SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It seemed only fitting that the first gold medal in World Games I should go to England, a pioneer of the modern day Olympic movement.
England's 640 kilogram (1,410 pounds) tug of war team helped launch the World Games Friday night with a dramatic 3-0 victory over Switzerland to win the gold medal by a single point, 15-14.
Tug of war, a relatively minor sport in the United States, traces its orgins to the 18th century with both England and China taking credit for establishing it as a competition. In England, it was first launched as a sport between groups of men and townships and in China, it was used to train slaves to haul guns and ammunition up the mountains of Northwest India.
The United States fielded a team in the World Games but the Americans were no match for their European counterparts, who dominated the competition. There are more than 20,000 clubs in Europe while there are no more than a few dozen in the U.S.
The American team finished last in a field of seven teams, scoring only one point in six matches. Ironically, it came in a match against England. The English gave up a total of three points in six matches, losing to the Netherlands, 2-1.
Going to the final match, Switzerland was unbeaten and had 14 points while England had 12. All the Swiss had to do was win one pull in the best-of-three competition to clinch the gold medal but the English were up to the task, winning the first pull in 3:36 and the second in 1:07 for three points and the gold medal.
Switzerland wound up with the silver medal and the Netherlands took the bronze with 11 points. Ireland finished fourth with 10 points, while Wales and Sweden tied for fifth with six each and the United States was seventh.
Today, the English, last year's world champions, hope to nail down the gold medal in the 720 kilos (1,587 pounds) class for a clean sweep as competition opens in six other events -- badminton, fin swimming, water polo, karate, powelifting and water skiing.
There are 16 sports in all in the World Games, which drew a surprisingly large crowd of more than 8,000 for Friday night's opening program. The competition runs through Aug. 2. The sponsoring federations hope to put on the Games every other year as a complement to the Olympic movement and not as a competing event since none of the Games sports are on the Olympic calendar.
'There is room for both,' said Dr. Un Yung Kim of Korea, president of the first World Games, in his opening speech Friday night.
Unlike the Olympics, the opening ceremonies were completly devoid of politics as some 700 athletes of the 1,400 scheduled to compete in the Games marched into Buck Shaw Stadium under their respective sport banners.
There were no flags, excpet for the host country's standard and the World Games banner. A high school marching band, a group of 30 dancers from the Santa Clara Korean-American Association and four sky divers provided the entertainment