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 . world ski news
17 February 2006 - 01:14
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Snowboard-cross: World champion Wescott captures Olympic snowboard cross gold

BARDONECCHIA, Italy (AFP) - Reigning world champion Seth Wescott avoided the early mishaps that claimed other favourites to capture the gold medal in the Olympic debut of men's snowboard cross.

BARDONECCHIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 16: (FRANCE OUT) Seth Wescott (Front) of the United States competes in the Mens Snowboard Cross Final on Day 6 of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games on February 16, 2006 in Bardonecchia, Italy. (Photo by Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

The 29-year-old American surged to the lead from the start in the four-man finals showdown and held off Slovakia's Radoslav Zidek at the finish line to capture gold.

France's Paul-Henri Delerue, the 21-year-old younger brother of three-time World Cup snowboard cross champion Xavier Delerue, took the bronze medal. He rose fastest after an early crash with Spain's Jordi Font to reach the podium.

BARDONECCHIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 16: (FRANCE OUT) Seth Wescott (C) of the United States competes in the Mens Snowboard Cross Final on Day 6 of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games on February 16, 2006 in Bardonecchia, Italy. (Photo by Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

Wescott, ranked fifth in the current World Cup snowboard cross season, bounced back after a left knee ligament tear in 2004 and a right knee ligament tear in 2001.

He was joined in the final by an unlikely trio. Delerue rankes ninth in the Cup season while Font, 30, is ranked 98th overall in the snowboard World Cup and Zidek, 24, rated 21st.

Canada's Jasey Jay Anderson, the overall snowboard World Cup champion four of the past five years, was disqualified along with Australian Paul Hayler in a contentious semi-final.

Anderson was ruled to have pushed Jordi Font as they approached a jump, the Spaniard falling and taking Anderson out with him. The Canadian rose and reached the bottom second to Zidek but was banished by the judges.

Several favorites were ousted in the first of the knockout rounds, which featured four snowboarders going down the run with the first two from each heat advancing until the final four raced for gold.

BARDONECCHIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 16: Seth Wescott (3) of the United States of America on his way to winning the Gold Medal in the Mens Snowboard Cross Final on Day 6 of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games on February 16, 2006 in Bardonecchia, Italy. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Xavier Delerue, bothered by a sore left ankle, was eliminated in the first round. He was slowed by a fallen rival and ousted by Czech Michal Novotny and Hayler.

American Nate Holland, the World Cup co-leader with Delerue, was slowed in his first heat but recovered to avoid elimination, only to lose control on a jump in his quarter-final heat and crash out.

Top qualifier Drew Neilson of Canada was ousted in the first knockout heat when Poland's Rafael Skarbek-Malczewski fell and tumbled into him, with Swede last-place qualifier Jonatan Johansson advancing.

Thursday, Feb 16, 2006


Kostelic hopes to race

SAN SICARIO, Italy (Reuters) - Alpine skier Janica Kostelic hopes to defend her Olympic combined title on Friday but will not make a final decision until three hours before the race, her spokesman said on Thursday.

The Croatian, who is also world champion in the combined, missed Wednesday's downhill competition due to a higher than usual pulse rate.

Kostelic had a high temperature on Thursday and did three training runs on the combined slalom course before going back to her rented house near the athletes' village, spokesman Ozren Mueller said.

"There is more chance that she will race than not," Mueller told Reuters. A final decision would be made at 0900 local time (0800 GMT) on Friday.

Kostelic had a thyroid operation two years ago and has been battling health problems since then.

Combined downhill training was called off on Thursday because of falling snow and poor visibility but Kostelic, like the other favorites, had the chance to ski the Fraiteve Olympic course earlier this week, ahead of the downhill.

Thursday, Feb 16, 2006


Cross Country: Estonia's Smigun wins her second cross-country gold medal

PRAGELATO, Italy (AP) -- Kristina Smigun scooted around the room hugging any friendly person she could find. She accepted congratulatory phone calls, her goggles still set snugly over the cap on her forehead as she motioned with her hands while recapping her race.

The bubbly blonde from Estonia is a two-time individual Olympic gold medalist -- capturing both in a five-day span.

Smigun took the lead by the 7-kilometer mark in the interval start women's 10km classical cross country race Thursday, earning her second gold in as many events after winning the 15km pursuit Sunday.

"Actually, my race was perfect," the beaming Smigun said. "But it was extremely hard, like for everybody."

She finished in 27 minutes, 51.4 seconds, a commanding 21.3 seconds ahead of silver medalist Marit Bjorgen of Norway. Hilde Pedersen of Norway took the bronze -- and Kristin Stormer Steira made it three Norwegians in the top four.

The 41-year-old Pedersen became the oldest woman to win a medal at an Olympic Winter Games. Raisa Smetanina won a cross country relay gold for the Unified Team of Russia and the former Soviet republics in 1992, a few days before her 40th birthday.

Smigun watched Bjorgen, the World Cup leader, collapse across the finish line, glanced at the time, then raised her arms and screamed for joy in celebration.

On Wednesday, a close friend told Smigun the final three kilometers would make the difference and that she had a chance to beat the rest of the field by 17 seconds.

"I was like 'Whatever,"' Smigun said.

After more than her share of second-place finishes in the classical race, Smigun turned her focus to this event. She did not finish this race at the Salt Lake City Olympics because her mood was down following a bizarre doping scandal.

"Usually I have a problem with my skis or with my mind," Smigun said. "My biggest wish was to get the gold medal in the 10K classical. I got it. It's mine!"

Smigun tested positive in December 2001 for an anabolic steroid following a World Cup race in Italy. But a second sample came up negative, and she was cleared to compete in the 2002 Winter Games.

Four years ago, the World Anti-Doping Agency investigated Smigun's case and chairman Dick Pound later said the first lab that tested her sample goofed and didn't realize she was female.

