London: Organisers fought to quell growing public outrage on Sunday over empty seats across venues at the London Olympics, where China has laid down an early marker with a world record win in the pool and a commanding early lead in the medals table.
Dispiriting images of rows of vacant rows at football stadiums, Wimbledon, the aquatic centre and beyond has angered Britons who tried and failed to buy tickets in the build-up to the Games having been told they had sold out. More empty seats were reported on Sunday including at the equestrian dressage at Greenwich Park, despite the draw of Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter Zara Phillips making an Olympic debut.
Heavy rain after a hot, dry spell also put a dampener on outdoor events on the second day of full sporting contest, as did the announcement that Uzbek gymnast Luiza Galiulina was provisionally banned from the Games for a positive drugs test.
Olympic organisers launched an urgent inquiry into the seating fiasco to nail down precisely who had not taken up their places and why, given the degree of public outcry.
Shooter Kim Rhode, meanwhile, missed just one shot out of 100 — equalling the world record as she became America’s first individual medallist at five straight Olympics with gold in the women’s skeet.
Rhode, an Olympic shooting medallist at Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing, dominated proceedings at London’s Royal Artillery Barracks.
China’s Wei Ning won silver with Danka Bartekova of Slovakia taking bronze after a shoot-off.
Rhode, 33, won golds in women’s double trap in Atlanta in 1996 and in Athens in 2004, taking bronze in the event in Sydney in 2000.
Skeet requires competitors to hit a clay target moving away from them. The top six shooters from the qualification go into the final, where they fire a further 25 targets, with the scores added to their qualifying tally.
Rhode’s build-up to the London Games was hit when flight problems forced her to miss her team’s training camp in Denmark, and when her four-month-old puppy ate her plane ticket.
China jumped to the head of the rankings with four gold medals on Saturday, the first full day of competitive sport at the July 27-August 12 tournament.
China added to that tally on Sunday when Guo Wenjun won the women’s ten metre air pistol shooting gold from France’s Celine Goberville. And still to come is the women’s synchronised three-metre springboard diving final, where few would bet against victory for He Zi and Wu Minxia.
China’s Yi Siling became the first gold medallist of the Games in the ten-metre air rifle while compatriot Wang Mingjuan extended a ten-year unbeaten international record to win the women’s 48-kg weightlifting crown.
Chinese swimmers Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen also took gold on Saturday, with 16-year-old Ye wiping more than a second off the world record in the women’s 400 metre individual medley final.
Lochte grabbed the headlines on Saturday by eclipsing compatriot Michael Phelps in the 400 individual medley final and replacing him as the world’s best all-round swimmer.
Like Phelps, host nation Britain is still seeking its first medal after world champion Mark Cavendish was outmanoeuvred and upstaged in the cycling road race by Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov.
Britain’s best hope is in the pool where Rebecca Adlington defends her 400 freestyle title against Italian Federica Pellegrini and world number one Camille Muffat of France.
Their men’s archery team beat the top-ranked United States by a single point on the last arrow of the final and the fencers swept all three medals in the women’s individual foil.
Day Two also sees the latest incarnation of the US basketball “Dream Team”, this time featuring LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, beginning their title defence against France.