BEIJING: Czech shooter Katerina Emmons took the honour of winning the first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics as the first full day of competition began on Saturday after a dazzling opening ceremony.
After China showcased its rich history in a breathtaking spectacular on Friday night, competitors began their quest for the seven gold medals on offer on the opening day.
The first came at the shooting range where former world record holder Emmons shattered China’s hopes of dominating the sport on home soil, with China’s defending Olympic champion Du Li a distant fifth.
Lioubov Galkina of Russia won the silver and Snjezana Pejcic of Croatia claimed the bronze.
Of the other medal events on Saturday, China’s world champion Peng Wei is a strong contender to win the day’s other shooting discipline, the men’s 10m air pistol.
Other finals include the men’s cycling road race, women’s 48kg weightlifting and individual sabre fencing as well as two judo divisions the women’s 48kg and men’s 60kg classes.
The competition proper began at dawn on Saturday in Hong Kong when veteran Olympic champion Mark Todd came out of retirement to become the first rider to compete in the three-day equestrian event.
“I didn’t expect to be number one, it was just the luck of the draw,” said Todd, equestian’s “Rider of the 20th Century” who won gold at Los Angeles and Seoul, and retired after claiming individual bronze in Sydney in 2000.
“I’m used as cannon fodder. They said send the old bugger out there first and see what happens.”
He scored 49.40 penalties putting him in the middle of the field in the first round.
Late in the day, American swimming ace Michael Phelps dives into his quest for eight gold medals and Olympic immortality when he opens his campaign with the heats in a race he says may be one of his toughest – the 400m individual medley.
Australian ace Grant Hackett, who has his sights on a historic third straight Olympic 1,500m freestyle title, will warm up for his signature event the 400m freestyle.
The first session of swimming finals is on Sunday.
The opening day of the Games, however, was not without controversy as Greece recalled a track athlete after testing positive for a prohibited performance drug.
Greek officials did not immediately name the competitor but Greek media revealed it was men’s 200 metre runner Tassos Gousis, who denied any wrongdoing.
“I am innocent and my conscience is clear”, Gousis told reporters. “It would be stupid for me to take a banned substance just before the Games.”
But drugs scandals, as well as the Games’ political and pollution concerns were laid aside, at least briefly, at the stunning opening ceremony staged before 91,000 spectators in the iconic “bird’s nest” stadium.
The march into the stadium of thousands of athletes from 204 nations and territories brought roars from the crowd, especially for Taiwan which is enjoying closer ties with its long-time rival.
Iraq, which was only allowed to compete here at the last minute, also brought thunderous applause, along with Russia and North Korea.
But the loudest cheers were saved for China’s athletes, led into the stadium by famous NBA basketballer Yao Ming and nine-year-old Lin Hao, who survived China’s devastating earthquake in May.
Channel News Asia