U.S. Fencers Lead First-Day Olympic Charge

USA's gold medal winner Mariel Zagunis is flanked by silver medal winner Sada Jacobson, left, and bronze medal winner Becca Ward, right, on the podium after the women's individual saber at the Fencing Hall of the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008.
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
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 18-year-old 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 the helper's 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, the Olympics' first day in Beijing will be remembered more for tragedy - the stabbings of Todd and Barbara Bachman and their Chinese tour guide, and the suicide of their Chinese attacker. Todd Bachman was killed, while Barbara Bachman suffered life-threatening injuries.

The Bachmans are the parents of former U.S. Olympian Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon and the in-laws of current men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon. They were at a tourist site when the man attacked them, then jumped off a 130-foot-high balcony.

"When one member of our family suffers a loss, we all grieve with them," U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth said.


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. Teammate and top foe Ryan Lochte also advanced, yet only as the fourth-fastest.

Katie Hoff, who like Phelps qualified in five individual events, had a bit of a surprise by finishing second in 400 IM qualifying. First went to 15-year-old teammate Elizabeth Beisel, the youngest U.S. swimmer.

Larsen Jensen broke his American record in 400 freestyle qualifying. In the 100 breaststroke prelims, Norway's Alexander Dale Oen broke the Olympic record. American world record-holder Brendan Hansen also advanced in 10th.

China got off to a strong start, drawing huge raucous cheers for having the best time in the women's 400 freestyle relay.


Playing hours after learning about the attack on the Bachmans, the U.S. women's team beat Japan 3-1. Emotions came pouring out after, with Logan Tom bursting into tears.

"God, we all love Wiz," Tom said, referring to former teammate Elizabeth Bachman McCutcheon by her nickname. "It's hard to put it in words. That's not something that's supposed to happen."


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

Beach volleyball

Being defending world champions, having won 21 straight international matches and getting a visit from President Bush did little for Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser. They lost their opening match to a Latvian team that was seeded 23rd in the 24-team field, which means they must win their next two pool-play matches to get into the medal round.


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.