Phelps' opener golden

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BEIJING --- The routine is always the same: Wipe down the starting block with a towel, stretch out each leg, step up from the side of the platform, flap those long arms so hard they slap him in the back.

Then Michael Phelps gets down to business.

A workmanlike Phelps set another world record to win his first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics, beating Laszlo Cseh of Hungary in the 400-meter individual medley with a time of 4 minutes, 3.84 seconds.

Phelps, trying to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at an Olympic Games, crushed his old mark of 4:05.25 in the 400 IM, set in June at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Cseh rallied to take the silver medal in 4:06.16, while Phelps' top rival, fellow American Ryan Lochte, faded to the bronze in 4:08.09.

Phelps' time in the preliminaries of the 400-meter individual medley was 4 minutes, 7.82 seconds -- which would have been good enough for gold at the Athens Games.

"I wasn't expecting the heats to be that fast," Phelps said. "But after seeing the first two heats, I kind of wanted to be the top seed going into tomorrow, and that's all I went out and did."

With Phelps, it's that simple.

If someone is swimming fast, he'll go faster. If someone is standing in the way of him breaking Spitz's record, he'll take them down.

Phelps' time was easily the best of the prelims -- 0.44 second ahead of his gold medal-winning time in 2004 and nearly a second and a half faster than anyone else managed on the opening night of swimming.

U.S. swimmer Katie Hoff, who like Phelps qualified in five individual events, opened her ambitious schedule as the second-fastest qualifier in the women's 400 IM.

SATURDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS


U.S. WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Despite a slow start, the team plastered the Czech Republic, 97-57. It wasn't that close, even though the U.S. fell behind 8-0 and 13-2. "Not every game is going to be like that," said Sylvia Fowles, who scored 16 points. "We have to take every game as we go, and we can't take anybody lightly, because everybody has something to prove against the USA."

WOMEN'S INDIVIDUAL SABRE: The Americans made it a clean sweep as Mariel Zagunis took the gold with a 15-8 victory over Sada Jacobson, of Dunwoody, Ga., and Becca Ward won bronze. It's the first time a nation has swept an individual fencing event since the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when Germany won in women's foil.

U.S. WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: A team struck by tragedy just hours earlier beat Japan in an emotional Olympic opener marred by the fatal stabbing of an ex-player's father.

WOMEN'S WEIGHTLIFTING: Chen Xiexia earned China's first gold of the Games, winning in the women's 48-kilogram weight category and setting an Olympic record.


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