Saturday, February 13, 2010

First gold, four U.S. medals on Saturday night

Posted By on Sat, Feb 13, 2010 at 9:35 PM

At the end of the 2010 Winter Olympics' first full day, the United States and Colorado Springs have much reason to cheer. But the route to America's first medals in Vancouver turned out to be anything but typical Saturday night.

Hannah Kearney of Norwich, Vt., bounced through wind, rain and fog to edge Canada's Jennifer Heil for the ladies' moguls gold medal at Cypress Mountain, with fellow American Shannon Bahrke taking third. Kearney, who also had led qualifying, was the favorite in 2006 at Torino but finished 22nd.

Earlier in the night, entering the final turn of the men's 1,500-meter short-track speedskating final, Apolo Anton Ohno and U.S. teammate J.R. Celski were running fourth and fifth with South Koreans in the top three spots. But two of the Koreans got tangled up and fell, opening the way for Ohno to race past them for the silver and Celski for the bronze.

Korean Lee Jung-Su won the gold medal in a time of 2:17.611, with Ohno at 2:17.976 and Celski at 2:18.053.

It was Ohno's sixth career Olympic medal, tying him with former U.S. star Bonnie Blair as the most decorated U.S. winter-sport athletes in history.

After the race, he held up six fingers in the air to signify his feat, then took a U.S. flag from his father and skated around the Pacific Coliseum rink with it. Ohno, a Seattle native, spent much of his career living and training in Colorado Springs, but he has been training in Utah with the national team prior to these Winter Games.

Ohno had conserved his energy well in his first heat and semifinal, staying back until charging late to advance. He was more aggressive in the final, actually leading at several points in the race until the Koreans took command, setting up the unexpected finish.

Then the focus switched to Cypress Mountain, where the final moguls run actually was threatened by the deteriorating weather. But the rain lightened up and the field of 27 skiers tackled the course.

Bahrke, who was fifth in the afternoon qualifying, turned in an aggressive run to grab the lead entering the final group. Another American, Heather McPhie of Bozeman, Mont., appeared to be headed for a tremendou run but then fell after her second jump, just seconds from the finish.

Heil came next, with the large crowd hoping she would become the first Canadian ever to win a gold medal on Canada soil. She was superb, with a great run marred only by a single flaw, but it put her ahead of Bahrke with only Kearney remaining.

However, Kearney rose to the moment herself, racing down the hill in the night's fastest time, 27.86 seconds, and receiving enough technical credit from the judges to barely edge Heil for the victory.

And with the four medals, the United States leads the medal standings going into Sunday.

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