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Olympic Daily News - Saturday, February 27

U.S. WINS FIRST MEN'S BOBSLED GOLD IN 62 YEARS

Whistler, BC (Sports Network) - Steven Holcomb piloted his USA-1 sled to a gold medal Saturday in men's Olympic four-man bobsled.

He may have done even more than that.

The U.S. team of Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curtis Tomasevicz captured the first U.S. Olympic gold medal in men's bobsled in 62 years, springing new hope that the sport might catch on among Americans.

The USA-1 sled hurtled down the final run at Whistler Sliding Center in 51.52 seconds, only the third-fastest time in the final heat. But the last icy journey down the dangerous track for the sled they call "Night Train" was quick enough to end a more than six-decades drought.

"No more 62 years," said Holcomb. "Now it's going to be four years."

The Americans, who had won each of the first three heats, beat the Germany-1 sled by .38 seconds to capture the first Olympic gold medal in bobsled for the U.S. since Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won the women's competition at Salt Lake City in 2002.

But it was the first U.S. victory in Olympic men's bobsled since the 1948 St. Moritz Games.

"It's hopefully going to get some recognition for the sport," said Mike Kohn, pilot of the USA-3 sled that finished 13th. Kohn made his comments before Holcomb's Night Train even hit the track for its final run.

That's how confident the Americans were.

Even Geoff Bodine, the former Daytona 500 winner who helped build the U.S. sleds, envisioned a gold medal. Especially since Holcomb and his teammates had looked so impressive while building a nearly half-second lead over the Canada-1 sled after the first three heats.

He likened it to being in the middle of the pack at Talladega, going 200 mph, finding out what kind of nerves you have.

"I've had a big lead on the whole field and then the caution flag comes out and the field bunches up," said Bodine. "That's when confidence comes in."

"Team Holcomb has the confidence to keep doing what they are doing," he said.

Holcomb and his crew proved it on the track, posting the fastest times over each of the first three heats to build their lead, and then coming through with a good enough run to seal the win.

Their final time was 3 minutes, 24.46 seconds.

It was the 36th overall medal for the U.S. in Vancouver, matching the all-time Winter Olympics record set by Germany in 2002. The U.S. is guaranteed another medal after the men's ice hockey final on Sunday.

Holcomb, who had corrective eye surgery last year to fix a degenerative disease that left him almost blind, said he envisioned the gold in 1994. He has piloted the two- and four-man bobsleds in the last two Olympics and now finally has his medal.

"We've been working so hard the last four years and it's finally paid off," he said.

Piloted by Andre Lange, Germany-1 finished .38 seconds back for the silver. The Canada-1 sled piloted by Lyndon Rush took the bronze, just .01 seconds behind the Germans. It was the first Olympic medal in four-man bobsled for Canada in 46 years.

The second sleds for Germany and Canada finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

FINLAND RALLIES PAST SLOVAKIA FOR BRONZE MEDAL IN MEN'S HOCKEY

Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - Olli Jokinen found the net twice, including the go-ahead score on the power play midway through the third period, as Finland came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Slovakia, 5-3, for the bronze medal in men's hockey at the Olympics.

Finland outscored the Slovaks, 4-0, in the final period, getting three scores in a 3:35 span in the third. Niklas Hagman, Valtteri Filppula and Sami Salo also scored for Finland, which lost, 6-1, to the United States in the semifinals on Friday. This was the fifth hockey medal for Finland since the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

Miikka Kiprusoff made 19 saves, including a couple of key stops in the waning moments of the game to preserve the victory for the Finns, who lost to Sweden in the gold medal game four years ago.

"It's really great to come away from these Olympics with a medal. We're really happy," Finland forward Tuomo Ruutu said.

Pavol Demitra had a goal and two assists for Slovakia, which has never won an Olympic medal in men's hockey since breaking away from Czechoslovakia and becoming a sovereign nation in 1993. Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik also scored, while Jaroslav Halak made 28 saves in defeat.

