The United States and China, teams hoping to make a gold medal run in women's volleyball, met in the opening round of preliminary competition yesterday, and China was up to the challenge.
Paced by the power of outside Hao Yang, the Chinese beat the Americans in four close sets, 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18.
The US has a promising mix of young and old players hoping to use momentum from a fourth-place finish in Sydney in 2000.
Heather Bown's block attempt on match point fell short in the fourth and least-competitive set for the US, ending the match.
China's best middle blocker, 6-foot-5-inch Ruirui Zhao, limped off the court in the second set after reaggravating an injury to her right leg that kept her out of the World Grand Prix tournament last month. Though she didn't appear to be in serious pain, Zhao was later carried off on a gurney for further examination.
In the second set the US took 4 of the last 5 points to pull even. Olympic rookie Ogonna Nnamani, a reserve outside hitter who was an All-American at Stanford, had five kills in that set. In other matches, Germany surprised three-time defending gold medalist Cuba in five sets, and Russia breezed by the Dominican Republic in three.
Americans Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs skipped Friday night's opening ceremonies to get some extra rest for their first beach volleyball match. It proved to be a smart decision.
McPeak and Youngs, seeded No. 4, cruised past 21st-seeded Norwegians Susanne Glesnes and Kathrine Maaseide, 21-14, 21-14, under the lights at the Olympic Beach Volleyball Centre.
Instead of staying up late to participate in the three-hour festivities, McPeak and Youngs turned in early after watching their opponents on TV marching in the parade of nations.
"I was like, `All right, they're going to have tired legs tomorrow,' " said McPeak, the sport's all-time winningest female player. "It was nice to get a good night's sleep while everybody else was out until 3 a.m."
The Americans kept the Norwegians off balance by attacking early in possessions -- going for points on their second shots rather than using the normal bump, set, and spike method. "It's not easy to defend. A lot of teams don't practice it," Youngs said. "It's hard to practice if you don't even do it yourself."
US 2000 gold medalists Natalie Cook and Kerri-Ann Pottharst also got off to a good start, but with different partners. Pottharst and Summer Lochowicz, the No. 18 seeds, upset the seventh-seeded Chinese duo of Jia Tian and Wang Fei, 21-18, 21-18. Cook and Nicole Sanderson, the No. 5 seeds, beat 20th-seeded Bulgarian sisters Lina and Petia Yanchulova, 21-16, 21-12.
Americans Ilija Lupulesku and Jasna Reed each won their first-round table tennis matches. Lupulesku advanced with a 4-0 win over Juan Papic of Chile in men's singles, while Reed beat the Czech Republic's Renata Strbikova, 4-2, in women's singles. Tawny Banh of the US also advanced, but Khoa Nguyen lost to Australia's William Hentzell . . . Cancer survivor Kevin Hall, who needed clearance to sail in the Olympics because of his required testosterone injections, finished in the top half of the Finn fleet in his debut. Hall had finishes of 11th and seventh in the opening two races and was tied on points for eighth with Ali Enver Adakan of Turkey. Two other US crews got off to good starts. Paul Foerster of Rockwall, Texas, and Kevin Burnham of Miami were third overall in the 470 class after winning the opening race and taking ninth in the second race. Skipper Carol Cronin of Jamestown, R.I., was fifth overall in the Yngling class, which made its Olympic debut. The US women's 470 crew of Katie McDowell of Barrington, R.I., and Isabelle Kinsolving of New York, were 15th in their 20-boat fleet after finishes of 13th and 17th . . . Two-time defending gold medalist Australia was upset by Germany, 2-1, on the first day of women's field hockey pool play. Nadine Ernsting Krienke and Silke Mueller scored for Germany, and Julie Towers had Australia's goal.