Germany clinches No. 1 in medals list

Feb. 24, 2002 at 12:05 AM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- The Winter Olympics turned their final corner Saturday and headed for a conclusion with a Canadian short-track skater making up for past heartbreak, the United States ending a 46-year drought in the bobsled and Germany ensuring that it would finish with more gold medals and more medals overall than any other nation.

Protests from Russia and South Korea, meanwhile, fell on deaf ears as the athletes, officials and the legion of security personnel prepared for Sunday's closing chapter to the Games of Salt Lake City.

When the final competition ended Saturday night, one that served as a huge disappointment for the home team, only two remained. Women cross-country skiers will take part in their 30-kilometer race early Sunday and an anxiously anticipated gold medal hockey game between the United States and Canada will take place during the afternoon.

Then will come the closing ceremony, during which the Olympic flame will be extinguished and the call will go out to the athletes of the world to gather for the next Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

As has been the case on most days during these Games, some sort of Olympic history was made Saturday at almost every gold-medal competition -- of which there were seven.

Johann Muehlegg of Spain, for instance, became the fourth triple gold medal winner of the Olympics when he captured the men's 50-kilometer cross-country race. He did so after first failing and then passing a drug test.

The initial test indicated an elevated amount of red blood cells in his system, the same result that kept Russian star Larissa Lazutina out of the women's cross-country relay two days earlier. In the case of a positive test, a second test must be administered within minutes and when Muehlegg was tested again, he passed.

In Lazutina's case, she failed both tests.

At the Utah Olympic Oval, yet another world record was set by Germany's Claudia Pechstein in the 5,000-meter race. One day after her 30th birthday, she won the 5,000 for the third straight Olympics. Canadian Clara Hughes won the bronze, making her the fourth athlete ever to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. She won a cycling medal in Atlanta six years ago.

There were 10 speed skating events at the Olympics and the only ones that did not produce world records were the two sprints. During the Olympics, there were 86 national records and 193 personal bests established.

At the bobsled run, meanwhile, the four-man German sled driven by Andre Lange won the gold medal. The silver and bronze, however, went to American drivers Todd Hays and Brian Shimer -- ending a drought in men's bobsledding that extended back to the 1956 Olympics.

And in the evening at short-track skating, Canadian Marc Gagnon emerged from a long list of contenders to win the gold medal in the 500-meter sprint. Gagnon reached the 500 final in both Lillihammer and Nagano, but had fallen on both occasions.

Along the way, some of his most serious competition was eliminated. American Apolo Anton Ohno was disqualified in one semifinal heat and South Korean Dong-Sung Kim was edged out for the second qualifying spot in the other semifinal by Gagnon himself.

It was Kim who was disqualified in the 1,500-meter race on Wednesday night, thus giving the gold medal to Ohno and creating the latest in a series of judging controveries at these Olympics.

The gold medals won by Pechstein and the German bobsled team ran Germany's total to an unbeatable 12. Germany also boosted its overall medal total to 35 while the United States had 33.

Potential medals got away from the United States Saturday when Ohno was disqualified in his short-track race and when, in the final event of the night, the American 5,000-meter short-track relay team fell, leading to a fourth-place finish. Canada won the relay, giving Gagnon a second medal on the evening.

Another likely United States medal disappeared when slalom star Bode Miller fell in his second run after turning in the second-best effort in the first run. The gold in the slalom went to France's Jean-Pierre Vidal with countryman Sebastien Amiez getting the silver.

Away from the venues Saturday, the Court of Arbitration for Sports heard an appeal by South Korea on behalf of Kim and his short-track disqualification. The appeal was quickly rejected.

The three-member panel said that "field of play" decisions made by judges, referees and other officials cannot be reviewed by the court unless clear evidence of "bad faith" is shown. No evidence was presented in this case, the panel said.

Kim crossed the finish line ahead of Ohno in the 1,500-meter race Wednesday night, but was disqualified for cutting in front of Ohno on the final straight.

Thousands of complaints from South Korea were sent to the United States Olympic Committee web site, some of them containing threats on Ohno. The e-mails were turned over to the FBI and a Utah state patrolman was assigned to travel with Ohno everywhere he went in Salt Lake City. Ohno moved out of the Olympic Village into an area hotel.

There was also an angry backlash to one of the accusations of bias judging made in recent days by the Russian delegation.

In addition to being outraged at the banning of Lazutina for an elevated red blood cell count, Russian officials alleged that bad decisions on the part of referee Bill McCreary cost their team a chance to defeat the United States in the semifinals.

That did not sit well with international hockey governing body chief Rene Fasel.

"You can always criticize certain calls and try to prove that the referee made a mistake in certain situations," Fasel said. "But when a coach of a team tries to undermine and question the integrity of the Olympic ice hockey tournament, it makes me very angry and disappointed.

"The referee's decisions were not the reason why Russia lost. I have know Slava Fetisov (the Russian coach who questioned the use of NHL referee Bill McCreary in the game) and consider him a good friend and hope that he made the comments in the heat of the moment and that he really didn't mean what he said."

Russia came back less than 24 hours after that defeat to blast Belarus in the bronze medal game, 7-2.

"We are disappointed that we did not reach our goal, the gold medal," said Russian captain Igor Larionov. "But after the game yesterday, we got back in the Olympic Village and held a meeting in which we vowed to play hard for the bronze. We respect the Olympics and an Olympic medal is very valued."

The president of the International Olympic Committee also chose to avoid a war of words with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Friday, Putin bemoaned the absence of former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and said the the first Olympics under Samaranch's successor, Jacques Rogge, "is bound to be a flop."

"I'm not going to react to what he said," Rogge said during an interview on NBC-TV Saturday. "My job is to conduct the Olympic Games and to do it in as fair a manner as possible."

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