Slovakia had been coming off a 3-2 semifinal loss to Canada and was on track for its first medal on Saturday, but couldn't capitalize on several chances in the closing minutes.

"It's not what we wanted, to finish fourth. We want a medal so badly and that's why it's hard to swallow," Hossa said.

Finland scored on the power play 5:06 into the third to get within 3-2. Penalties to Martin Cibak and Andrej Meszaros set the stage, and moments after the penalty to Cibak ended, Hagman was credited with a goal when the disc deflected off his body and into the net after a wrister from the high slot from Kimmo Timonen.

Jokinen tied it 1:35 later with a successful shot from the left circle, and the Finns went ahead on the power play at the 8:41 mark. Joni Pitkanen provided the long pass to a streaking Jokinen, who squeezed through two defenders and then backhanded the disc past Halak.

The Finns killed off penalties to Salo and Pitkanen later in the third, the last one coming with 3:18 left in the game. That's when Pitkanen tripped up Hossa, but Kiprusoff was equal to the task.

Finland's netminder made a diving stop on a close-in attempt from Richard Zednik with 1:25 left, while Slovakia had its goaltender pulled.

The Slovaks hit the right post with 1:11 remaining and Michal Handzus couldn't convert in the waning time despite having a great chance to the left of the net. Filppula scored into an empty net with 10.6 seconds left.

The Finns took a 1-0 lead with 1:10 left in the opening period as they capitalized on a holding penalty on Zigmund Palffy. Handzus was stripped of the puck in his own zone and Salo scored on a shot from above the right circle.

Gaborik's power play tally, on a shot from the slot midway through the second, tied the game.

Hossa netted a goal with the man advantage for a 2-1 Slovakia lead with 4:22 remaining in the second as he pounced on a loose puck at the right side of the net.

Slovakia's Branko Radivojevic was given a four-minute penalty for high- sticking with 2:06 left in the second period, but Finland gave up a short- handed goal when Hossa passed the disc to Demitra on a 2-on-1 break for a score from the bottom of the left circle with 1:15 left in the stanza.

ITALY'S RAZZOLI WINS SLALOM GOLD

Whistler, BC (Sports Network) - Giuliano Razzoli won the men's slalom Saturday, becoming the first Italian man since Alberto Tomba in 1988 to win an Olympic gold medal in the event.

Razzoli posted the best time in the morning's first run and held a .43 second lead heading into the afternoon's final race. The Italian finished the competition in 1 minute, 39.32 seconds and edged Croatia's Ivica Kostelic by .16 seconds for the best total time.

Andre Myhrer captured bronze for Sweden, finishing .28 seconds behind Kostelic.

Americans Bode Miller and Ted Ligety both skied out at the top of the hill in their first runs, ending their medal chances in the last alpine skiing event at the Vancouver Games.

Razzoli claimed Italy's first gold medal of the Vancouver Olympics with two superb runs at a tough Whistler Creekside slalom course that caused many athletes to ski out of the competition. Including Miller and Ligety, 47 skiers failed to finish the first run alone.

The snowy, foggy conditions were so bad that the officials decided to begin both runs from the reserve start.

But, Razzoli, who is nicknamed "The Rocket", completed the difficult course in just 47.79 seconds on Saturday morning. His second trip down the slope was much slower at 51.53 seconds, but it was enough to beat Kostelic.

Kostelic earned his second silver of the Vancouver Games and third overall. He also placed second in super combined at Whistler and won silver in that event at the 2006 Turin Games.

Myhrer won bronze by finishing just .05 seconds ahead of Austria's Benjamin Raich, who won gold in this event in Turin.

It was the end of a frustrating Olympics for the Austrian men in alpine skiing. The country failed to win a medal on the slopes -- the first time Austria was shut out in men's alpine skiing at the Olympics since 1936.

Slovenia's Mitja Valencic finished sixth after coming in second behind Razzoli after the first run.

