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A Day of Firsts As Atlanta Games Begin

July 20, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ America’s Olympians took their initial swings, splashes and spins toward medals Saturday, while their millionaire teammates on the Dream Team prepped for their first victim.

Day 1 of competition, following ex-heavyweight Muhammad Ali’s poignant lighting of the Olympic torch, continued the glow of good feelings for the U.S. competitors at the Centennial Games. For at least one day, America’s home field advantage generally held up.

The U.S. baseball team launched pursuit of a gold medal in the national pastime with a 4-1 victory over Nicaragua. The U.S. boxing team started strong when 119-pounder Zahir Raheem handily won his first bout. The American Greco-Roman wrestlers took five of their first seven bouts. The women’s field hockey team, on a goal with 1:57 left, pulled out a 1-1 tie with the Netherlands.

Argentina provided the opposition for two American teams playing their first games later Saturday.

Expected to join the ranks of the victorious: Dream Team III, with freshly minted multi-millionaires Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Hakeem Olajuwon taking on their overmatched and underpaid South American neighbors.

The U.S. men’s soccer team begins its quest for respect and a medal against the favored Argentines in a game played in Birmingham, Ala.

Boxer Raheem, of Philadelphia, staggered Hoe Jong-Gil of North Korea seconds into their fight and cruised to a 19-4 win before a loud, flag-waving crowd at the Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Raheem’s teammates chanted ``USA! USA!″ as the fight went on _ a chorus that was repeated at other venues.

``I heard the crowd and I heard my teammates,″ Raheem said. ``That motivated me.″

At Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the home of the champion Braves, a local boy made good as the U.S. baseball team won its opener. Kris Benson, a native of nearby Kennesaw, Ga., survived a shaky first inning to pick up the victory in the biggest game of his life.

Benson, 21, outdueled 35-year-old left-hander Asdrudes Flores for the victory. The Americans’ top competition in baseball, the Cubans, played Australia on Saturday.

In the first game of the women’s field hockey round-robin, Marcia Pankratz of Wakefield, Mass., deflected a penalty corner shot into the goal with 1:57 left to give the U.S. women their tie with the Netherlands.

Other firsts on Day 1 of the Summer Games:

_The first gold medal was won by Renata Mayer of Poland in the women’s 10-meter air rifle competition.

_The first world record was set by Fred Deburghgraeve of Belgium with a time of 1 minute, 00.60 seconds in the 100-meter breaststroke preliminaries.

_The first athlete eliminated in a scheduling mix-up was defending gold medalist David Khakhaleichvili of Georgia, who went to the wrong venue Saturday morning. A bomb scare kept the judo heavyweight from entering the right venue, and he forfeited his match.

And word of the first tragedy became public _ the fatal heart attack of Evgeniusz Pietrasik, 48, chef de mission for the Polish Olympic team, during the opening ceremony.

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