Tags: Gold | Hughes | Silver | Bode | Bronze | Kwan | ...

A Gold Hughes, Silver Bode, Bronze Kwan ... and Russians Seeing Red

Friday, 22 February 2002 12:00 AM

Having virtually no chance to win a gold medal after finishing fourth in the short program two nights earlier, American Sarah Hughes became the first woman to complete two triple-triple combinations in the same program and vaulted all the way to the Olympic gold medal.

"I didn't think it was possible," she said. "I've never skated better in my life."

The Canadian women's hockey team also had the best skate of its collective life Thursday, upsetting the United States in the championship game. And Austrian alpine hero Stephan Eberharter finally won a gold medal on his last try.

Hughes produced the final drama of the night, leaving the world's best skaters in her wake.

American Sasha Cohen, who went into the final night of Olympic figure skating in third place, took a spill. Russian Irina Slutskaya, who began and finished the evening in second place, skated well but without the artistic skills needed. And Michell Kwan, America's skating sweetheart, once again came up short on her sport's biggest stage.

Kwan has won four world titles and six United States championships, but she has had to settle for a silver and bronze medal in her two Olympic appearances.

"I was a little shaky in my program," said Kwan, who won the short program Tuesday night but who fell during her four-minute presentation. "I made some mistakes. It wasn't meant to be tonight."

To come up with the gold, Hughes had to win Thursday night's free skate while Slutskaya had to finish ahead of Kwan. All of that happened. Hughes, skating prior to the women who were ahead of her in the standings, was up first in the free skate on the cards of the judges from Germany, Italy, Finland, Canada and the United States.

Slutskaya was judged first by those on the panel from Russia, Slovakia, Denmark and Belarus.

It was another 5-4 decision, just as the ultimate decision was earlier in these Olympics in both the pairs competition and in ice dancing.

Judges decisions have been a focal point of the Salt Lake City Games and they were again Thursday when Russian officials threatened to boycott the remainder of the Olympics if some sort of unspecified remedies were implemented by International Olympic Committe President Jacques Rogge.

The Russian delegation has never been happy with the decision to award Canadian pairs skaters Jamie Sele and David Pelletier a gold medal to go along with the one won by Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze in a competition skating officials say was tainted by flawed judging.

There were also allegations among the Russians that their country's 1-0 quarterfinal hockey victory over the Czech Republic was marred by poor officiating. And on Thursday, Russian cross-country star Larissa Lazutina was barred from taking part in a cross-country relay because of a drug test that showed a level of red blood cells above the minimum accepted in international competition.

Russian Olympic Committe President Leonid Tyagachev called a news conference after Lazutina's suspension to say he had demanded action from the IOC and Rogge and that if nothing was forthcoming in 24 hours, his delegation would leave the Games.

"If we are not needed here, we are ready to leave the Olympic Village," Tyagachev said.

Rogge promptly called his bluff. Rather than dealing with Tyagachev, Rogge sent a letter to the president of Russia saying he had checked with various officials and was certain the judging at the Games was "absolutely correct."

South Korea, too, threatened a boycott in protest of the disqualification Wednesday night of short-track speed skater Dong-Sung Kim, who crossed the line first in the 1,500-meter race but was judged to have impeded the progress of American Apolo Anton Ohno on the final turn. Ohno won the gold medal.

South Korean officials even threatened to sue the judges.

Lazutina would have almost certainly won the 10th medal of her Olympic career had she taken part in the relay Thursday. That would have equaled the most ever won by a woman at the Winter Olympics.

The Russian team was informed just before the start of the race, leaving no time to arrange for a substitute skier.

"I think we are seeing a witch hunt," Tyagachev said. "We are clean." Most international sports governing bodies set limits for red blood cells because an excessive amount could demonstrate that the drug EPO has been used. EPO boosts the amount of red blood cells, thus increasing the amount of oxygen carried into the body. The more oxygen available, the more stamina for an athlete.

"This is a scandal," said the head of the Russian delegation, Gennady Ramensky. "They are specifically hunting out Russian sportsmen."

Germany wound up winning the race by 1.3 seconds over Norway. It was the 10th gold medal of the games for Germany, which moved into a tie with Norway and the United States.

Early in the day, meanwhile, Eberharter won his first Olympic gold medal in what was his final opportunity. He did so by holding off American Bode Miller, who in typical fashion charged from behind on the second run of the giant slalom and passed five skiers to earn a silver medal.

Eberharter, 32, is the king of Austrian alpine skiing and he had already won two medals in Utah. But neither of them was gold.

After the first of the two runs Thursday, he was virtually certain of victory as long as he could say on his skis. He had a lead of .74 of a second over Italian Massimiliano Blardone of Italy.

Back in seventh place after the first run was Miller, who won a silver medal in the alpine combined earlier in the Olympics by rallying from 15th place following the downhill portion of the event.

In the second giant slalom run, Miller turned in a lightning-fast 1:11.27, giving the six competitors following him an impressive target.

One by one, they failed to better Miller's combined time of 2:24.16. Finally, only Eberharter was left. Eberharter needed to turn in a second run of just over 1:12 to clinch the gold and he did much better than that. His time of 1:11.30 was a mere .03 of a second shower than Miller's second run and made Erberharter the Olympic champion. His two-run total was 2:23.28.

"This was my last chance," said Eberharter, who flopped onto his back in triumph when he saw his time posted on the scoreboard.

Miller, meanwhile, will have momentum going into the slalom race on Saturday.

"I skied a great race," Miller said. "I knew I could not have skied any better."

In the women's hockey gold medal game, Caroline Ouellette scored in the first two mintues and Jayna Hefford produced a goal with one second left in the second period. Those were the key moments in a 3-2 victory that allowed Canada to end an eight-game losing streak to the Americans.

The United States beat Canada for the gold four years ago, 3-1.

American athletes wound up with four medals Thursday, raising the United States total to 30. That is just two behind Germany, which in Nagano won 26 more medals than the Americans.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Having virtually no chance to win a gold medal after finishing fourth in the short program two nights earlier, American Sarah Hughes became the first woman to complete two triple-triple combinations in the same program and vaulted all the way to the Olympic gold medal. I...
Friday, 22 February 2002 12:00 AM
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