Europe and Asia sweep medals as US falter
Vancouver: Lindsey Vonn and Shani Davis, two of the performers who helped rescue the Vancouver Olympics from a slew of bad publicity, were relegated to bit-part roles on a day of upsets and drama at the Winter Games on Saturday.
Vonn was beaten into third place by Austrian Andrea Fischbacher in the women`s super-G while Davis had to settle for silver behind flying Dutchman Mark Tuitert in the men`s 1500 metres speedskating final.
Norwegian world champion Petter Northug finished out of the medals in the men`s 30 kilometre cross country pursuit as Sweden`s Marcus Hellner snatched the title, and Chinese teenager Zhou Yang burst through the pack to win the women`s 1500 short track speed skating gold.
Only Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann and South Korean short track speed skater Lee Jung-su won gold as expected on the day where the Games reached the halfway stage.
"We are pleased after eight days," IOC Executive Director for the Games Gilbert Felli said. "Of course there are eight days left but there is no reason to believe that those eight days will not continue as normal."
More than 150,000 fans packed the streets of downtown Vancouver while the sounds of cowbells and woodpeckers provided the perfect backing vocals for the party atmosphere in the Whistler mountains.
Not that everyone was happy, with a protest by the Slovenian team adding to the ongoing complaints the organisers have faced about safety standards.
Questions about competitor safety have dominated these Olympics since Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in a training run a week ago and showed no signs of abating.
Fischbacher unleashed the finest performance of her life to upstage Vonn and her other big-name rivals and win the first major title of her career.
"I like a tight course and I like a difficult race," said the 24-year-old, a distant cousin of retired double Olympic champion Hermann Maier.
Vonn could only manage third, adding a bronze to the gold she won in the downhill on Wednesday after defying injury and a treacherous course in one of the real fairytale moments of the opening week.
"I came here just hoping to get a medal and I got one gold," Vonn said. "This is just the icing on the cake."
Slovenia`s Tina Maze snatched the silver to appease her angry team officials who lodged an official protest after their leading cross-country skier Petra Majdic broke four ribs when she fell in a gully three days ago.
Majdic defied doctors` orders and unbearable pain to win a bronze in the women`s sprint classic, providing one of the most poignant memories of the Games, but was ruled out of the rest of the competition after x-rays confirmed the severity of her injuries.
Ammann`s victory in the ski jump came after Austrian team officials withdrew a threat to protest against his modified boot bindings which they thought gave him an unfair advantage.
Unfazed by the saga, Ammann became the first man to win four individual ski jump gold medals when he added the large hill title to his two golds from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and his win in the normal hill earlier in the week.
He won easily after two massive leaps with Poland`s Adam Malysz taking the silver and Austria`s Gregor Schlierenzauer the bronze in a repeat of the placings of the normal hill.
Davis was an overwhelming favourite to win the speedskating after successfully defending his 1,000m earlier in the week but could not match the powerful effort of Tuitert of the Netherlands. Third place went to Norway`s Havard Bokko.
"These things happen for a reason and I am sure there is a lesson to learn," said Davis, who was also runner-up in the 1,500m at the last Olympics. "I will learn that lesson and will be back in four years."
Hellner produced a stunning late burst to win his lung-busting event, charging clear of a tight bunch of four skiers on the final loop, then being congratulated by Sweden`s King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia.
He crossed the line first ahead of Germany`s Tobias Angerer and Swede Johan Olsson. Northug faded over the last kilometre to come home in 11th.
Zhou won the women`s 1500 short track final ahead of the South Korean pair of Lee Eun-byul and Park Seung-hi after favourite Wang Meng, who won the 500 final earlier in the week, was disqualified in the semi-finals for impeding in a crash near the end of the race.
South Korea won gold and silver in the men`s final, with Lee sticking his boot across the line just ahead of Lee Ho-suk.
American Apolo Anton Ohno picked up the bronze to become his country`s most decorated winter Olympian with his seventh medal in three Games, overtaking speedskater Bonnie Blair.
The U.S. retained their place at the top of the medals table despite ending the day as they began with six golds.
Norway were second with five while Germany, Canada and Switzerland each had four.
Another six medals will be decided on Sunday although the most eagerly-awaited event is the men`s ice hockey match between Canada and the U.S., prompting local police to bring in extra forces.