BEIJING 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.
Katerina 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.
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.
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.
Diana Taurasi scored 17 points and Sylvia Fowles added 16 points and 14 rebounds to send the U.S. women strolling past the Czech Republic 97-57 in front of President Bush and the U.S. men's team. Next up for the Americans is host China.
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 games, China beat Spain 67-64, South Korea needed overtime to beat Brazil 68-62 and New Zealand edged Mali 76-72.
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.
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.
China tied Canada 1-1, putting the host country in position to advance to the quarterfinals. Also, two-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta scored to help Brazil beat North Korea 2-1; Sweden beat Argentina 1-0; Germany beat Nigeria 1-0 and Norway beat New Zealand 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 Japan's seven-time world champion Ryoko Tani 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.
A Samoan light heavyweight boxer was knocked out, went unconscious, then left the ring in a stretcher and went to a hospital for evaluation. The ringside doctor expects Farani Tavui to be fine.
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.
Becky Holder rode her and her husband Tom's Courageous Comet to fourth place after the first half of equestrian's dressage phase of the eventing competition.
South Korea, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, and Russia, the 2007 world champion, tied in the day's highest-profile women's handball matchup.
Elsewhere around the games:
U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said the stabbing victims "were not wearing apparel or anything that would have specifically identified them as being members of our delegation" or as Americans.
"We don't believe this was targeted at American citizens, and we don't believe this has anything to do with the Olympics," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said.
The killing was a rare instance of violent crime against foreigners in tightly controlled China, which has ramped up security measures even more for the Olympics.
President Bush went mountain biking on the Olympic course, got sandy at beach volleyball, got a chalk handprint left on his back after a photo with the softball team and watched the women's basketball team win easily. His wife and daughter 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.
Brazil will not wear its regular official Nike uniform in the remainder of the Beijing Games because of concerns it could affect Rio de Janeiro's bid for the 2016 Olympics.