Meanwhile, Miller will leave Vancouver with three medals, including a gold in the super combined. On Saturday, the five-time Olympic medalist straddled a gate at the top of the hill and skied out, standing near the fence for a moment while he contemplated what had just happened.

"I thought I had a chance today," said Miller. "It is always tough when you make a mistake."

The 32-year-old American was trying to become the first man to ever win four alpine skiing medals in a single Olympics.

The slalom is also the only alpine discipline in which Miller does not have a medal. He was trying to become the first man to ever reach the podium in every alpine event.

"It's the one Olympic medal that I don't have," said Miller.

One skier earlier, Ligety, the 2006 gold medalist in the combined, lost control near the top of the hill and also straddled a gate with his right ski.

The top U.S. hopes in the event were both out of the competition in less than a minute, and just like that, Ligety's Olympics ended without a medal.

"You hope to have a good Olympics but it doesn't always work out that way," Ligety said.

Nolan Kasper had the best finish for the U.S., placing 24th on Saturday.

CANADA BEATS U.S. FOR MEN'S TEAM PURSUIT GOLD

Richmond, BC (Sports Network) - A team of Canadians beat a team from the United States -- but not in the matchup everyone is waiting for.

A day before the countries will meet in the men's Olympic hockey final, Canada beat the U.S. head-to-head to win a gold medal Saturday in the men's speedskating team pursuit race.

Canada finished in 3 minutes, 41.37 seconds to edge the Americans by .21 seconds.

It was the final Olympic race for 32-year-old American Chad Hedrick, and he was the last of the six competitors on either team to cross the finish line.

Hedrick, racing with 19-year-olds Brian Hansen and Jonathan Kuck, pulled his left arm out of rhythm and rested it on his thigh as he skated down the last stretch of ice, perhaps cramping up.

"We came a little bit short. We have nothing to be ashamed of," said Hedrick.

Trevor Marsicano also received a silver for being part of the U.S. pursuit team in the earlier rounds. All four of Hedrick's teammates in the event were skating in their first Olympics.

"To look at these guys and see the twinkle in their eye when they get their medal is an honor," said Hedrick.

With the silver, Hedrick won his fifth Olympic medal to match Eric Heiden for the most Olympic medals won by a male American long track speedskater. Bonnie Blair won six in her distinguished long track career.

Hedrick, Heiden, Finland's Clas Thunberg and Norway's Roald Larsen are the only male skaters who have won a medal in five different Olympic long track events.

It could have been better for Hedrick's last Olympic race -- but not much better. And he wasn't going to complain about not winning gold. Especially because of what the medal -- any medal -- meant to his young teammates.

"At the end of the day these guys go home with a silver medal around their neck," said Hedrick. "It's my time to move on. They are the successors and they now have a taste of the Olympics."

The three skaters who raced for Canada were Denny Morrison, Lucas Makowsky and Mathieu Giroux. They crossed the finish line at nearly the same time, each one pushing the other to win his first Olympic gold medal.

"It was just enough," Giroux said of the final race. "Like Denny (Morrison) said, it was the pushing."

The Netherlands beat Norway earlier Saturday to win the bronze medal, finishing the third-place race with an Olympic record time of 3:39.95. It smashed the previous record set by Canada on Friday by 2.27 seconds.

GERMANY EDGES JAPAN FOR GOLD IN WOMEN'S PURSUIT

Richmond, BC (Sports Network) - Germany edged Japan by just two-hundredths of a second to win a gold medal Saturday in the women's speedskating team pursuit race.

Even with that slim a margin of victory, Germany's gold medal win couldn't match the earlier drama found in a victory over the Unites States.

During a semifinal race, Germany beat the U.S. by .23 seconds despite one of its skaters falling before the finish line.

Anna Friesinger-Postma grabbed her left hip coming around the final turn and lagged behind her two German teammates, then stumbled forward and slid to the finish line on her stomach.

As Friesinger-Postma used her hands to paddle herself to the line, she bent one of her legs forward. Her skate crossed the line before the final American skate, giving Germany the dramatic win.

