U.S. leads total medal count with six

Johnny Spillane ended an 86-year drought that few Americans even

knew existed. Alexandre Bilodeau ended a much shorter wait that

practically everyone in Canada had been agonizing over.

Spillane finished second in Nordic combined, just

four-tenths of a second from making the first U.S. medal come in

the best color. It’s still a terrific accomplishment, the kind that

could land him on the cover of the media guide for the American

Nordic combined team.

Bilodeau’s feat – winning the men’s moguls – might land him

on a postage stamp or a loonie, Canada’s $1 coin.

His victory was the first by a Canadian in any event at an

Olympics held in Canada. Although there were only two Olympics in

Canada before Vancouver, there were 244 gold medals awarded over

those games.

Bilodeau’s breakthrough came in the 10th event of these

games and well past the point of panic for a country that invested

about $6 billion in hosting and $110 million in preparing its

athletes to “Own the Podium.”

After disappointments stretching from the Battle of Brians

in 1988 to Jenn Heil coming up short in women’s moguls on Saturday

night, Canadians were holding their breath when Bilodeau stood at

the start line, trying to beat the score posted by Dale Begg-Smith

– a native Canadian competing for Australia.

He moved into first with a swift, soaring run, then had to

wait out one final foe. It proved worth the wait. At 6:29 p.m. PST,

Bilodeau stood atop the medals stand and bowed, revealing a large

red maple leaf on the back of his white helmet as his prize was

placed around his neck. Millions of folks from Yukon to

Newfoundland were surely singing along to “O Canada.”

“I had it, I took it and now I belong to history,” Bilodeau

said.

Begg-Smith took silver and American Bryon Wilson got the

bronze, giving the U.S. six medals through two days of competition

– the most of these Olympics and matching the team’s total from the

last time the Winter Games were in Canada in 1988.

Canada is catching up. The home team has three, with just as

many golds as the United States. France is the only country with

two gold medals.

Luge

Two days after Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a training

wreck, 20-year-old Felix Loch of Germany became the sport’s

youngest gold medalist with a dominant performance on a track made

shorter and slower following the tragedy.

Another German, David Moeller, was second, followed by

two-time defending Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler of Italy.

American Tony Benshoof, sliding with three herniated discs

in his third and final Olympics, finished eighth. He was fourth in

2006, one-fifth of a second from claiming the first medal by an

American in singles luge.

Biathlon

Tim Burke was supposed to challenge for a medal. Then came a

heavy, wet snowfall that was tough enough to undo Norwegian great

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen as well.

Bjoerndalen, winner of a record nine biathlon medals, had

the worst finish of his Olympic career – 17th.

“When the snow came down, it was hopeless,” he said.

Burke, the first U.S. biathlete to lead the World Cup

standings, wound up 47th.

The three medalists – France’s Vincent Jay, Norway’s Emil

Hegle Svendsen and Croatia’s Jakov Fak – were among the first 10

starters, before the snow began to cause problems. Jeremy Teela was

the top American, finishing ninth.

Nordic combined

Todd Lodwick narrowly missed making it two Americans with a

Nordic combined medal. He was fourth.

The winner, Jason Lamy Chappuis, is an American by birth who

has always raced for France.

Nordic combined is a mix of ski jumping and cross-country

skiing and has been on the Winter Olympics program since 1924.

“After 86 years of trying we are actually legitimate,” U.S.

coach Tom Steitz said. “We are all going to sit around tonight and

drink champagne and touch the medals.”

Women’s hockey

The only question was whether the United States would

clobber China as badly as Canada’s 18-0 wipeout of Slovakia.

No, but it was close.

The Americans won 12-1, with Jenny Potter notching her first

Olympic hat trick and becoming the leading scorer in U.S. Olympic

history. The Americans came within 2:21 of a shutout in front of a

crowd that included Vice President Joe Biden and 1980 U.S. hockey

captain Mike Eruzione.

“I think we did a good job playing our game, but at the same

time keeping sportsmanship in mind,” U.S. captain Natalie Darwitz

said.

Finland overcame an early deficit to beat Russia 5-1.

Figure skating

Real-life couple Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo celebrated

Valentine’s Day by breaking their own world record in the pairs

short program, putting them ahead of two-time world champions

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

The Chinese couple, who’ve won bronze at the last two

Olympics, will take a slim lead into the free skate on Monday

night.

Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov are third, in

good position to keep up the streak of a Russian or Soviet pair

winning the gold medal at every Olympics dating to 1964.

Americans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig are 10th. U.S.

champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett 14th.

Biden’s motorcade

Former gold-medal winners Peggy Fleming and Vonetta Flowers

were slightly injured in a traffic accident while riding with 1980

U.S. hockey captain Mike Eruzione in Vice President Joe Biden’s

motorcade at the Vancouver Olympics.

Biden was in another car and wasn’t involved in the wreck.

The motorcade was headed to the U.S. women’s hockey game

when the vehicle with Fleming, Flowers and Eruzione was rear-ended.

Fleming, the 1968 figure skating champion, and Flowers, a

2002 bobsled winner, were examined at the scene and at a hospital.

Both were at the figure skating event Sunday night.

“I think I’ll have a stiff neck tomorrow and stiff muscles,”

Fleming said.

Downhill

It’s getting to the point where it will be news when they do

ski in Whistler.

The Alpine schedule was wiped out yet again, this time

keeping the women from a training session because of heavy rain and

snow. The men’s downhill is to begin Monday, when drier, cooler air

is expected.

The delays continue to help Lindsey Vonn in her recovery

from a bruised right shin. Vonn’s husband told The Associated Press

she went through a rigorous slalom training session, her biggest

test since being injured Feb. 2.

“Her focus has definitely changed from, ‘Am I going to

race?’ to ‘I’m definitely racing, and I need to get the rust off

and try to get the speed back,” Thomas Vonn said.

Men’s hockey

Uh-oh, Canada: Sidney Crosby got hurt in his final NHL game

before coming to the Olympics.

Crosby, the biggest star on a Canadian roster filled with

big names, blocked a shot with his right shin in the second period

of a game against Nashville. He played the rest of the game, with

an assist in the third period of a 4-3 shootout loss for

Pittsburgh.

“I will be there,” Crosby said. “I’m on the flight tonight.”

Canada was scheduled to practice Monday and open against

Norway on Tuesday.

Sweden was forced to replace Tomas Holmstrom on its roster

because of an injury aggravated Saturday. His spot is going to his

Detroit teammate Johan Franzen, who played last week in his return

from knee surgery.

Speedskating

Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic won the women’s

3,000 meters. Germany’s Stephanie Beckert got silver, and Canada’s

Kristina Groves got bronze.

Sablikova also is favored to win the 5,000 meters.

Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. was the top American, finishing

ninth.

Outdoor cauldron

That huge outdoor cauldron ignited by Wayne Gretzky would

make for a great photo backdrop – if not for the chain-link fence

keeping folks away.

Officials put it up for safety and security reasons.

Vancouver organizing committee spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade said

they’re realizing what an eyesore the fence has become. So now

they’re talking about another barrier that would at least be more

photogenic.