China claims first gold

China fired out a signal of their Olympic intent with the first gold medal of the London 2012 Games.

Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Olympic Stadium on 27 July 2012 in England. Picture: Wessel Oosthuizen / SA Sports Picture Agency.

LONDON - China fired out a signal of their Olympic intent with the first gold medal of the London 2012 Games on Saturday in the shooting, while the host city warmed up to a Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte showdown in the pool.

The U.S. team mates square off on the opening night at the aquatic centre, which staged early drama when Phelps only narrowly scraped through his heat, and 2008 Olympic champion Park Tae-hwan was disqualified in the 400 freestyle.

The South Korean, who won gold in over that distance four years ago, came first but had left the blocks a fraction too early.

China's Yi Siling became the first gold medallist of the Games when she won the 10 metre air rifle shooting - despite confessing to reporters: "For the first round and the last round I was very nervous and didn't know what I was doing."

Competitions in badminton, archery, table tennis and judo also started early on a bright sunny morning in London.

After Friday night's opening ceremony, where Britain laid on a mesmerising and sometimes eccentric extravaganza for the world, the host nation was hoping world champion Mark Cavendish would bring home its first gold medal in the men's cycling road race.

A celebration of the country's grandeur and quirky humour, the ceremony extended into the early hours and wowed the crowd of 60,000 in the stadium and a probable billion television viewers around the globe.

"A gigantic spectacle. What a show!" raved Germany tabloid Bild.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge told the audience: "In a sense the Olympic Games are coming home tonight. This great, sports-loving country is widely recognised as the birthplace of modern sport."

On a darker note, Albanian weightlifter Hysen Pulaku became the first athlete to be ejected from the Games after testing positive for an anabolic steroid.

"Of course it is always a sad day when a cheating athlete is caught," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. "I hope there will not be more."

Ireland's Olympic Council said it was investigating an allegation that one of its competitors at the Games had previously bet on an opponent to win an event in which they were both competing. It did not name the athlete or the sport.

FIRST MEDALS

More than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries will compete in 26 sports over 17 days of competition in the only city to have staged the modern Summer Games three times.

The biggest event of the first day is in the pool, where Phelps defends his 400 metres individual medley title against Lochte.

Phelps has 16 Olympic medals, 14 of them gold, and is bidding to become the most prolific medallist of all time by overhauling the record of 18 held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.

If he wins the gold on Saturday, he will become the first man to capture three consecutive Olympic swimming titles in the same discipline. However, Lochte finished first in the U.S. trials this year and has exuded confidence this week.

"I just know I am ready. I am not going for silver or bronze. I am going for gold," he said.

Phelps, who only just scraped into the final with a desperate late lunge after easing through his heat, was relaxed and affable during his media commitments this week although still fiercely competitive.

"I'm more emotional because these will be the last competitive moments of my career," he said. "Once I get into the pool I won't be holding back."

CYCLING GLORY

Sprint specialist Cavendish was the only member of the all-conquering British cycling team who failed to win a medal in Beijing. But this time he has the expert support of four elite competitors, including his country's first Tour de France champion, Bradley Wiggins.

Six days after his triumph, Wiggins will devote his efforts to helping Cavendish win the 250km circuit to the south of London. He will be assisted by Chris Froome, second in the Tour, fellow stage winner David Millar and British champion Ian Stannard.

"We are all quite humble about our achievements but externally we must look an incredibly dominant force," Wiggins said. "It's no secret that Cav wants to win but he's got four incredible guys to help him."

The British tactics are also no secret to their rivals. The support riders will try to ensure Cavendish does not trail the leaders by too big a margin on the steep Box Hill, which must be climbed nine times, so that he can chase and overtake them on the way down.

The fact he will be a marked man adds to the pressure on Cavendish of being expected to secure his first Olympic gold and Britain's first of the Games.

"It's easy to get emotional about it - I've been nervous this week," Cavendish said. "We've trained to be able to deal with those nerves and we've got to put it to bed."

British excitement was stoked by Friday night's opening ceremony, a dizzying celebration of centuries of history from the Industrial Revolution to the Beatles.

The audience gasped when Queen Elizabeth set aside royal reserve in a video that showed her stepping on to a helicopter with James Bond actor Daniel Craig, to be carried aloft from Buckingham Palace.

A film clip showed doubles of the 86-year-old queen and Bond skydiving towards the stadium and, moments later, she made her entrance in person. In her Diamond Jubilee year, it was a moment of rare informality from a monarch revered for her devotion to duty rather than her common touch.