Beijing's iconic National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube because of it's blue and bubbly exterior, becomes the focal point of the 29th Olympiad Sunday as two American athletes begin their quest for history. As VOA's Jim Stevenson reports from the Chinese capital, 14 athletes will end the day with a gold medal, including four from the pool.
American swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff will race for the first of eight possible gold medals each in the men's and women's 400-meter individual medley. Phelps is the world record holder among the men, with a time of four minutes, 5.25 seconds set at the U.S. swimming trials last month.
The men also swim for the podium in the 400-meter freestyle while the women compete in the four-by-100 meter relay final. Diving also offers medals in the women's synchronized three-meter springboard final.
Shooting medals will be the target in men's trap and women's 10-meter air pistol. The women also pull their bows for a golden target at the Olympic Green Archery Field. That is where American Jennifer Nichols will be putting years of training to the ultimate test.
"I focus on my technique a lot. Having a Russian coach who is very focused on technical perfection, it is also something I have gained in my focus," said Nichols. "But concentration has been developed over the years. I think more than anything it is just experience."
Also Sunday, the women's road race rolls through Beijing in cycling.
The men take a jab at Olympic fencing immortality in the epee event. Judo medals are also to be awarded for the best in the women's 52 kilogram and men's 66 kilogram categories.
Finals in weightlifting include the men's 56 kilogram and women's 53 kilogram categories. U.S. lifter Melanie Roach is seeking a medal, and some additional recognition.
"I had this misconception that weightlifters were big, bulky women," said Roach. "And, I am five feet tall [one meter, 52 centimeters] and 117 pounds [53 kilos]. So I am hoping to change the perception of women's weightlifting," said Roach.
Rowing heats get under way in the event known as women's eights. A ninth person, the coxswain [cok-sin], is also in the boat to help coordinate and motivate the team. For one American group, that job goes to Mary Whipple.
"It is coordinating eight minds, nine minds if you count my mind. And to execute that one perfect race on that hour, it is definitely something special," said Whipple.
Highlighting tournament events Sunday is the opening round of tennis.