On the first full day of competition in and around the Olympic city, an Italian fencer, a group of South Korean archers, a cyclist from Switzerland and a tennis player from Colombia all had an opportunity to do something heroic.
None was able to do so, and that list does not even include Michael Phelps, who at the very least was expected to move within one medal of equaling the all-time record total that has stood as the ultimate mark of Olympic excellence for almost half a century.
He failed in that bid, thus becoming one of the most talked about fourth-place finishers in the history of the Games.
Phelps came into the Olympics with a record 14 gold medals and 16 overall. Two more medals of any kind will tie him for with gymnast Larysa Latynina for the record set in 1964.
He was expected to get one of those medals Saturday in the finals of the 400-meter individual medley, a race he originally vowed not to swim at these Olympics.
Phelps not only failed to challenge teammate Ryan Lochte, who won the race by almost 4 seconds, but he could not finish in front of silver medalist Thiago Pereira of Brazil or bronze medalist Kosuke Hagino of Japan.
Phelps has six other races to swim at these Olympics, including the 100-meter butterfly Sunday. His performance will be closely scrutinized.
Among the other disappointments on Saturday:
-- Valentina Vezzali was unable to win a fourth consecutive gold medal in the women's individual foil. Had she done so, she would have become the fourth person and first woman to capture the same event in four straight Olympics. Instead, she finished third as part of an Italian sweep.
-- The South Korean men's archery team established a world record in qualifying Friday and was the overwhelming favorite. On Saturday, however, the United States stunned South Korea in the semifinals before losing the team gold medal match with Italy.
-- Fabian Cancellara, silver medalist in the cycling road race in China, was out front of a breakaway group with less than 5 miles to go when he failed to negotiate a sharp turn, slammed into a metal fence, fell and scraped a layer of skin from his left elbow. Veteran Alexandr Vinokurov won the race.
-- Alejandro Falla took world No. 1 Roger Federer to a third set in the opening round of the tennis tournament only to let the upset bid slip away. Federer joined Serena Williams as a first-round winner.
After the first 12 medal events were completed Saturday, China had won four golds and six medals overall. The United States, which won 10 more medals than did China in Beijing, won two fewer Saturday.
Two of China's golds came in swimming, where there had been only one four years ago. One of those swimming victories came from 16-year-old Yi Shiwen, who set a 400-meter individual medley world record in the process.
The defending gold medal winning American women's basketball and soccer teams both won. The basketball squad had trouble with Croatia before pulling away for an 81-56 victory in its opener. The soccer team blanked Colombia 3-0 to clinch a quarterfinal berth.
The U.S.-China rivalry also came to life in gymnastics, where the Americans led qualifying in the team event and also had the top individual in the person of Danell Leyva.
China stumbled as a group and qualified a mere sixth. The top eight teams advance to the finals, which will be held Monday, with the qualifying scores thrown out.
Nevertheless, the showing Saturday should be a confidence boost for the Americans, who will try not to join those who early in the Olympics let a good chance slip from their grasp.
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