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Kwan caps record Olympic day for USA

  |   Feb. 19, 2002 at 10:35 PM
SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Michelle Kwan capped a record-setting and historic day for the home team Tuesday night by coming out on top in yet another 5-4 figure skating decision to move within one step of claiming her first Olympic gold medal.

Although she has four world and six national championships to her credit, Kwan has yet to win Olympic gold. She had to settle for a silver four years ago in Nagano behind Tara Lapinski.

Kwan got the best of her competition Tuesday night, turning in a short program that was judged superior to that of Russian Irina Slutskaya. Americans Sasha Cohen and Sara Hughes finished third and fourth with another Russian star, Maria Butyrskaya, finishing fifth.

"The audience was great and I saw a lot of American flags," Kwan said. "I took my time and concentrated."

Kwan was given first place by five of the judges while Butyrskaya was tops in the minds of the other four. But Butyrskaya was also judged third by two of the judges. Kwan received all 5.9s for artistic impression.

"I didn't like the technical marks (one of which was only a 5.5)," Kwan said. "But I did like those artistic marks."

It was a 5-4 decision in favor of Russian pair skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze that touched off an international furor last week and the ice dancing competition was also decided a 5-4 vote.

Kwan's performance was the last big show of the night for the United States, which claimed two of the five gold medals awarded Tuesday. One of them went to a speed skater who set a world record and the other was awarded to the first women bobsled champions in Olympic history.

Derek Parra, who won a silver medal over 5,000 meters on the first day of competition at these Games, knew he had to skate a world record to win a gold in the 1,500-meter race Tuesday. Not only did he do so, he broke the old record, which had been set earlier in the afternoon, by more than half a second.

Parra skated a 1:43.95 to defeat the man who had defeated him in the 5,000 -- Jochem Uytdehaage of the Netherlands.

And on a typically chilled evening in the mountains near Park City, Americans Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won the first Olympic gold medal ever awarded in women's bobsledding.

In addition, Flowers became the first black athlete in Winter Olympics history to win a gold medal -- which also turned out to be the sixth in these Games for her native country. That equals the most gold medals ever in a Winter Games for the United States.

With Kwan in position to win a gold, along with slalom specialist Bode Miller, short-track skater Apolo Anton Ohno, a group of speed skaters and both the men's and women's hockey teams, the United States seems all but certain to break the gold-medal mark.

The American women's hockey team reached the gold medal game Tuesday night with a 4-0 victory over defensive-minded Sweden. The United States held Finland to just 10 shots and will meet Canada in Thursday's title contest after the Canadians rallied from a one-goal deficit in the third period to beat Finland, 7-3.

It appeared likely that an American would claim the men's freestyle skiing aerials event when world champion Eric Bergoust took the lead after the first of two jumps.

But Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic tried and succeeded in becoming the first person to produce a five-twist, triple backward flip. Bergoust went down the hill last, knowing he could play it safe and easily win a silver medal.

To beat Valenta, however, Bergoust had to pull off a huge jump and when he fell on his landing, he dropped to the bottom of the standings.

"I wasn't going for silver," Bergoust said.

Valenta's gold was the first for the Czech Republic in these games and Belarus won its first medal of any kind in Salt Lake City when Alexei Grichin finished third.

Belarus became the 24th country to win a medal, equaling the record number that achieved medal status in Nagano.

The other two golds awarded Tuesday went to the winners of the men's and women's cross-country sprint -- the first time the event had been held in the Olympics. The women's race was captured by Julija Tchepalova of Russia and the men's by Tor Arne Hetland of Norway.

It was Norway's ninth gold medal of the Olympics, one more than second-place Germany and one short of the Norwegian record of 10 set eight years ago in Lillihammer. Germany leads the overall medal total, however, with 28 -- four of which were won Tuesday. The United States has 21, eight more than in any other Winter Olympics.

In Nagano, Germany finished with 26 more medals than did the United States.

Wednesday will be a busy day with seven medals on the line, including two in the first-time Olympic sport of skeleton. Ohno will be in action in short-track skating, where he will try to win the 1,000-meter race after his disappointment in the 500 last week.

Ohno was dragged down in a four-man pileup just yards from the finish line as he was about to win the event. He scrambled to his feet and was able to finish second, but in so doing cut himself with one of his skate blades.

Although it took six stitches to close the thigh wound, he said Tuesday he was fit to compete Wednesday night.

The men's hockey quarterfinals will also be held Wednesday with the losers of the four games being eliminated from medal contention. Intense pressure will be on Canada, which played below expectations during the Games and must face a talented team from Finland.

Sweden is expected to advance to the semifinals against Belarus and the United States is favored to do the same against Germany. The game of the day should be that between Russia and the defending Olympic champion Czech Republic.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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