Spillane wins 1st US medal in Nordic combined, Bilodeau’s gold a big breakthrough for CanadaBy Jaime Aron, AP
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Spillane, Bilodeau end droughts for US, Canada
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. It’s still a terrific accomplishment, the kind 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.
His victory was the first by a Canadian in any event at an Olympics held in Canada. Although 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.
He moved into first with a swift, soaring run, then had to wait out one final foe. It proved worth the wait. 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.”
“I had it, I took it and now I belong to history,” Bilodeau said.
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.
Canada is catching up. The home team has three, with just as many golds as the United States. France is the only country with two gold medals.
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 and slower 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.
Tim Burke was supposed to challenge for a medal. Then came a heavy, wet snowfall that was tough enough to undo Norwegian great Ole Einar Bjoerndalen as well.
Bjoerndalen, winner of a record nine biathlon medals, had the worst finish of his Olympic career — 17th.
“When the snow came down, it was hopeless,” he said.
Burke, the first U.S. biathlete to lead the World Cup standings, wound up 47th.
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 and has been on the Winter Olympics program since 1924.
“After 86 years of trying we are actually legitimate,” U.S. coach Tom Steitz said. “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.
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