Not that the Germans realized it.

Friesinger-Postma remained on her stomach, slamming her hand down onto the ice. Her teammates -- Daniela Anschutz Thoms and Stephanie Beckert -- pulled the hoods back on their track suits and skated with their heads down.

When Friesinger-Postma finally looked up at the times, she erupted in celebration.

"My feelings are up and down," said Friesinger-Postma, who won her fifth Olympic medal and third gold, despite not racing in the final. "It was like a carousel. I nearly messed it up."

Katrin Mattscherodt replaced Friesinger-Postma in the final race and the Germans posted a winning time of 3 minutes, 2.82 seconds against Japan. They came from more than a second down at one point in the race to win Germany's fourth speedskating medal of the Vancouver Olympics.

"Anni's fall gave us the courage to go on," said Anschutz Thoms.

It was the third medal won here by Beckert, but first gold. She picked up two silvers earlier in the Games.

Japan won silver for its third speedskating medal here, while Poland went on to beat the United States in the bronze medal race by 1.57 seconds.

The U.S. -- anchored by veteran Olympian Jennifer Rodriguez -- earned fourth place and ended the Vancouver Games without a medal in women's speedskating. Still, it was a surprising finish for the Americans, who had knocked off a favored Canadian team in the quarterfinals on Friday.

"It was a miracle we were even in the medal rounds," said Jilleanne Rookard, who was part of the American team that included Rodriguez, Catherine Raney- Norman and Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr.

Canada finished fifth.

CANADA DEFENDS GOLD IN MEN'S CURLING

Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - Canada, behind skip Kevin Martin, won gold in men's curling Saturday, defeating Norway, 6-3, at Vancouver Olympic Centre.

Canada completed a perfect run through the field, going 11-0.

With its gold in men's curling, Canada equaled the record of 13 gold medals won at a Winter Olympics. Only the Soviet Union in 1976 and Norway in 2002 reached this total.

The victory also gave Martin his first Olympic gold medal. Martin won silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City games, and did not participate on the Canadian team that beat Finland in the gold medal match at the 2006 Torino Olympics. However, Saturday he delivered the stone with precision to lead Canada to the victory.

"It's an amazing feeling and I think it will get better and better as the day goes on," Martin said.

A key juncture came in the seventh end, with Canada holding a 3-2 lead and the hammer. Norway had a stone near the button before Martin nestled a stone just inside it. Norway skip Thomas Ulsrud delivered a stone with lots of pace, and it didn't connect with Canada's stone quite right, leaving Martin with a golden opportunity. He placed the hammer almost directly on the button, yielding two points and a 5-2 edge.

Norway, armed with the hammer, got a point back in the eighth end when Ulsrud knocked Canada's closest stone away.

But the Canadians essentially clinched the victory in the ninth. Ulsrud delivered Norway's last stone almost on top of the button, and it had a guard offset by a few inches. But Martin sent the hammer around the guard, knocking out Norway's stone to give Canada a 6-3 lead.

Norway faced an insurmountable lead in the 10th, and when the Canadians made it mathematically impossible for the Norwegians to force extra ends, they celebrated wildly in front of a boisterous home crowd.

"I'm a bit disappointed right now, but I think I will still be happy with silver," Ulsrud said.

Canada built a 3-0 edge over the first five ends, stealing points in the second, fourth and fifth despite Norway having the hammer for most ends.

Ulsrud connected with the hammer in the sixth to get Norway within 3-2.

KOWALCZYK EDGES BJOERGEN IN A PHOTO FINISH

Whistler, BC (Sports Network) - Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk edged Norway's Marit Bjoergen in a photo-finish Saturday to win the 30-kilometer race in women's cross-country.

The two skiers were side-by-side on the final sprint to the finish, but Kowalczyk's skis crossed the line three-tenths of a second before Bjoergen's.

"She was stronger in the end," said Bjoergen.

