Triumph, tears and violent death in Beijing's five-ring circus

After seven years of expectation, China's Olympics are under way – but sport is far from being the only story

The Olympic Games began in earnest yesterday with the first gold medal, the first victim of Beijing's climate, the first casualty of the intense pressure the Chinese press is applying to home athletes, and the first violent death.

After the choreography and euphoria of the opening ceremony, reality kicked in hard, not least for the British squad who saw their first real medal hope, Craig Fallon in the judo, fail to win even a bronze. But there was reality of a far uglier order when the father-in-law of an American volleyball coach was murdered as he saw some of the Chinese capital's sights. He, his wife, and their tour guide were attacked by a 47-year-old man, who then jumped to his own death from high up the Drum Tower, a 700-year-old 45m-high monument just three miles from the main stadium.

Attacks on foreigners in Beijing are rare, and this incident was proof that even the 100,000-strong security force deployed by the Olympics' organisers cannot be everywhere.

What may yet prove to be a more sustained theme of these Games is the local climate and air quality. In the first event to test athletes' ability to withstand the heat and smog of a Beijing summer – the men's 245km cycling road race from the Forbidden City in Beijing to the Great Wall – more than a third of the riders dropped out, citing pollution and heat.

One of the favourites, Stefan Schumacher of Germany, said the humidity and smog made a hard course even tougher. "I have a very, very strong headache," he said after abandoning the race. "I suppose it's the pollution. It feels like you're at 3,000 metres because of the air. You cannot breathe. The air is thick and there is smog." The 2007 Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador, could not handle the heat either. "I just didn't have any more strength in the legs," he said after giving up. The race was won by Spain's Samuel Sanchez.

Tennis officials now say they may allow heat breaks during matches to help players cope with stifling humidity and heat in the high 90s Fahrenheit (above 35C). Competitors have said that the conditions are among the toughest say they have ever faced.

It was heat of a different kind that did for China's anticipated first gold medal. In the women's 10m air-rifle, Katerina Emmons of the Czech Republic won after the pre-Games favourite, Du Li of China, finished fifth and left in tears. "There was pressure for all of us but for her it was even harder," Emmons said of her rival. "I'm sorry, but the Chinese press is putting a lot of pressure on Chinese athletes."

"I wasn't fully prepared for the pressure of competing at home," said Du, who won gold in Athens in 2004. Consolation for the host nation came with golds in women's weightlifting and men's shooting.

Elsewhere, the American swimmer Michael Phelps began his quest for a record eight gold medals by winning his heat in the 400m individual medley in an Olympic record time; in sailing Britain's Ben Ainslie recovered from 11th in his first Finn class race to win the second, and now lies third; and world champions Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson lead the field in the Yngling class.

The other sporting headline was less encouraging: positive doping tests on a Greek sprinter and a Russian steeplechaser.

Yet, according to one British security expert, the biggest threat to the Games remains Islamic militants from Xinjiang province, home to eight million Muslim Uighurs, who want autonomy. They have been linked to several recent attacks, and last week issued a video of a bomb factory and urged people to "stay away from the Games".

The Uighur independence movement has become radicalised by Islamists in neighbouring countries. Many Uighur separatists are training in Pakistan and Afghanistan – several operatives linked to a plot to blow up a China Southern flight this year were carrying Pakistani passports. If there is a significant attack in Beijing, as yesterday's murder by a lone knifeman shows, it is more likely to be away from the Olympic venues, perhaps on the hard-to-protect public transport systems.

Britain's medal hopes this week

Today:

Rowing: Britain's top rower, Katherine Grainger, competes in the quadruple sculls heats, and Olympic bronze medallist Sarah Winckless competes in the rowing eights race.

Tennis: British star Andy Murray plays in the men's doubles with his brother, Jamie.

Women's Gymnastics: Features Beth Tweddle.

Tomorrow:

Diving: Teenage diver Tom Daley, 14 – the youngest athlete in the Games – and his partner, Blake Aldridge, dive in the 10m synchronised event.

Badminton: Anthony Clark and Donna Kellogg compete in the badminton mixed doubles.

Tuesday:

Archery: Features Alison Williamson.

Wednesday:

Men's hockey: GB v the Netherlands.

Thursday:

Swimming: Mark Foster swims in the men's 50m freestyle, in his fifth Olympic Games.

Friday:

Athletics: Jo Pavey runs in the 10,000m. Kelly Sotherton goes for the heptathlon title, and Philippa Roles competes in the women's discus.

Men's hockey: GB v South Africa

Saturday:

Cycling events: featuring Bradley Wiggins, Chris Newton and Rebecca Romero.

Athletics: Christine Ohuruogu runs in the women's 400m heats. Kelly Sotherton continues her quest for heptathlon gold.

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

Watch this commuter make a mad 320-metre, 75-step dash to work
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK edition of wedding show forced to recast after wave of drop-outs
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week