Georgia may pull out of Beijing Games

BEIJING Sun Aug 10, 2008 12:31am BST

1 of 37. Georgia's Olympic team follow their national flag-bearer Ramaz Nozadze during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium, August 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Adrees Latif

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Georgia may pull its 35-strong Olympic team out of the Beijing Games because of Russian military attacks on its territory, the country's National Olympic Committee told Reuters on Saturday.

"We're talking about it now. It will be the decision of the president of the country (Mikheil Saakashvili)," spokesman Giorgi Tchanishvili said in the Chinese capital.

The Georgia conflict has knocked the Olympics down page, dimming some of China's glory. The vast Asian nations' hopes for a trouble-free games were dashed on Saturday by the daylight murder of the U.S. volleyball coach's father-in-law.

Chinese hopes of quick wins were partly met as competition got under way in earnest. A woman's weightlifting gold and men's shooting gold came their way, though they lost the first medal to be awarded after the Chinese favourite buckled under pressure.

Calls by the International Olympic Committee for a traditional Games truce to be honoured have gone unheard, in a reminder of the limits of sport's ability to bring nations into harmony.

Russian forces have widened an offensive against Georgia to force Tbilisi's troops out of the breakaway Caucasus region of South Ossetia, whose inhabitants are loyal to Moscow.

Russian armour and troops have poured across the border and its planes have hit bombed targets far from the combat zone in what U.S. President George W. Bush called a dangerous escalation.

Georgia's parliament has declared a state of war, leaving the country's athletes anxious and uncertain. Its Olympic team urged the international community to help end the violence.

Bush, in Beijing to cheer on U.S. athletes, broke away from spectating to call on Russia to end its bombing of Georgia.

CLOUDED BACKDROP

The U.S. volleyball team was hit by tragedy when the father-in-law of coach Hugh McCutcheon was murdered.

A 47-year-old Chinese man stabbed the parents of the coach's wife and a Chinese tour guide at a popular tourist site, killing American Todd Bachman and seriously injuring Bachman's wife, also a U.S. citizen.

The assailant, Tang Yongming, then jumped to his death from high up the Drum Tower, a 700-year-old 45-metre (yard) high monument once used to sound time for the Chinese capital's residents. Police said Tang's motive was unknown.

Attacks on foreigners in Beijing are rare. Olympic organisers have deployed a 100,000-strong security force to protect the 10,500 athletes and thousands of spectators, citing the threat of terrorism but sparking criticism they were blocking protests.

On the opening day of competition, Katerina Emmons won the first gold, in the women's 10-metre air rifle, for the Czech Republic. 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."

Pang Wei restored home pride in the shooting with victory in the men's 10-metre air pistol, the second gold for China after Chen Xiexia won, as expected, in the women's 48kg weightlifting.

U.S. swimming sensation Michael Phelps set off on his quest for a record eight gold medals, diving into the pool at the bubble-wrap Water Cube building to win his heat in the 400 metres individual medley in an Olympic record.

Phelps first gold could come on Sunday, when the mighty U.S. swim team is well-placed to triumph in three of the four finals being staged.

ENDURANCE TEST

In the first event to test athletes' ability to withstand the heat and smog of a Beijing summer, Spain's Samuel Sanchez won the men's cycling road race along a gruelling 245-km route from the Forbidden City in Beijing to the Great Wall.

More than a third of contestants dropped out, including favourites like German Stefan Schumacher who said the humidity and smog made a hard course even tougher.

"I have a very, very strong headache," said Schumacher, after abandoning the race. "I suppose it's the pollution."

Sanchez's Spanish team mates said they had decided to work together to support whichever of them had the best chance to win.

"In the end it turned out that Samuel felt the best and so we played his card," said Spain's Carlos Sastre, this year's Tour de France winner. The women's cycling road race is along the same route on Sunday when it is forecast to be wet and cooler.

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

Warnings smog would hinder performance have persisted despite an $18 billion (9.4 billion pounds) campaign to clean the air around the city by shutting down smokestack industry and forcing cars off the roads.

(Reporting by Beijing Olympic bureau; Editing by Keith Weir)

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