for glory, Chen Xiexia taking gold in the women’s 48kg weightlifting cheered by shouts of “Go China”.
Draped in the national flag, she beamed and sang the anthem with gusto on the podium.

“It added new meaning to the medal,” she said, after learning it was China’s first.

Pang Wei followed up with victory in the men’s 10-metre air pistol, bowing as the big crowd cheered his victory.

Emmons was watched by her husband, American shooter Matt. The pair met at Athens in 2004 after he famously missed a gold medal on the last shot by firing at the wrong target and Katerina came up to offer commiserations.

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 honour 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 spokesperson Giselle Davies.

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

The sight of goose-stepping soldiers carrying the Olympic jarred for some, but mostly reviews were good.

“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.

Phelps in the Water Cube
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 centre for his heat in the 400 metres 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.

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

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 to date. - Reuters

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