SYDNEY, Australia -- It was a day for an Olympic double feature: ''The Exorcist,'' starring the U.S. softball team. And ''American Beauty,'' featuring the debut of U.S. track stars Michael Johnson, Maurice Greene and Marion Jones.
Jones, Greene and Johnson easily finished first in their heats Friday (Thursday night EDT), the first step toward success in Sydney. And the softball squad, reeling after three straight extra-inning losses, beat New Zealand 2-0.
Hitting just .181 as a team and desperate for runs, the softball team conducted an athletes' village ceremony to lift the ''voodoo curse'' from their bats. It worked for Jennifer Brundage, who went 3-for-3 with a homer, and star Lisa Fernandez, who had her first hit Down Under.
The Americans can advance to the medal round with a victory over Italy on Saturday (Friday night EDT). Once there, they would need three consecutive victories to repeat as gold medalists.
n TRACK: Jones and Johnson made two statements -- one athletic, one sartorial -- in their debuts at the 2000 Games.
Jones, seeking five gold medals before she leaves Australia, enjoyed a leisurely win in her first heat of the 100 meters while wearing custom-made, chrome-covered black shoes.
Medal favorite Johnson, sporting gold shoes, wasted no time in kicking off his quest for back-to-back golds in the 400 meters. On Day One of the track and field, the defending gold medalist cruised to an easy victory in his first-round heat.
Johnson advanced to the second round with U.S. teammates Alvin Harrison and Antonio Pettigrew.
The first track and field medal went to Robert Korzeniowski of Poland in the 20-kilometer walk after the first finisher, Bernardo Segura of Mexico, was disqualified. No reason for the disqualification was immediately cited.
Greene, who wept while watching the 1996 Olympics from the stands, celebrated with a smile after winning his first-round heat in the 100 meters. Greene holds the world record of 9.79 seconds, but had failed to qualify for the 1996 Games.
Also advancing to the second round were Americans Curtis Johnson and Jon Drummond, 1996 bronze medalist Ato Boldon of Trinidad & Tobago and defending champion Donovan Bailey of Canada. Bailey overcome a flu bug to advance.
In the women's 800, it was a family affair as Joetta Clark-Diggs, her kid sister, Hazel Clark, and their sister-in-law, Jearl Miles-Clark, all easily advanced to the semifinals.
All three American shot putters also advanced to the finals.
When the women's 400 heats begin, defending gold medalist Marie-Jose Perec will not be there. After a mysterious day where she flew to Singapore and watched a friend scuffle with a cameraman, the Frenchwoman officially dropped out of the Olympics Thursday.
n WEIGHTLIFTING: The next event for U.S. weightlifter Tara Nott: picking up a gold medal.
The 105-pound weightlifter was awarded the gold Friday after the winner in her event, along with a second Bulgarian lifter, tested positive for a banned diuretic. It is the first U.S. weightlifting gold since 1960.
Bulgaria's Izabela Dragneva -- the first women's weightlifting champion in Olympic history -- and men's bronze medalist Sevdalin Minchev tested positive for furosemide, the same diuretic for which another Bulgarian lifter was kicked out.
After the test results became public, Bulgaria's entire weightlifting team was thrown out of the Olympics and suspended from international competition for 12 months. It was the second time in 12 years that Bulgarian weightlifters have been ejected from an Olympics for using the banned weight-losing drug.
n EQUESTRIAN: David O'Connor won the individual three-day event Friday, giving the United States its first equestrian gold medal since 1984. The Virginian defeated Australia's Andrew Hoy by clearing all but one jump rail after entering the ring as the last rider.
n BOXING: The U.S. boxers took a blow at the weigh-in Friday when 132-pounder David Jackson failed to make the weight limit. Jackson, scheduled to fight Selim Palyani of Turkey in a second-round bout later in the day, tipped the scales at 135.
Once inside the ring, they fared better. Jeff Lacy advanced to the 165-pound quarterfinals with a 21-7 victory over Pawel Kakietek of Poland, making him the third American to advance that far.
n BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Winning ugly is one thing. How do you describe this? The U.S. beach volleyball tandem of Rob Heidger and Kevin Wong lost its first two matches, but advanced on point difference as the tournament's ''lucky loser.'' On Friday (Thursday night EDT), the pair reach the quarterfinals when their Mexican opponents forfeited due to injury.
n SWIMMING: With two gold medals already in her pocket, Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands set herself up as the woman to beat in the 50-meter freestyle. De Bruijn set an Olympic record of 24.46 seconds to win her heat.
Americans Dara Torres and Amy Van Dyken finished second and third one day after teammate Jenny Thompson failed in her bid for an individual gold medal. Thompson's bronze helped the United States collect eight medals on the sixth night of the swimming.
Thompson, 27, took a bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle, giving her a career total of nine -- adding that one to her seven relay golds and one individual silver. But she failed to get the individual gold medal she had been seeking.
''The individual gold medal wasn't in the cards, I guess,'' Thompson said. ''I'm just completely satisfied with how I did. I know I did the best I could.''
The numbers back her up: Nine medals made her the most-decorated woman swimmer in history. Thompson also broke a tie with American swimmer Shirley Babashoff for most Olympic medals by an American woman.
-- TENNIS: The next opponent for Venus Williams is the last woman to beat her. Williams advanced to the Olympic quarterfinals by knocking off Jana Kandarr of Germany 6-2, 6-2. Next up for the second-seeded Williams will be fifth-seeded Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the four-time Olympic medalist from Spain.
Sanchez-Vicario's victory over Williams in the French Open was the American's last loss.
The nightmarish effort by the U.S. men's tennis team continued when second-seeded Alex O'Brien and Jared Palmer were upset in their opening doubles match, dropping the United States to 1-4 in men's tennis.
The only American man still alive after the first round was Jeff Tarango, who won his opening singles match.
-- ROWING: The Americans qualified nine boats for the weekend finals. Lightweight rowers Christine and Sarah Garner won their semifinal heat Friday to advance to the Olympic double sculls medal race.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.