Kowalczyk captured her third medal of the Vancouver Olympics, but first gold. Her winning time for the grueling race was 1 hour, 30 minutes and 33.7 seconds.

Bjoergen claimed her fifth medal of these Winter Games, but was kept from winning her fourth gold by basically the length of half a ski.

Finland's Aino-Kaisa Saarinen took the bronze medal, finishing more than a minute after the two lead skiers.

Kowalczyk and Bjoergen distanced themselves from the pack in the last 10 kilometers of the race. With five kilometers left, Bjoergen had the lead over Kowalczyk and both women were more than 45 seconds ahead of the next competitor.

During a climb with about 1 kilometer left, Kowalczyk surged past Bjoergen and into the lead. She held the lead during the last climb, then also after she nearly slipped before the last turn.

On Kowalczyk's heels the whole time, Bjoergen finally moved ahead of her again during the final sprint. But Kowalczyk rebounded, pulling basically even with the Norwegian.

If not for a lucky rhythm in Kowalczyk's stride, Bjoergen could easily have been the winner. It was that close.

"I was fighting. I don't even remember the last 200 meters," said Kowalczyk. "But this is the Olympics. You must fight."

Kikkan Randall was the top American finisher, coming in 24th place.

ANDERSON WINS GOLD FOR CANADA IN PGS

Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - Canadian snowboarder Jasey-Jay Anderson won gold in men's parallel giant slalom, beating Austria's Benjamin Karl in the final round at the Vancouver Olympics.

Karl was given a head start of .76 seconds to begin the second of two runs after beating Anderson by that margin in the first race of the big final. However, Anderson made up that ground and wound up winning gold by .35 seconds.

Anderson, 34, had been overall World Cup champion four times during his snowboard career, but never won an Olympic medal before Saturday. His best finish in the PGS prior to the Vancouver Olympics was a 20th-place result at the 2006 Turin Games, where he also placed fifth in snowboard cross.

"I love being in new situations where I rise above the challenge," said Anderson.

Anderson had already said that this would be his fourth and final Olympics.

Karl, the reigning champion and current leader in the parallel World Cup standings, earned the silver for his first Olympic medal.

Mathieu Bozzetto of France won bronze, beating Russia's Stanislav Detkov in the small final.

The conditions at Cypress Mountain were poor as boarders had to battle rain and fog, making visibility an issue on the gated course. Saturday's PGS was the final Olympic event at Cypress Mountain.

This is the third time the PGS has been an Olympic event and the first time it was not won by Switzerland's Philipp Schoch.

Simon Schoch won the silver medal behind his brother Philipp at the 2006 Olympics, but was bounced out in the quarters on Saturday and finished sixth. Philipp Schoch won gold in both previous Olympic PGS competitions, but back problems led to him failing to qualify for the Vancouver Games.

Chris Klug had the best result for the United States, placing seventh after getting eliminated from medal contention with a loss in the quarterfinals. Klug was the bronze medalist in PGS at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

LYSACEK, BELBIN AND AGOSTO TO SKIP WORLDS

Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, and 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto will not compete at the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships in Torino.

Ryan Bradley, the fourth-place finisher at the U.S. championships last month, will get Lysacek's spot at worlds. The three who qualified originally were U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, Lysacek and Johnny Weir.

Lysacek, 24, toppled Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko to win gold in Vancouver, becoming the first American to win the men's Olympic figure skating championship since Brian Boitano at the 1988 Calgary Games.

He won despite not attempting a quadruple, the jump Plushenko has called the future of men's figure skating.

"I'm not afraid to lose," Lysacek said. "Regardless of medals, I still have so much to thrive on in the sport. I'm not ready to say good-bye."

Belbin and Agosto's spot will be filled by two-time U.S. bronze medalists Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre.

Belbin and Agosto plan to continue skating as well but have not decided if they will do so competitively or just in shows.

"We're going to take some time while on tour with 'Stars on Ice' this spring to consider our competitive plans for the future," Belbin said.

02/28 01:10:14 ET


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