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Youth Games action starts without Ebola-struck nations

NANJING China (Reuters) - Australian triathlete Brittany Dutton won the first gold of the Youth Olympics as competition kicked-off on Sunday without Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria who withdrew because of the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Friday they had banned three west African athletes from competing in combat sports and pool events in China as a precaution after the world's worst outbreak of Ebola which has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people in the region.

IOC President Thomas Bach said on Saturday that following the move, taken after discussion with the World Health Organisation, the governments of Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone had opted against allowing their athletes to compete in the 13-day multisport event.

"Two NOCs (Sierra Leone and Liberia) decided together with their government to not come here. We have to respect the decision of the government in such a difficult moment for their country," the German was quoted as saying by China's Xinhua news agency.

"We also have been informed that the team of Nigeria wants to go home. Obviously the Nigerian government has decided to send them home.

"We feel sad for the athletes as it will be extremely difficult for them. They already felt the excitement of living in the Village and now they have to leave - that's a very difficult task."

Xinhua also quoted an unnamed official of the Youth Olympics Organising Committee saying they were "appreciative of and grateful" that the trio withdrew.

"On behalf of other delegations and their athletes, I hereby extend to them the heart-felt respect," the report said.

Organizers of the second Youth Olympics were also concerned about adverse weather in Eastern China over the fortnight disrupting competition for the athletes, who are between aged 14 and 18.

"There is the possibility the city could face frequent rainy days, electrical storms and occasional occurrences of haze and possibly typhoons," the Nanjing 2014 Meteorological Services Command Centre said.

Dutton escaped the weather and haze concerns early on Sunday morning as the 16-year-old rode a brilliant bike leg to force American Stephanie Jenks in to second on her 17th birthday.

Dutton celebrated her win by taking a selfie with former fencer Bach, who had called on athletes to snap pictures of themselves throughout the Games to promote friendship in competition.

(Writing by Patrick Johnston; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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