2012 Olympics: Nation Power Rankings, Day 1 Edition
Every day of 2012 Olympics action is sure to provide a new storyline. National heroes rise to prominence, underdogs shock the competition and heavy favorites fail to meet expectations.
We're kicking off a day-by-day ranking of the most impressive performances by individual nations. The scales for judgment aren't exactly even, as some countries compete in a tremendous amount of events (China, Brazil, U.S., etc.) and others have limited opportunities to make their mark on the 2012 London Games.
In essence, we're favoring quality over quantity when compiling these lists. With that in mind, here's a look at the nations who shined on the opening day of Olympic-medal competition.
10. Great Britain
The Olympic hosts enjoyed an impressive day in men's gymnastics, topping defending gold medalist China on the first day of qualifying. That performance helps offset a disappointing day for the nation's men's cycling squad, which was derailed in its quest for road-race gold.
On the soccer field, Great Britain's women's soccer team scored a 3-0 victory over Cameroon.
Here's where that whole quality-over-quantity approach comes into play. The Kazakhs, who are participating in 16 Olympic sports, already own a gold medal.
Before today, Kazakhstan claimed just three gold medals since the 2000 Sydney Games.
Cyclist Alexander Vinokourov pulled off a major surprise with his first-place finish in the men's cycling road race. The 38-year-old, who fractured his femur last year during the Tour de France, broke the hearts of British cycling enthusiasts when he charged ahead to the finish line.
“After so many crashes, returning to cycling was difficult, but I was still hoping for a good result,” Vinokourov told the Associated Press. “My family, my kids, my parents were behind me the whole time. I still have the metal plate in my hip, my femur, so it wasn’t easy. Today, a dream has come true.”
Colombia has a very humble Olympic-medal history. The nation owns just five medals (one gold) since the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Rigoberto Uran reversed Colombia's fortunes on Saturday, staking claim to the country's second silver medal in 28 years. The 25-year-old cyclist finished second in the men's road race, and his achievement drew quick praise from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
“Today we have the first silver medal, how wonderful!” said Santos, according to the Colombian daily El Tiempo.
Australia's women's swimming program has long been among the nation's strengths. At the 2008 Beijing Games, it was Stephanie Rice leading the way with gold medals in the 200- and 400-meter individual medley.
The team opened up the 2012 Summer Games by establishing a new Olympic record while earning gold in the 4x100-meter-relay finals. The Australians dethroned defending champion Netherlands with a finishing time of 3:33.15.
6. South Korea
South Korea continued its success in Olympic-archery events. The men's team took a bronze medal, while Jongoh Jin earned individual gold with his performance in 10-meter-air-pistol competition.
Park Tae-hwan, the defending gold medalist in the 400-meter freestyle swim, secured a silver medal in the event.
He was nearly left out of the final after a controversial false-start disqualification threatened to derail his first-place finish in the semifinal competition.
Brazil earned medals in both men's and women's judo competition. Extra lightweight Felipe Kitadai took bronze in the men's bracket, while Sarah Menezes earned gold in the women's extra-lightweight division.
Swimmer Thiago Pereira placed second in the men's 400-meter-IM final, behind only American Ryan Lochte. Brazil's women's soccer team topped New Zealand, 1-0, in Group E action.
Japan came away with three medals on Day 1 of Olympic-medal competition. The nation displayed its athletic diversity by placing in three different sports.
Hiroaki Hiraoka earned silver in the judge competition of men's extra-lightweight judo, while Hiromi Miyake claimed bronze in women's weightlifting. However, Japan's most impressive highlights came in the pool.
Kosuke Hagino placed third in the men's 400 individual medley, edging living legend Michael Phelps for the final medal spot.
Two-time defending Olympic 100- and 200-meter breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima placed sixth in Saturday's 100-meter semifinal to qualify for the event final and an opportunity to make history with his third consecutive gold.
If mankind was suddenly launched back into medieval times, clearly, Italy would have an upper hand in battle. The Italians cleaned up in archery and fencing competitions on Saturday, collecting five total medals in the process.
Italy's men's archery team earned a gold medal and Luca Tesconi took silver in men's 10-meter-air-pistol competition. Led by Elisa Di Francisca, the Italians swept Saturday's women's fencing event (individual foil).
2. United States
On a day when America's biggest Olympic star faltered, Team USA can still find plenty of positives. Michael Phelps may have looked pedestrian on his way to a fourth-place finish in the men's 400-meter individual medley, but teammate Ryan Lochte was phenomenal on his way to gold (was the torch passed today?).
The U.S. men's archery team took silver, and the women's 4x100-meter-relay swim team earned a bronze medal. That achievement gave teenage phenom Missy Franklin the first of what could be a remarkable number of medals in her Olympic career.
Lochte wasn't the only former Florida Gator to enjoy a great day in the pool. Fellow UF alum Elizabeth Beisel beat out the competition for a silver medal in the women's 400-meter IM.
In team-sports action, the U.S women's soccer team blanked Colombia, 3-0. Led by Candace Parker, the women's basketball team clobbered Croatia, 81-56.
A surprisingly lackluster performance in men's gymnastics may have marred China's superb Saturday, but the nation shined on its way to six medals. The two golds it earned in swimming were particularly impressive.
Yang Sun set a new Olympic record in the men's 400-meter-freestyle final on Saturday afternoon. He finished in 3:40.14, breaking Ian Thorpe's mark (3:40.59) that stood since the 2000 Sydney Games.
Shiwen Ye, the youngest competitor in the women's 400-meter-IM final, dominated on her way to gold. The 16-year-old established a new world record (4:28.43) in the process, while teammate Xuanxu Li followed shortly after to capture a bronze medal.