Russian skaters win pure gold

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

TURIN, Italy -- No soap opera, folks. This Russian pair deserved its Olympic gold medal.

Four years after the pairs finale was torn apart by a judging scandal that tainted the entire Salt Lake City Games, the free skate Monday night was downright tame.

No boos. No catcalls. No questions.

And the only one crying at the end was Tatiana Totmianina as she and partner Maxim Marinin stood on the medals podium.

"I'm just thrilled with everything," Totmianina said. "We did everything that we can do, we skated clean and got the gold medal."

The two-time world champions won it in a rout, finishing 14.75 points over China's Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao and ruining all the fun for those conspiracy theorists. Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China won a second straight bronze medal.

U.S. champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin finished seventh, the best full-field international finish for a U.S. pair since the 2002 worlds. Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem were 13th.

The huge margin -- 14.75 points over China's Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao -- also erased thoughts of any judging improprieties in the first Olympic pairs event since the 2002 Salt Lake City scandal that led to the new code of points system.

Zhang and Zhang showed incredible courage and stamina. Skating last, Zhang Dan fell in a split while attempting an unprecedented throw quad salchow and doubled over in pain. Zhang Hao struggled to help her off the ice.

After a few minutes talking with coaches, Zhang Dan asked to continue. With the fans clapping in support, the event referee allowed it. Somehow, they nailed every element in the next four minutes.

Cheek speeds to gold

Joey Cheek skated the two best races of his career and came away an Olympic winner.

His victory in the men's 500 meters speekskating -- a furious sprint -- gave the United States its second speedskating gold medal of the Turin Games, adding to the one Chad Hedrick won in the 5,000 meters Saturday.

It was also the second straight 500 victory by an American in as many Olympics. Casey FitzRandolph won at Salt Lake City, but this time nearly fell in his first race and finished 12th.

Cheek skated 1 1/4 laps in 34.94 seconds, giving him a combined time of 1 minute, 9.76 seconds. He was the only one to break 35 seconds on the slow Turin ice -- and he did it in both races.

Dmitry Dorofeyev of Russia won the silver in 1:10.41 and Lee Kang Seok of South Korea earned a bronze in 1:10.43.

By finishing his first race nearly a half-second ahead of everyone, Cheek left little suspense about the outcome.

Kildow crashes in downhill

American gold medal contender Lindsey Kildow somehow escaped serious injury in a frightening free-fall crash on her downhill training run, moments after defending Olympic champion Carole Montillet-Carles of France was hurt in a spectacular fall.

It was a day of crashes -- four in all, including one that knocked Canadian Allison Forsyth out of the Olympics with a torn knee ligament. Kildow was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Turin. She has a severely bruised left hip.

Kildow's crash happened just eight skiers after Montillet-Carles of France lost control during a jump midway through her run and slammed into the protective fencing. She landed on her back and her head hit the snow. She was taken to a clinic in nearby Sestriere.

Montillet-Carles injured a rib, her back and face. She likely will not race Wednesday.

U.S. luger has bad wreck

U.S. luger Samantha Retrosi was injured following a frightening crash on the second run of the Olympic competition and was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Turin for observation.

Though she had a concussion and short-term memory loss, team officials said she wasn't seriously injured. She smacked the wall near the bottom of the track, then appeared unconscious as she slid underneath her sled.

Team officials said Retrosi was complaining of knee pain and was cut on her chin. A large drape was pulled across the curve of the track where Retrosi came to a stop, shielding her from view.

Retrosi's was one of several crashes during the opening day of the women's event.

Suspended skiers pass test

Four suspended cross-country skiers will get their chance at an Olympic medal, passing new tests administered after serving five-day suspensions for elevated levels of hemoglobin.

Two of the athletes cleared were Americans, another a German gold medalist. Now, eight more have to hope they get the same results.

Last week, a dozen skiers were given five-day suspensions for elevated levels of hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that can increase endurance. The rest chose to put off their tests because they weren't scheduled to compete in the men's and women's team sprint events today.

Second snowboard gold

Not to be outdone by the boys, Hannah Teter won gold and Gretchen Bleiler won silver -- another set of Olympic medals for the United States on the halfpipe.

Teter and Bleiler, the top two women in a distinctly American sport, dominated every part of the snowboarding event Monday -- from qualifying through finals -- and gave the United States four of the possible six medals over two days of snowboarding.

A day earlier, it was Shaun White and Danny Kass finishing 1-2, with Mason Aguirre in fourth.

And just like the men, the women came painfully close to a sweep. Kelly Clark got bumped out of the third spot by Norway's Kjersti Buaas.

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