LONDON (Reuters) - Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov sprinted to victory in the men’s cycling road race on Saturday, dashing British hopes of gold on the first full day of competition at the London Olympic Games.
Vinokourov surged past Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran on the final stretch near Buckingham Palace after a star-studded British team had failed in a frantic attempt to bridge a gap of nearly a minute behind the leading pack and set up a win for world champion Mark Cavendish.
In the wave-roofed swimming pool, 2008 Olympic champion Park Tae-hwan of South Korea was disqualified for a false start in the 400 meters freestyle, but reinstated to the final after an appeal.
U.S. star Michael Phelps just squeezed into the final of the 400 individual medley with a lunge on the last stroke of his heat, and was due to square off on Saturday evening with compatriot Ryan Lochte in one of the most keenly anticipated rivalries of the Games.
China’s Yi Siling became the first gold medalist 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.”
And her compatriot Wang Mingjuan gave China an early lead in the medal table, extending a 10-year unbeaten international record to win gold in the first women’s weightlifting event of the London Games, the 48-kg weight division.
On a day of mixed fortunes for the South Koreans, Jin Jong-oh won the men’s 10-metre air pistol shooting.
But their men’s archery team, who won gold at the last three Olympics and set new individual and team world records in an earlier round, were knocked out by the top-ranked United States.
Brazil’s Sarah Menezes took judo gold in the women’s -48kg category by defeating reigning Olympic champion Romania’s Alina Dumitru, while Russia’s Arsen Galstyan won the men’s -60kg.
At Wimbledon, where Roger Federer won his 17th grand slam earlier this month, the world number one survived a scare in his opening singles match against Colombia’s Alejandro Falla before prevailing 6-3 5-7 6-3 to book a second-round place.
Seeking his first singles gold, Federer made extra work for himself by missing three match points when leading 6-3 5-3. In the women’s event, Serena Williams breezed past Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic, with U.S. first lady Michelle Obama cheering her on.
After Friday night’s opening ceremony, where Britain laid on a quirky and fun-filled extravaganza for the world, local hopes were running high that world road racing champion Cavendish could win the host nation’s first gold of the Games.
But despite controlling much of the race, the home team, including Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, failed to rein in a 32-man group on the way back to the center of the city after nine ascents of Box Hill in rural Surrey.
The tearful victor, Vinokourov, was banned for two years in 2007 for blood doping. He announced he was quitting professional cycling after crashing out of the Tour de France last year, but could not resist the urge to get back on the bike.
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff took bronze.
“It’s bitterly disappointing,” said Cavendish, who trailed the winner by 40 seconds at the end of the 250-km (156-mile) slog.
More than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries will compete in 26 sports over 17 days of competition in London, the only city to have staged the modern Summer Games three times.
Albanian weightlifter Hysen Pulaku became the first to be ejected 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.
The evening highlight promises to be in the pool, where Phelps defends his 400 meters individual medley title against Lochte, the reigning world champion and favorite.
Phelps has 16 Olympic medals, 14 of them gold, and is bidding to become the most prolific medalist of all time by overhauling the record of 18 held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
If he wins the 400 medley, he will become the first man to capture three consecutive Olympic swimming titles in the same discipline.
But he was just millimeters away from making a shock early exit on the opening morning. A desperate final stretch was enough to edge out Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh by 0.07 seconds and give Phelps the eighth and last spot in the final.
“I didn’t expect those guys to go that fast in the heats,” said Phelps.
“I think the only thing that matters is getting a spot. You can’t get the gold medal from the morning.”
Lochte, who has exuded confidence this week, was third fastest overall, after Japan’s Kosuke Hagino set the quickest time.
“It didn’t feel so good, but that was my first race, and my first race is always the worst one,” he said.
Competition got under way after a dizzying opening ceremony on Friday night that celebrated Britain’s history and its humor, lurching from the Industrial Revolution to the Beatles.
It 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 the German mass-circulation paper Bild.
Additional reporting by Julien Pretot, Kate Holton, Julian Linden, Patrick Johnston, Kylie MacLellan, Michael Holden; editing by Ed Osmond and Ossian Shine