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USA doubles previous best medal total

Feb. 21, 2002 at 12:25 AM   |   Comments

SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- From the sentimental-laden victory of a third-generation Olympian in the morning to a yet another controversial race late at night in short-track skating, the United States continued to collect medals Wednesday at a rate thought impossible prior to the Winter Games.

Three of the seven golds awarded Wednesday went to Americans and the United States men's hockey team made it into the semifinals as well.

There was also glory for Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerdalen, who became just the third athlete in Winter Olympics history to win four gold medals in the same Games; Croatian Janica Kostelic, who claimed her second gold and third overall; and German Anni Friesinger, who set yet another world record at the speed-skating oval.

There was, however, immense heartbreak for Sweden, which won the Olympic hockey gold medal eight years ago and hoped to do so again in Salt Lake City. But a puck that traveled 80 feet along the ice somehow eluded one of the best goaltenders in the world with less than three minutes to play and allowed giant underdog Belarus to eliminate Sweden from medal contention, 4-3.

"This wipes out all our hard work and is a huge disappointment," said Swedish captain Mats Sundin. "Our dressing room is a disaster area."

As the Olympics headed into the second half of their final week, snow fell throughout the area -- playing havoc with outdoor competitions.

There was little the weather could do, however, to slow down the fervor of the American Olympic effort. Prior to these Games, the United States had never won more than six gold medals at a Winter Olympics and never more than 13 medals overall.

By the end of the competition Wednesday, the Americans had nine golds and a total of 26 -- double their previous best effort. Norway, however, leads in gold medals with 10 and Germany is out front in the overall medal race with 31.

The three American golds Wednesday went to Jim Shea, Tristan Gale and Apolo Anton Ohno. And there was drama attached to all of their efforts.

Shea's father competed in the 1964 Olympics in cross-country skiing and his grandfather, Jack Shea, won two gold medals in speed skating in 1932. All three were to have carried the Olympic torch during the opening ceremony, but Jack Shea died just months prior to the Olympics from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

With his grandfather's picture tucked safely away in his helmet, the first third-generation Winter Olympian in history led after the first run in the skeleton event -- which returned to the Olympics after having been off the program since 1948. Then, on the second run, he trailed by .01 of a second at the last timing check point.

Between that spot and the finish, however, he picked up a few precious hundredths of a second on world champion Martin Rettel of Austria and won the gold.

"My grandpa was with me the whole way," Shea said as he displayed his grandfather's picture.

Making the moment even more special was the fact that Shea's gold medal was the seventh won by the United States in the Games, setting the American record.

The total grew to eight moments later when Americans Gale and Lea Ann Parsley finished 1-2 in the first women's skeleton competition ever held in the Games. The bronze in women's skeleton went to Alex Coomber of Britain. It was that country's first medal of the Olympics and brought the total of nations winning at least one medal to 25 -- most ever in a Winter Games.

Gale and Parsley won, as did Shea, on a track made mushy in spots by the snow that fell throughout the morning.

The United States added a bronze medal to its total during the afternoon, when Jennifer Rodriguez finished third behind Friesinger and fellow-German Sabine Voelker in the 1,500-meter speed skating race.

Friesinger covered the distance in 1:54.02, establishing the sixth world record in eight events on the Utah Olympic Oval.

The American performance was capped off Wednesday night by Apolo Anton Ohno's win in the 1,500-meter short-track race. In the sport's typical unpredictable fashion, it mattered little that Ohno was the second skater across the finish line.

Last weekend, Ohno appeared headed to victory in the 1,000-meter race, but he was bumped off his feet on the final turn in a bizarre finish and had to scramble to the line in order to win a silver medal.

In Wednesday night's race, he was in second place behind South Korea's world champion Dong-Sung Kim as they skated the final half lap. Kim drifted out heading into the final turn and Ohno started to skate by him on the inside. But Kim suddenly darted back in Ohno's path. That is perfectly all right in auto racing, but it is against the rules in short-track skating.

It is known as "cross-tracking," and Australian referee James Hewish wasted no time in disqualifying Kim.

The announcement came as Kim was skating around the arena holding the South Korean flag, which he dropped in dismay.

Other than the shocking victory by Belarus, the Olympic quarterfinals saw Russia defeat the defending champion Czech Republic, 1-0; the United States coast by Germany, 5-0; and Canada hang on to down Sweden, 2-1.

Russian goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin outdueled Czech superstar Dominik Hasek and will now try to deal with the Americans in Friday's semifinals. Russia and the United States played to a 2-2 tie earlier in these Olympics.

Canada had struggled throughout the round-robin portion of the tournament, but now with only Belarus standing in their way, the Canadians are heavily favored to at least play for the gold medal.

The win by Belarus over Sweden was being touted as the biggest Olympic hockey upset since the United States stunned the Soviet Union in 1980.

"There will be a holiday back home over this," said Belarus coach Vladimir Kirkunov. "I asked my players to play their best against NHL players, to play a tighter defense and counterattack. We did better than I hoped."

With 2:24 remaining, Vladimir Kopat threw the puck into the Swedish zone from mid-ice 80 feet out and it took a hop in front of goaltender Tommy Salo.

The puck skipped off Salo's glove, hopped up and hit him in the face and bounced over his shoulder into the goal. Salo was the winning goalie when the Swedes won the 1994 gold medal in a shootout with Canada.

"Don't blame Tommy," said Sweden's Mats Sundin. "We should have put them away by the second period. We didn't play very well and in an elimination game, they were tied with a few minutes to go. We just didn't play that well. We give Belarus credit."

Norway, meanwhile equaled its record Winter Olympics gold total by capturing its 10th in the men's biathlon relay -- edging Germany in a tight finish. On the Norwegian team was Bjoerdalen, who won all four gold medals available in biathlon.

The only other athletes to win four gold medals in a single Winter Olympics have been American speed skater Erik Heiden, who won five in 1980, and Russian speed skater Lydia Skoblikova, who captured four in 1964.

Kostelic also added to her medal haul by winning the slalom on the new fallen snow. It was her second gold and third medal overall, coming after Croatia had never before won a Winter Olympic medal. Of the 70 slalom skiers who began the competition, just 39 could complete the two runs in the difficult conditions.

In the women's curling semifinals, Switzerland cruised past the United States, 9-4, and Britain shocked Canada, 6-5. Britain had to win two tiebreaker matches Tuesday just to reach the semifinals.

And in the men's semifinals, Canada defeated Sweden and Norway edged Switzerland, 7-6. The women's curling medals will be determined Thursday with Switzerland playing Britain for the gold.

Five gold medal events will be held Thursday with the highlight attractions coming in the women's championship hockey game between Canada and the United States and the free dancing program in women's figure skating. American Michelle Kwan, Russian Irina Slutskaya and American Sasha Cohen were 1-2-3 after the short program and any of them can win the gold medal by finishing first in the logn program Thursday night.

© 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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