China wins early gold
China overcame early nerves to win a quick gold when Olympic competition began in earnest this morning 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.
Its dreams of winning the first gold were dashed in the women's 10-metre air rifle as the 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.
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 yesterday with a glittering ceremony that celebrated its ancient history but also demonstrated its modern image and economic boom.
But the mood of global harmony was marred by fierce fighting between Russian and Georgian troops in South Ossetia that flared even as Russian President Vladimir Putin watched the opening. "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 practise.
After some coaxing, he even joined the women on court to volley a few balls, hitting two but missing the third.
"Hey! Who's that guy?" quipped one male player.
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.
PHELPS IN THE WATER CUBE
Seven golds are up for grabs today. 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 tests.
Rogge's campaign claimed another victim yesterday, 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 another sprinter, Tassos Gousis, is being sent home, Greek media reported.
Thundershowers are forecast later today, 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 will be 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.