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Hooker paces US in 3-1 Olympic win over S. Korea

LONDON -- Destinee Hooker had 21 points and the United States held off late-charging South Korea 3-1 in their opening match at the London Olympics.

The fans at Earls Court chanted “Des-tin-ee! Des-tin-ee!” at one point as she dominated the 25-19, 25-17, 20-25, 25-21 victory.

The United States, which won the silver medal in Beijing and is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, jumped out to a 17-11 lead in the first set after one of Hooker's seemingly effortless spikes, helping set the tone for the match.

Kim Yeon-koung had 29 points for South Korea, which rallied in the third set but ultimately fell short.

“We're thrilled. We got the win,” U.S. captain Lindsey Berg said. “One down.”

The South Koreans are hoping they'll be able to rebound in London from recent struggles. At the FIVB World Grand Prix tournament in June, the team won only one of nine matches.

South Korea finished fifth at the Athens Games, but failed to qualify for Beijing. Its best Olympic finish was a bronze medal in 1976.

The U.S. is vying for its first Olympic gold medal.

After falling to Brazil in the Beijing final, U.S. coach Lang Ping stepped down for personal reasons and Hugh McCutcheon, coach of the gold medal-winning U.S. men's team, shifted over to the women's side for the four-year period leading to the London Olympics. Since then, the team has gone 99-37.

The United States took over the top spot in the world rankings at the end of 2011, ending Brazil's four-year run at No. 1. The women qualified for the Olympics last November with a silver-medal finish in the FIVB World Cup.

Brazil won the final match of the day, edging Turkey 25-18, 23-25, 25-19, 25-27, 15-12. The defending Olympic champions are ranked second by volleyball's international governing body, and are among the favorites in London.

Brazil will face the U.S. when pool play continues on Monday. China, Serbia, Turkey and South Korea are the other countries in their six-team group.

The top four teams to emerge out of each pool will advance to the quarterfinals. The medal matches at Earls Court are set for Aug. 11.

South Korea picked up some late momentum in the third set when it pulled ahead 14-11. The crowd went wild for the underdogs, who appeared to thrive off the support.

“As you could see, once they got going, they're a tough team,” McCutcheon said.

The United States responded by taking a 23-17 lead in the fourth set. South Korea scored three straight to pull closer but Jordan Larson earned a block on match point. She finished with 16 points.

In the first match of the competition Saturday morning, Japan swept Algeria 25-15, 25-14, 25-7. Saori Kimura led the Japanese with 15 points.

China overcame a slow start to defeat Serbia 16-25, 25-18, 25-13, 25-12. Xu Yunli led China with 17 points, while star Wang Yimei had 11.

Russia defeated host Britain 25-19, 25-10, 25-16. The match was attended by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who even joined in the wave with the crowd at Earls Court.

Italy downed the Dominican Republic 25-17, 23-25, 25-19, 25-15.

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 US, Russia win women's Olympic openers 
United States' Destinee Hooker, left, spikes as South Korea's Kim Yeon-koung attempts to block in the women's volleyball match between the USA and South Korea during the 2012 London Olympic Games on Saturday, July 28. (AFP)

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