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3RD LEAD Shooters Thrasher, Hoang hit gold and Olympic firsts By John Bagratuni, dpa

Europe
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Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - American teenager Virginia Thrasher became the first gold medallist at the Rio Games and Hoang Xuan Vihn made history as Vietnam‘s first Olympic champion on an eventful Saturday on the shooting range.

Thrasher, 19, took the lead halfway through the nine-round final of the women‘s 10-metre air rifle and never looked back as she finished with a total score of 208.0 points.

"I‘m so happy to start off Rio 2016 with a gold medal for my country," she said.

The 2004 winner Du Li of China came out of retirement to take silver with 207.0 points. The bronze also went to China, with the 2012 winner Yi Siling carding 185.4 points.

Hoang meanwhile snatched the gold from Brazilian home team athlete Felipe Almeida Wu on the final shot of the men‘s 10m air pistol, taking the gold by four tenth of a point with 202.5 points to Wu‘s 202.1. China‘s Pang Wei earned bronze.

Until Saturday, Vietnam had won two silver medals at previous Olympics.

"Making this gold medal is a life memory, I will never forget this. Because [it is the] first time making a gold medal for Vietnam."

"The Brazilian shooter was very fast and stronger, but I thought only: ‘try try try‘. On the last shot I didn‘t think gold or silver. I thought only: try."

Thrasher, who dreamt of competing in winter Olympics figure skating when she was young, follows a proud tradition for American shooters who are the most successful Olympic nation in the sport.

"For me, it has been a whirlwind of a summer. I have been travelling internationally the entire summer, and this is just the icing on the cake."

Having moved house nine times because her father is in the US air force, she was able to cope with this well.

In 2016, Thrasher became the first freshman, with West Virginia University, to win both NCAA rifle titles, and she was named rookie of the year by the American rifle conference. She then won the Olympic trials to book the ticket to Rio.

On Saturday, she qualified for the eight-strong final in sixth place, and left her Chinese rivals behind. Her lead was as big as 1.2 points, and she cruised home in the ninth and final round - beaming even before Du had fired her final shot, and then receiving the gold from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

"I think when I took the lead in the final I kind of realised that this is a possibility. But I quickly refocused back on the shooting," Thrasher said.

Others were not so lucky, with world number one Andrea Arsovic of Serbia and reigning world champion Petra Zublasing of Italy not surviving the qualifying round.

In the final, each athlete had three shots in each of the first two rounds, and then two shots in additional eliminating rounds until Thrasher and Du were left in the ninth and final round.

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