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.
Michael 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.
Playing hours after learning about the stabbings of Todd and Barbara Bachman and their Chinese tour guide, the U.S. women's team beat Japan 3-1. Emotions came pouring out after, with Logan Tom bursting into tears.
Todd Bachman was killed, while Barbara Bachman suffered life-threatening injuries from the attacker, who committed suicide. 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.
'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.