On this day: First medals of Games | 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Chinese swimmer Le Jingyi celebrates her victory in the 100 meter freestyle competition at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. (David Tuilis/AJC)
Caption
Chinese swimmer Le Jingyi celebrates her victory in the 100 meter freestyle competition at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. (David Tuilis/AJC)

Credit: DAVID TULIS

Credit: DAVID TULIS

Editor’s Note: This story was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday, July 21, 1996, as competitions got under way. This is a daily take of the events that transpired on the 25th anniversary of the Games in Atlanta.

Hail, Poland and Turkey. Bravo, Belgium and Ireland. Salut, Italy. And special cheers to you, China.

As the curtain was raised on sports competition for the XXVIth Olympiad, which welcomed a record 197 countries to Atlanta, how appropriate that the first 10 golds were divvied up among nine nations. By the time the flame is extinguished in 16 days, you may need a medal detector to find some of these teams in the standings.

One exception is the Chinese, whose imposing pair of Le Jingyi in the pool and Sun Fuming on the judo mat produced two gold. Le’s triumph in the 100-meter freestyle was especially gratifying to China’s swim program, under intense scrutiny because of numerous positive drug tests in recent years.

The Chinese were denied a third gold when Wang Fifu, taking dead aim on the target for his final shot in men’s air pistol, flinched, then collapsed. His shot went awry and Wang was stuck with a silver.

On this first day, it was a day of firsts in the water as New Zealand seized an unheard-of gold — Danyon Loader in the 200 freestyle — and Ireland its initial swim medal of any hue — Michelle Smith in the 400 individual medley.

Also climbing to the top step of the medals stand was a Russian in fencing, a Frenchmen in judo, an Italian and a Pole in shooting, a Belgian in swimming and a Turk in weightlifting.

U.S. starting pitcher Kris Benson (34) is is congratulated by teammate Chad Allen after the beating Nicaragua 4-1 in their first game of Olympic baseball Saturday, July 20, 1996 in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. Also pictured at left is USA's Mark Kotsay. (Eric Draper/AP)
Caption
U.S. starting pitcher Kris Benson (34) is is congratulated by teammate Chad Allen after the beating Nicaragua 4-1 in their first game of Olympic baseball Saturday, July 20, 1996 in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. Also pictured at left is USA's Mark Kotsay. (Eric Draper/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

As for Team USA, despite the home advantage, not one note of the Star-Spangled Banner was sounded.

U.S. swimmers did deliver two silvers and a bronze. Another bright note for the home team came in baseball, where Georgian Kris Benson of Marietta, who rubbed sleep from his eyes after a late night at the Opening Ceremony, pitched eight innings in a 4-1 victory over Nicaragua.

Day 1: Opening ceremonies | Day 3: U.S. captures first gold

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