Winter Olympics Day Three Round-Up: Canada's First Gold
Gold continued to elude the Canadians until a sensational performance by men's freestyle mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau. In total, fifteen medals were taken by competitors from nine countries.
The third day of Olympic competition began with the men's nordic combined normal hill/10 km and the men's 10 km biathlon sprint.
At the picturesque Whistler Olympic Park, the 10 km biathlon was the scene of unpleasant conditions that vividly conflicted with the ideals of a conventional Winter Olympics.
France's Vincent Jay defiantly refused to respect the script for what should have been an assured gold medal for legendary Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. The Norwegian's dismal performance forced him languish in 17th, with a finish time of 25 minutes and 48.9 seconds.
Jay crossed the line at a time of 24 minutes and 7.8 seconds. The unexpected gold denied Bjoerndalen's compatriot, Emil Hegle Svendsen, a chance to atone for the Norwegian team. Bronze went to Jakov Fak, who became the first Croatian to medal in the biathlon.
Elsewhere at Whistler Park, the men's nordic combined event had an enthralling finish more akin to that of a 100 meter sprint. The USA's Johnny Spillane, who had surprisingly taken the lead, was within tantalising reach of gold until he appeared to succumb to his arduous exertions.
Determined Frenchman Jason Lamy Chappuis—a pre-favorite born in Montana, USA—took advantage, not only narrowing Spillane's lead, but overtaking him just 50 meters from the red line.
Although cruelly deprived of a gold, Spillane became the first American to medal in the discipline at the Olympics.
Chappuis' finish time was recorded at 25 minutes and 47.1 seconds. The margin of separation between the pair of just four-tenths of a second was the tightest finish in Olympic history.
Italian Alessandro Pittin, competing in his first Olympics, finished third to become the first Italian to medal in the discipline, just days after his 20th birthday.
At the Richmond Olympic Oval, the ladies' speed skating 3000m was vigorously contested before a typically enthusiastic crowd.
The Netherlands' 2006 Olympic champion, Ireen Wüst, enjoyed a brief return to form but was unable to credibly threaten world No. 1 Martina Sablikova. The 22-year-old Czech's finish time of four minutes and 2.5 seconds gained her country its first Olympic medal in the sport.
Germany's Stephanie Beckert and Canada's Kristina Groves earned silver and bronze. The Canadian's bronze was her third Olympic medal.
In the men's luge, at the provisionally modified Whistler Sliding Centre, Germany's sliders continued what has been a rewarding day for the country. The redoubtable 20-year-old Felix Loch finished first fastest in all four runs, with an overall time of 3 minutes and 3.85 seconds. He was joined by David Möller in second.
The notoriously aloof Armin Zöggeler, Italy's defending champion and double Olympic gold medalist, had to be content with a bronze—his first since the 1994 Games.
The men's moguls became another focal point of Canadian expectation.
Until the attempts by Australian Dale Begg-Smith and American Brian Wilson, Canadians Vincent Marquis and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau held first and second. An exceptionally well-executed performance by the consummate Alexandre Bilodeau, however, restored Canadian hopes of a gold.
Then came the final attempt by Frenchman Guilbaut Colas. Almost in a repetition of the ladies' final, those hopes seemed to some pessimists to have almost been thwarted to the momentary shock of the exasperated spectators.
Yet Colas had been uncertain in parts of the run, and finished sixth to the overt indignancy of his watching coach and the uncontainable delight of the Canadians.
With that podium finish, Bilodeau unburdened Canada of the frustration and derision that the country's record in the 1976 Summer and 1988 Winter Games, hosted by Montreal and Calgary, has brought countless athletes.
Begg-Smith and Brian Wilson retained second and third.
Two skiers, meanwhile, have been given five-day suspensions, and will miss a number of events after blood tests detected unusually high levels of haemoglobin.
Russian Niyaz Nabeev was forbidden from taking part in Sunday's nordic combined, while Estonian Kaspar Kokk will be absent from Monday's 15 km cross country. Kokk may return for the men's individual sprint, scheduled for Wednesday.
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