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Luge finally enjoys golden moment

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Associated Press
February 15, 2010
— For a welcome moment, grief gave way to gold in luge.

Germany’s Felix Loch, speeding safely through the final curve where a fellow Olympian tragically died just two days earlier, won a gold medal on Sunday and brought brief but needed comfort to a sport rocked by criticism that it put performance above protection of its athletes.


Loch finished his four heats in 3 minutes, 13.085 seconds, well ahead of teammate David Moeller (3:13.764) and Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler (3:14.375), the two-time defending Olympic champion.


Officials, under pressure after 21-year-old Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in a practice crash Friday, shortened the track by moving the starts down the mountain. The alteration worked to slow the sleds, but the changes may have tilted the balance of competition.


American Tony Benshoof, who finished eighth, understood the reasoning behind moving the start and respected the decision, but that didn’t mean he liked it.


“Lowering the start really, really put me at a disadvantage,” said Benshoof, who spent two years preparing for a steep start on the Whistler track, which he felt suited his strengths. “The second they did that, they basically gave the Germans two medals, which was frustrating.


“But I’m not making excuses,” he said. “We all had the same situation.”


Kumaritashvili died after being thrown from his sled at nearly 90 mph and catapulted into an exposed steel beam. The spot is now marked as a memorial with candles and flowers.


His shocking death, just hours before the cauldron was ignited in Vancouver, rattled many of his competitors—and the entire Olympic family—and forced luge officials to consider the unthinkable possibility of canceling the competition. Instead, they decided the games would go on, but only after altering the course so there would be no repeat of the harrowing accident on this beautiful mountaintop.


Born in Koenigssee, the 20-year-old Loch returned Germany to luge’s summit by dethroning Zoeggeler, who was attempting to match German luging legend Georg Hackl’s record of winning gold in three straight Olympic games.


Loch, already a two-time world champion, is the youngest luge Olympic gold medalist in history.


Nordic combined

Jump off a hill in the morning, do some cross-country skiing in the afternoon. That’s what goes into the Nordic combined, a sport that’s been part of the Winter Olympics since 1924.


And on Sunday, an American finally won a medal.


Johnny Spillane snagged the silver and Todd Lodwick narrowly missed joining him on the podium, finishing fourth. Spillane nearly got the gold, finishing a mere four-tenths of a second behind Jason Lamy Chappuis, who was born in Missoula, Mont., but has always raced for France.


Biathlon

Tim Burke and Jay Hakkinen were supposed to challenge for medals. Then came a heavy, wet snowfall that was tough enough to undo Norwegian great Ole Einar Bjorndalen as well.


Bjorndalen, winner of a record nine biathlon medals, had the worst finish of his Olympic career—17th. His three penalties from the prone position matched the most of all 87 competitors, and his four total penalties tied for second most.


Burke, the first U.S. biathlete to lead the World Cup standings, wound up 47th. Hakkinen was 54th.


Vincent Jay of France won the event, ahead of Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway and Jakov Fak of Croatia.


Speedskating

Kristina Groves gave Canada hopes for gold in the women’s 3,000 meters, but wound up with the bronze, beaten by Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic and Germany’s Stephanie Beckert.


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


Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. was the top American in ninth.


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.


Downhill

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 supposed to begin today, when drier, cooler air is expected to arrive.


The delays continue to be good for American Lindsey Vonn, who needed time off to get over a bruised right shin.


Vonn’s husband told The Associated Press that 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 moguls

Alexandre Bilodeau won the gold medal in men’s moguls to give Canada its first Olympic victory on home turf.


Bilodeau scored 26.75 points Sunday night to upset defending Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith, a Vancouver native who now competes for Australia. Bryon Wilson of the United States took third.


Bilodeau’s victory marks the first time a Canadian has won an Olympic event in the three times the games have been held inside Canada’s borders. The previous Canadian Olympics were in 1976 in Montreal and 1988 in Calgary.



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