Winter Olympics Day Four Roundup: China's Golden Couple Get Gold

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Winter Olympics Day Four Roundup: China's Golden Couple Get Gold
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The fourth day of competition at Vancouver finally ushered in a moderate improvement in the weather that has disrupted some outdoor events. Eighteen medals were awarded, distributed among 13 nations.

At the Whistler Olympic Park, the ladies' 10-kilometer cross country freestyle got underway in difficult, slushy conditions.

Among the contenders was Estonian Kristina Šmigun-Vähi, who's returned after a two-year hiatus from the sport and was seeking to redress her nominal decline since her two golds at Turin in 2006.

Although Vähi might not have been judged to be a favourite, the Estonian established some distance between herself and Sweden's Charlotte Kalla during the race.

No competitor has yet to defend her gold, however, and Kalla ultimately seized first with a time of 24 minutes and 54.4 seconds—6.6 seconds ahead of the Estonian. She became the first Swede to receive a gold medal in the discipline since Toini Gustafsson in the 1968 games.

"It felt good the whole race; I just tried to focus on my plan and be patient," Kalla said. "It feels great."

Norwegian Marit Bjørgen, whose performances in her previous two Olympics contrasted starkly with her flourish in the 2003 and 2005 World Championship, finished third. 

The cross country world champion, Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk, surprisingly struggled and could only manage fifth.

After weather-induced delays and cancellations, the men's downhill at Whistler Creekside finally commenced after considerable disruption to its schedule.

A Swiss gold had been predicted for the prestigious downhill event, but it was not Didier Cuche who would vindicate those expectations.

Didier Defago became the first Swiss to ski to gold since the eminent Pirmin Zurbriggen at, coincidentally, the Calgary games in 1988. His finish time of 1:54.31 was just 0.07 seconds ahead of Norway's world champion, Aksel Lund Svindal.

Despite his performance more than meriting gold, the USA's Bode Miller could not better the silver he collected at the 2002 and 2006 games, finishing third. This downhill had the narrowest margin of separation in Olympic history between the top three.

In the men's 15-kilometer cross country freestyle, Switzerland continued its day's success with Dario Cologna. His resounding time of 33:36.3 enabled him to become the first Swiss to earn an Olympic gold in the event. 

The strain was evident when Cologna collapsed to the ground as he waited for his rivals to cross the finish line.

Cologna established an unassailable lead of 24.6 seconds on Italy's defending skier Pietro Piller Cottrer. The Czech Republic's Lukas Bauer took bronze.

Cologna's sense of accomplishment was encapsulated when he spoke to the media: "I had a very good feeling from the start, I didn't believe I could win the 15-kilometer, but I pushed until the end. With this victory, my childhood dream came true."

At the pristine Cypress Mountain course, the USA's Seth Westcott successfully defended his 2006 gold in the snowboard cross to confound what had been a lacklustre performance in qualification.  

Canadian Mike Robertson continued the momentum that had intensified with mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau's historic gold. France's Tony Raimon took bronze, while five-time X-Games gold medalist Nate Holland ended his Olympics in a medal-less fourth.

Despite issues arising with the surface at the Richmond Olympic Oval, South Korea's Tae-Bum Mo raced to gold in an exciting 500-meter speed skating final, with an overall time of 69.82 seconds 

Japan's Keiichiro Nagashima and Joji Kato comprised second and third, respectively. Canada's world record holder, Jeremy Wotherspoon, struggled in ninth.

The South Korean, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, said: "I kept practising over and over again and I think that was very important, and I really wanted to do well. It's my best birthday present and it's my present to Koreans."

At the Pacific Coliseum, China's married pair, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, became China's golden couple in the free skating discipline with a points total of 216.57.

The Chinese had ended their three-year retirement, having married in 2007, to be elevated to the status of Vancouver's Valentine darlings. Their deserving, but imperfect, performance secured their—and China's—first Olympic gold in pairs.

The couple, whose intimacy on the ice was irrepressible, had stated it was their last opportunity for an Olympic gold. 

Silver went to compatriots Pang Qing and Tong Jian, while Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy brought home the bronze for a performance as notable for their elaborate attire as their aptitude on the ice.

The victory terminated an extraordinary dominance by Russia's skaters, which had begun in 1964 with Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov. The gold at the 2002 Salt Lake games was shared between Russia and Canada due to a judging controversy.

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