AP Sports Writer

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July 29, 2012
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Hooker leads USA past South Korea, 3-1

LONDON (AP) - 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.

At one point the fans at Earls Court chanted "Des-tin-ee! Des-tin-ee!" 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, and the tone of the match appeared set.

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

The South Koreans are hoping to rebound from recent struggles in London. At the FIVB 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. Their best Olympic finish was a bronze medal in 1976.

The United States 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 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.

The Brazilian women are ranked second by volleyball's international governing body, and as defending Olympic champions they're considered among the favorites in London with the United States. Both teams play in the same pool along with China, Serbia, Turkey and South Korea.

Italy, Russia, Japan, Algeria, the Dominican Republic and host Britain make up the other six-team pool.

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 appeared to gain some late momentum in the third set when they pulled ahead 14-11. The crowd went wild for the underdogs, who appeared to thrive off the support.

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's block for match point won it.

Larson finished with 16 points in the win.

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 3-1 (16-25, 25-18, 25-13, 25-12). Xu Yunli led China with 17 points, while star Wang Yimei had 11.

Known for her powerful jump serve, Wang is coming off surgery to repair ligament damage in her right ankle.

"I hope I can compete to my normal standard," she said. "Compared to the last Olympics in Beijing 2008 I feel more confident in my position."

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 3-1 (25-17, 23-25, 25-19, 25-15).

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Jul 29, 2012 12:57AM Published Jul 29, 2012 12:53AM Copyright 2012 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.