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Thai gold as Asian athletes excel

Udomporn Polsak celebrates her gold medal
Olympics 2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Udomporn Polsak became the first Thai woman to strike Olympic gold as Asian athletes enjoyed another medal-laden day at the Games.

Udomporn won the women's 53kg weightlifting crown and Asian superpower China clinched its fifth gold courtesy of Xian Dongmei's victory in the women's 52kg judo.

Japan meanwhile were celebrating after landing their first Olympic swimming title for 12 years when double world champion Kosuke Kitajima won the men's 100m breaststroke.

Kitajima edged American rival Brendan Hansen by 17 hundredths of a second in a nailbiting final.

Earlier, Thai lifter Udomporn dedicated her victory to the kingdom's much-revered royal family.

"I wanted to win the gold medal as a gift for Thailand's Queen, who celebrated her 72nd birthday last Thursday," said Udomporn, who was congratulated on the phone by Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra minutes after her triumph.

"I am so glad to be the first woman from Thailand to win an Olympic gold. Before coming to Athens, the team went to Buddhist temples to pray for confidence to win the gold."

China's joy was cut short when their basketball superstar Yao Ming threatened to give up international basketball after his side lost their opener 83-58 to Spain.

But nothing was going to tinge Udomporn's joy as the 22-year-old world champion took full advantage of a weak field to win with a total of 222.5kg.

She defeated Indonesia's Raema Lisa Rumbewas, who was second in the 48kg class at the 2000 Sydney Games, while Mabel Mosquera of Colombia took bronze.

Japan grabbed their third judo gold medal of the Games in the absence of Iran's world champion Arash Miresmaeili who failed to make the weight after earlier threatening to boycott his contest against an Israeli opponent.

Masato Uchishiba, the 2000 world student champion, clinched gold for Japan, defeating Slovakia's Jozef Krnac for knockout "ippon" finish in the under-66kg final.

Japan were denied another judo gold however when Yuki Yokosawa was beaten by Xian.

Xian's judo joy lifted the mood for China on a day when basketball icon Yao warned his days in the national team could be numbered after losing to Spain.

Yao said he was desperately unhappy about the performance of a team he had hoped to lead into the quarterfinals.

"I feel so disappointed," Yao said. "I lost all my hopes for this team. I didnt expect to play so bad."

The 23-year-old said that despite an almost complete change of players from the team which could only finish 12th in the 2002 World Championships, China had not improved.

"We changed our skin but we are the same," Yao said. "Just like at the World Championships in Indianapolis two years ago.

"I didn't play well either. I am thinking of retiring from the national team. Not now, but soon I will. In Indianapolis I was the youngest player. Now I am older, but there is still no hope for us."

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