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Traditional powerhouses dominate first day of Olympic rowing finals
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Traditional rowing powerhouses upset emerging China on Saturday, the first day for the Olympic rowing finals in which seven gold medals were decided in the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park.

Australia was the biggest winner as it clinched two golds in the men's pair and double sculls. Bulgarian Rumyana Neykova won the women's single sculls, and Norway's Olaf Tufte retained the men's single sculls title.

New Zealand successfully defended the title in women's doubles. Romania won its third straight gold in the women's pair, and Britain achieved the same feat in the men's four.

China won silver in the women's pair in the shape of Wu You and Gao Yulan, but its best gold medal hope, the women's doubles crew failed to make history by winning the host's first-ever Olympic rowing gold. The favorite duo of Tian Liang and Li Qin, world champions in 2007, posted a disappointing 4th place.

Good Day for Title Defence

Defending champions in five of the seven events retains the titles.

Olaf Tufte of Norway came from behind to stage a thrilling successful title defence in the men's single sculls. He beat three-time world champion Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand into a bronze place.

Tufte punched his fists into the air in great joy after the win at the finish line. "It was a hard race and for a while I though I had lost it, but today I did not want to lose," he said. "I did this for my team and my family. After this I'm going to go home and get married," the 32-year-old said shortly after the race.

Britain's men's four made a dramatic late surge to pass Austrilians in the last 50 meters, winning their third consecutive Olympic title.

"It's almost like when you close you eyes before you crash, and hope for the best. That's what I did, closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Briton Andrew Hodge said.

Romania crew of Georgeta Andrunache and Viorica Susanu won the women's pair gold, earning their fifth and fourth Olympic gold respectively. Andrunache was the first woman in the world to achieve the feat and was on course to win her sixth gold as a member of the women's eights on Sunday.

Drew Ginn of Australia teamed with Duncan Free to win his third Olympic gold after retaining the title he won with rowing great James Tomkins in the men's pair in Athens. He was also a member of the "Awesome Foursome" that claimed gold in the coxless four in Atlanta.

"We've got a huge amount of respect for those we race against. Great competitors bring out the best in us, which makes us feel truly satisfied when we do well," Ginn told reporters.

New Zealand's identical twin sisters Evers-Swindell grabbed their second straight gold in the women's double sculls following a mixed-season dogged with sickness and out-of-form.

"He (the coach) told us to focus on the plan and not worry about the other boats, we knew it would be tight, it's the Olympic finals," Caroline Evers-Swindell said.

Unexpected Winners

The win in the men's doubles came as a surprise for Australian crew of David Crawshay and Scott Brennan as they led all the way to upset strong favorites from France, Slovenia, and New Zealand.

"I honestly can't believe it just happened. It's all a blur, a very exhausting blur," Brennan said emotionally shortly after the race.

"I'm so shocked. We did what we wanted to do. We were ahead after 1000 meters, and after that it was a case of 'You catch me, you beat me," Crawshay said.

Saturday was bitter for favorite teams from New Zealand, France, and Slovenia as they missed out on a medal, placing 4th, 5th, and 6th.

France won the Olympic gold medal in Athens and world title in 2006. The Slovenia duo took gold in Sydney and silver in Athens, and also won three world titles. The New Zealand crew won two pre-Games world cup races.

Bulgarian rower Rumyana Neykova stunned the field by beating strong favorite, three-time reigning world champion Ekterina Karsten of Belarus into bronze.

"Until the end I still couldn't believe what I have achieved," Neykova said in the mixed zone. "It feels really great. I owe everything to my husband (also coach) and my family who have supported and believed in me."

(Xinhua News Agency August 16, 2008)

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