Olympics: 16-year-old prodigy puts China on top

LONDON - A 16-year-old swimming prodigy wrote her name in the history books on Saturday as China made a blistering start to their London Olympics campaign.

Four years after dominating the Beijing Games, China swept straight back to the top of the medals table as teenager Ye Shiwen and Sun Yang stole the limelight on the first night in the pool.

Ye smashed the women's 400m medley world record with a time of 4min 28.43sec - nearly seven seconds faster than she clocked at last year's world championships.

The girl from Zhejiang, singled out for swimming because of her unusually large hands, overhauled pace-setter Elizabeth Beisel with a blistering final leg as she took a full second off Stephanie Rice's world record.

'I dreamed of winning the gold medal, but I never ever expected to break a world record. I'm overwhelmed,' said the youngster.

'It is a big evening for Chinese swimming.' Her swim eclipsed even the mighty Sun, who made history of his own when he became China's first male swimming Olympic champion with a convincing 400m freestyle win over arch-rival Park Tae-Hwan.

China had earlier claimed the Games' first gold medal through shooter Yi Siling, while peerless weightlifter Wang Mingjuan extended her incredible 10-year unbeaten record with gold in the -48kg class.

South Korea also struck gold on the first full day of competition through Jin Jong-Oh in the men's 10m air pistol gold medal.

But their archers, who had set two world records on Friday thanks to legally blind Im Dong-Hyun, were stunned in the team competition and finished third behind Italy and the United States.

China easily won the gold-medal count at Beijing 2008 with 51, and they wasted no time in resuming their position at the head of the Olympic tally.

With the first 12 titles handed out, China had four plus two bronze medals through swimmer Li Xuanxu, who finished behind Ye in the women's medley, and Yu Dan in the women's 10m air rifle. Second-placed Italy were on two golds.

The 400m showdown between Sun, the 1500m world record-holder, and defending champion Park was very nearly off when the South Korean was disqualified for false-starting in his heat.

But Park was reinstated on appeal, and he led much of the race before being gradually reeled in by the ever-strengthening Sun, who left his rival trailing at the final turn.

'The feeling is very nice, it's beautiful,' said Sun, weeping tears of joy as he addressed reporters. 'It's a big dream come true for me.'

Japan were ninth on the embryonic medals table after winning judo and weightlifting silver and a bronze through Kosuke Hagino, who finished behind Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps in the men's 400m medley.

North Korea's women footballers, who had staged a protest when they were pictured next to South Korea's flag before their win against Colombia, lost 5-0 to France.

And there was bad news for China as Li Na, last year's French Open champion, slumped to first-round tennis defeat to close friend and hitting partner Daniela Hantuchova.

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