Canada's Sara Renner led through 6.2 kilometers Thursday, but dropped to fifth by 7.7 kilometers in and wound up eighth. Teammate Beckie Scott was disqualified for skiing in the wrong track in the final stretch through the stadium.

"Now, when we have only one in the top 10, we're (ticked) off," Canada coach Dave Wood said. "It shows how far we've come, and we're not finished yet. Beckie, she's not a quitter. This only drives her."

Bjorgen, who had to pull out of the 15km pursuit Sunday before the midway point because of a stomach problem, returned to ski in the team sprint Tuesday and teamed with Ella Gjomle to finish fourth in the inaugural event.

"This silver is gold for me," Bjorgen said. "I was really nervous before the start today because I'd been sick and didn't know how good I could be."

The 25-year-old Bjorgen is still looking for her first Olympic individual medal and first Olympic gold. She has four World Cup victories in this event, including two this season.

"It's a great day for us," Norway coach Svein Tore Samdal said. "We had a lot of problems with sickness and we hoped for one medal today if everything went perfectly and we got two. It's important for our whole team to get back in business. They are feeling a lot better."

Finland's Virpi Kuitunen, competing in her first Olympics and a favorite in the event, was a disappointing ninth.

This is Kuitunen's favorite event and it had been her top focus in the Turin Olympics. The 29-year-old Kuitunen, who won bronze in the team sprint Tuesday, earned her first World Cup win in the 10km classic earlier this month in Davos, Switzerland -- the final tuneup for the Olympics.

American Wendy Wagner, who plans to retire after the Olympics, was the top U.S. finisher in 50th.

The Italian Alps got a dusting of snow overnight, but light rain fell for about an hour before the race began and throughout the competition.

By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer
Thursday, Feb 16, 2006


Nordic Combined: Bickering Americans fail to earn first Nordic combined medal

PRAGELATO, Italy (AP) -- Carl Van Loan watched the Austrians rally for their first Nordic combined gold medal Thursday and criticized the Germans for putting their weakest skier last.

Then he found himself on the defensive after being blamed by teammate Todd Lodwick for another American failure to win a medal in the event.

Van Loan was "the weakest link," Lodwick said after the U.S. finished seventh.

"We've got one guy way out of shape and picked for the team," Lodwick said. "That's not the athletes' decision, it's the coaches' decision."

Austria won with a thrilling takeover of Germany after No. 3 skier Felix Gottwald made up nearly 30 seconds on double world champion Ronny Ackermann and then Mario Stecher erased a 20-second deficit for the country's first Nordic combined gold medal.

Stecher passed German Jens Gaiser midway through the final leg on the 4x5km course and Austria crossed in 49 minutes, 52.6 seconds. Germany, meanwhile, was left to ponder whether it made the wrong move by gambling and going with strongest skier Bjoern Kircheisen out of the starting gate, rather than as the anchor. The silver-medalist Germans led after the morning's second round of jumping but finished 15.3 seconds behind the Austrians in the cross country race that was delayed for a day because of high winds.

"We flirted with a gold medal," said Germany's Georg Hettich, the nation's No. 2 skier who won gold in the normal hill individual event Saturday.

Defending champion Finland took the bronze, 26.8 seconds behind Austria.

Germany had a 10-second lead over Austria after the wind-delayed second jump and led for most of the cross country race, widening its advantage to as much as 47 seconds following the second exchange.

"I think it was a big-time tactical error for them putting their weakest guy last," Van Loan said. "Their goal was to get a huge lead and take it from there, but it's hard to do that when you're out there by yourself."

Van Loan didn't argue for his own performance. He acknowledged being the least-productive member of the U.S. team, which also included Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong, and struggling on his jumps. But he didn't appreciate the public shots from Lodwick, who is competing in his fourth and final Olympics at age 29 and will retire after two more World Cup events.

"It was not my best performance and I'm sorry to the team I let them down," Van Loan said. "That's the best I had and I gave it everything. Todd is not a team player and never has been. He has threatened to not ski this event because of selfish reasons."

Lodwick, who like Van Loan has exercise-induced asthma, does much of his training on his own under personal coach Tom Steitz.

"That's something we deal within the team," said Spillane, a close friend of Van Loan. "After the jumping, we used this as preparation for the next competition. It was really over after the jumping. It's a big disappointment."

U.S. coaches Bard Elden and Dave Jarrett stood behind their choice to go with Van Loan over either Brett or Eric Camerota, 21-year-old twins in their first Olympics.

"Hindsight is 20-20 and that's easy to say now," Jarrett said. "Last year, Carl did a great job in Oberstdorf. If he was jumping now the way he did then, we'd have been right up there."

The Americans were fourth in this event in the Salt Lake City Olympics and had high hopes of a medal.

"We had three extra guys and we thought that was strength," Elden said. "Unfortunately, they weren't able to pull each other close enough. We're a team here. I don't want to talk about any weak links."

By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer
Thursday, Feb 16, 2006

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Vasaloppet 90 km / 45 km ski marathon – 05 March 2006 - 22:00
Alpine Ski World Cup general standing – 24 April 2006 - 13:13
Southern ski championships 2006 – 30 September 2006 - 12:56
FIS Autumn Technical Committee Meetings underway – 30 September 2006 - 13:00
Alpine World Cup openers canceled due to heavy rainfall, warm weather – 24 October 2006 - 23:37

OLYMPIC DAY 5 – 17 February 2006 - 00:39
OLYMPIC DAY 4 – 15 February 2006 - 15:33
OLYMPIC DAY 2 – 12 February 2006 - 15:55
WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES OPENING ! – 11 February 2006 - 19:03
Kostelic wins final race before Olympics – 06 February 2006 - 12:28

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