No miracle needed-U.S. holds on

Saturday, February 23, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- This time, the Russians knew just who to blame for an Olympic failure: The U.S. hockey team.

The Americans, 22 years to the day after the infamous "Miracle on Ice" victory in Lake Placid, nipped the Russians 3-2 to reach the gold medal game for the first time since 1980. Among those cheering the U.S. team on: 1980 captain Mike Eruzione.

The nail-biting U.S. victory followed threats by the Russians to sit out the game over alleged bias against its athletes in a variety of Olympic events: figure skating, freestyle aerials and hockey. The Russians backed off those threats Friday.

But this game wasn't decided by Olympic officials; the Americans took matters into their own hands. A first period goal by Bill Guerin gave the United States a 1-0 lead they never surrendered, although the Russians closed to 3-2 with a pair of goals in the first 2:21 of the third period.

Phil Housley scored what turned out to be the winning goal.

"As a hockey player, you couldn't pray to be in a better position than this," winning goalie Mike Richter said after the victory.

The Americans will play Sunday against Canada in an all-North America gold medal game. The winner will still have two less golds than Croatian skier Janica Kostelic, who captured her third Salt Lake City gold with a dominating performance in the women's giant slalom.

Canada had a much easier time than the Americans in its semifinal.

Playing one day after its women took the gold medal in a victory over the United States, Canada blasted outmanned Belarus 7-1.

Belarus, with just one NHL player, was helpless against the Canadian offensive onslaught, which included goals from NHL stars Steve Yzerman, Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya, among others. The Canadian men -- this year's team was assembled by retired superstar Wayne Gretzky -- have not won the gold in their national sport since 1952.

Canada reached the Olympic final without beating any of the other top five teams: the United States, Sweden, the Czech Republic or Russia. Their only other victories were over Finland and Germany.

Russia and Belarus will play for the bronze.

Friday's other highlights:

WOMEN'S GIANT SLALOM: Kostelic made history with her fourth medal -- and third gold -- in Salt Lake City. She now stands with immortals Jean-Claude Killy and Toni Sailer as the only Alpine skiers with three golds in a single Olympics.

"It's great, but you know, someone is going to break that record soon," said Kostelic, oblivious to the fact that Killy last accomplished the triple in 1968 -- 14 years before she was born.

Kostelic, 20, was a long shot for any medals after coming off three operations on her left knee. But she dominated the competition in the giant slalom, winning by more than a second in a race often decided by hundredths of a second.

She had already won gold in the slalom and the combined, and a silver in the super giant slalom.

Sweden's Anja Paerson won the giant slalom silver, adding to the bronze she won in Wednesday's slalom. World champion Sonja Nef of Switzerland was third.

JUDGING CONTROVERSY: One day after threatening to leave Salt Lake City entirely, Russian officials stayed around long enough to protest the decision that gave figure skater Irina Sluskaya a silver Thursday night.

The International Skating Union took less than a day to reject the protest, which asked that Slutskaya share the gold medal with American gold medalist Sarah Hughes.

"We think the judging was biased," said Viktor Mamotov, the head of the Russian delegation. "Canadian pairs skaters were awarded their gold medals. Now that subjective judging harmed us, we want the same for Slutskaya."

The Russians threatened to leave the Olympics because of perceived bias from officials and judges in skating, cross-country skiing and hockey. That rhetoric toned down on Friday, and their presence through Sunday seemed assured.

South Korean officials, who had threatened to boycott Sunday's closing ceremony over a disqualification in short-track speedskating, also backed off their threat. Their protest will be heard by the Court for Arbitration in Sport, an independent panel.

In that case, American Apolo Anton Ohno took a gold after South Korea's Kim Dong-sung -- who finished first -- was disqualified for blocking.

BOBSLED: The last time the American men won a bobsledding medal, Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. Todd Hays, captain of the U.S. four-man team, is halfway home in his efforts to snap the streak.

Hays and company were the leaders Friday after the first two heats in event.

The Americans have won gold in the last three events -- women's bobsled and men's and women's skeleton -- on the Utah Olympic Park course.

Hays leads both Switzerland-1 and Germany-2 by .09 seconds entering Saturday's final two heats.

SPEEDSKATING: Another day, another record at the Utah Olympic Oval.

Jochem Uytdehaage of the Netherlands won the gold medal with a world record in the 10,000 meters, the seventh world record in nine events on the world's fastest ice. It was his second gold medal of the games.

The Dutchman became the first man ever to break the 13-minute barrier, skating 12 minutes, 58.92 in the grueling 25-lap race.

Uytdehaage upset countryman Gianni Romme, who took the silver. Norway's Lasse Saetre won the bronze.

U.S. skater Derek Parra, a double medalist at the games, finished 13th out of the 16 skaters.


-- NORDIC COMBINED: What's better than two gold medals? Three gold medals -- just ask Finland's Samppa Lajunen.

Lajunen completed a sweep of the three Nordic combined events by finishing first in the sprint.

Lajunen led after Thursday's ski-jumping competition, and stayed in front for yet another Salt Lake City win. Germany's Ronny Ackerman finished second after the 7.5-kilometer cross-country race, with Felix Gottwald of Austria taking the bronze.

American Todd Lodwick started 12th but finished fifth, the best showing ever by an American in the sport. Lodwick's seventh in this year's Olympic individual competition was the previous best.


-- CURLING: The gold medal in men's curling went to Norway with its 6-5 victory over favored Canada. With King Harald of Norway watching from the stands, Paal Trulsen's team pulled off the upset in front of a heavily pro-Canadian crowd.

Switzerland beat Sweden 7-3 for the men's curling bronze, with Swedish captain Peja Lindholm conceding after a ninth end medal-clinching toss by Swiss captain Andreas Schwaller.

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