Canadian men win team pursuit, German women repeat
Chad Hedrick was yukking it up outside the Olympic oval, savoring one last medal in one more event before he gets started on the rest of his life.
``I think I'll join the bowling tour,'' he joked to his young teammates. ``Have y'all ever seen me bowl?''
Hedrick wanted to go out with gold Saturday, but didn't seem too upset about settling for silver in his farewell to speedskating, losing out to the Canadians by a mere 21-hundredths of a second in the final of team pursuit.
The 32-year-old Texan claimed his fifth medal - in five different events, making him one of only four males in Olympic history to compile such a versatile resume.
``It's sort of bittersweet,'' Hedrick said. ``I was reflecting on everything as I was out there after the race, just sitting down on the bench, looking around and soaking up the atmosphere. It's definitely been a great ride.''
Nobody left a more lasting impression in a last Olympic race than Anni Friesinger-Postma.
The German slipped and stumbled throughout the final lap of a semifinal race against the Americans, trying desperately to catch up to her two teammates. Finally, coming down the last straightaway, the 33-year-old crashed to the ice and slid across the finish line on her belly, flailing her arms desperately like a swimmer.
The best move was thrusting out her right skate to make sure the time was registered as quickly as possible. She spun past the line, burying her face against the ice, convinced she had cost her team a spot in the final.
Then Friesinger-Postma looked up to see the Germans had still won by 0.23. Suddenly, her distress turned to delight.
``I thought I destroyed everything,'' she said. ``I really showed I can fight to the last centimeter.''
The Germans subbed in Katrin Mattscherodt for the final against Japan, leaving Friesinger-Postma to cheer from the infield. She still earned the second gold and fourth medal of her career when Mattscherodt, Stephanie Beckert and Daniela Anschutz Thoms rallied from a deficit of nearly two seconds midway through the six-lap race.
The Japanese team of Masako Hozumi, Nao Kodaira and Maki Tabata couldn't hold off the Germans, who defended the inaugural women's pursuit title they won four years ago at Turin by a mere two-hundredths of a second - less than a blade length.
The Canadian men finally won gold at the oval, making up for the disappointment of their individual events. While their female counterparts had won four medals, the males were shut out until their last try.
Maybe they just work better as a team.
Denny Morrison, Lucas Makowsky and Mathieu Giroux ensured that ``O Canada'' played at least once for the boys during the 15-day competition, winning with a time of 3 minutes, 41.37 seconds. The Americans finished the eight-lap race in 3:41.58.
``It is a weight off the shoulders,'' Morrison said. ``It is not an individual race. It is representing Canada. It was amazing.''
The Americans might have pulled it out with Shani Davis in the mix, but the two-time gold medalist decided not to take part in the team event for the second straight Olympics. Four years ago, Davis' decision to focus on his individual races sparked an ugly feud with Hedrick. At these games, there was no animosity between the skaters, who each added two more medals to their impressive resumes.
Hedrick, bothered by a sore right hip and back, nearly pulled out his second career gold while teamed with a trio of 19-year-olds: Jonathan Kuck, Brian Hansen and Trevor Marsicano.
Kuck and Hansen went with Hedrick in the final.
``I'm proud of these guys,'' Hedrick said. ``We came in as big underdogs. The average age of our group, aside from myself, is 19 1/2. We came out here and I pumped these guys up. I believed in them all week. All three of these guys are great skaters and they've got bright futures.''
The silver still made Hedrick one of only two American men to win five Olympic medals on the big oval. The other was Eric Heiden, who swept all five events at the 1980 Lake Placid Games and now serves as team doctor.
He cheered Hedrick from behind the pads heading into the first turn.
``The Olympics has changed me as a person,'' Hedrick said. ``I'm happy with the results as I leave Vancouver. I'm happy with the person I am. It's just a great start to a good life.''
And one he couldn't have expected growing up in sweltering Texas. He learned to skate with wheels under his feet instead of blades, becoming one of the world's greatest inline skaters with a revolutionary double-push style that earned him his nickname, ``The Exception.''
When he had won all he could as an inliner, he switched to the ice as the relatively late age of 24, looking to capture a few Olympic titles. His brash style rubbed some the wrong way, but it's hard to argue with the results: three medals at the 2006 Turin Games, two more in Vancouver.
``I didn't accomplish every goal that I wanted to, but I can take that and move on in life and grow as a person,'' he said.
The U.S. women lost twice Saturday to miss out on a medal in the team pursuit.
After getting edged by the Germans, they led most of the way in the bronze-medal race against Poland before Catherine Raney-Norman lost contact with teammates Jennifer Rodriguez and Jilleanne Rookard.
The first two crossed ahead of the Poles, but the time only counts when all three skaters finish. Raney-Norman labored across 1.57 behind the bronze medalists.
Rodriguez was denied a third career medal in what is expected to be her final Olympics.
Sven Kramer and the Netherlands won bronze in men's pursuit, beating Norway by 0.55 in the third-place race with an Olympic-record time (3:39.95) that was faster than either of the finalists.
Kramer barely celebrated on the victory lap with Mark Tuitert and Jan Blokhuijsen, knowing he had come up far short of expectations in Vancouver. The Dutch star had been expected to win three gold medals, but wound up with only one, in the 5,000.
A shocking disqualification in the 10,000 for messing up a routine lane changeover cost Kramer a certain victory. Then, the favored Dutch were upset by the Americans in the semifinals of team pursuit after getting out of sync because of a communication problem involving Kramer and the other two skaters.