Winter Olympics roundup: Spillane, Bilodeau end droughts for U.S., Canada
AP Sports Writer
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — 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. Still, it's a terrific accomplishment, the kind of thing 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.
The victory was significant because it was the first gold medal won by a Canadian in any event at an Olympics held in Canada. While 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.
Biloudeau moved into first with a swift, soaring run, then had to wait out one final foe. It proved worth the wait, and 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."
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.
There was finally something to cheer about at the Whistler Sliding Center.
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, slower and safer 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. With another miss this time, a new set of Americans will try again in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
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.
"It just wasn't my day," he said. "When the snow came down, it was hopeless."
Burke, the first U.S. biathlete to lead the World Cup standings, wound up 47th. Hakkinen was 54th.
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.
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. It's been on the Winter Olympics program since 1924.
"After 86 years of trying we are actually legitimate," U.S. coach Tom Steitz said. "How do you boil up 86 years of frustration? You don't. Everybody starts crying. We are all going to sit around tonight and drink champagne and touch the medals."
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.
Former gold-medal winners Peggy Fleming and Vonetta Flowers were slightly injured in a traffic accident while riding with 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, further indication they are OK.
"I think I'll have a stiff neck tomorrow and stiff muscles," Fleming said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite tough economic times, the U.S. Olympic Committee has a new sponsor: BP petroleum.
The deal will be announced Monday. It's expected to be worth between $10 million and $15 million and to run at least through the 2012 Olympics in London.