US teen Thrasher claims first Rio gold in shooting

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - US teenager Ginny Thrasher got hooked on shooting when deer hunting with her grandfather and on Saturday that passion saw her past China's champion sharpshooters to claim the first gold medal of the Rio 2016 Games.

The 19-year-old edged past Athens 2004 champion Du Li in the final shot in the women's 10m air rifle. London 2012 titleholder Yi Siling took bronze.

"It's been a whirlwind of a summer. I have been travelling internationally the entire summer, and this is just the icing on the cake," said the West Virginia University student.

Thrasher accumulated 208 points, one clear of Du, with Yi on 185.4.

Olympic chief Thomas Bach was on hand to do the honours at the 2016 Games' first podium presentation.

"This is beyond my wildest dreams," she added.

"It's very special for me to start out in Rio 2016 for the United States."

Recounting the story of how she took up the sport in the first place she recalled: "It was 8th grade, my grandfather took me hunting, I got my first deer, I really liked the adrenalin."

Shooting was the first of 12 gold medals in play on a crammed opening day of competition. There are more than 300 titles on offer over the next fortnight at the 2016 Olympics.

Thrasher claimed gold just 11 hours after Brazilian marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro lit the Olympic cauldron at the climax of Friday's spectacular opening ceremony.

An absorbing competition was led briefly by Daria Vdovina, one of the Russian contingent competing in Rio in the shadow of the massive doping scandal that has dogged the Games build-up.

Encouraged by vociferous supporters she eventually slipped off the pace to finish fifth.

Yi was bang in contention to successfully defend her crown but sharp shooting saw Thrasher and Du go head to head, with the young American, displaying maturity beyond her years, edging it on the final shot.

"I knew if I made the final anything could happen," said the happy winner.

"I focused on breathing, I was here to give it my best shot.

"Halfway through when I took the lead it was clear to me I had a chance, I was taking one shot at a time."

While the winner can look forward to many more Games, Rio may have been Du's last appearance at an Olympics.

"I've competed in four Games, this one might be my last one," the 37-year-old said.

Dethroned champion Yi meanwhile was reflective.

"Everyone wants to win the first gold medal of the Rio Games. I think I've done a good job, I won the first title in London and was only a little bit behind here, I did my utmost."

Surprise absentees from the final were Serbian duo Andrea Arsovic and Ivana Maksomovic, both rated major threats but who misfired in qualifying.

For New York native Thrasher this was a dream Olympic debut after only taking up the sport four years ago.

And due to the new scoring system introduced in Rio she can also lay claim to setting a new Olympic record.