Sunday, February 14, 2010

2010 Vancouver Olympics: Day 3

The Czech Republic won its first Olympic medal in speed skating today, and it was a gold won by 22 year old powerhouse Martina Sablikova. The performance was impressive with her consistency in lap times solidifying her place on the podium; she looked as ready to go on the last lap as she did on the first. All of her lap times were under 32 seconds with the exception of her last lap. Sablikova's trademark is her turns and she was the favorite going into this event. Second place was won by Stephanie Beckert of Germany who closed the gap on bronze medal winner Kristina Groves of the host country; Beckert finished a whole two seconds later than Sablikova. The defending gold medalist, Ireen Wust of the Netherlands finished in a disappointing 7th place.

Ladies' 3000m
1. Gold-- Martina Sablikova, Czech Republic 4:02:53
2. Silver-- Stephanie Beckert, Germany 4:04:62
3. Bronze-- Kristina Groves, Canada 4:04:84

The Americans managed to win their first medal in the Nordic combined, an event dominated since its inception by Europeans. The silver medal was captured by Johnny Spillane who held onto the lead until the final straightaway when Jason Lamy Chappuis, who was born in Montana but has always raced for France, pulled ahead and finished strong. Spillane seemed quite satisfied with silver and said, "I was really tired." Italy's Alessandro Pittin took the bronze; Americans occupied three of the top six spots in this event (a first in history).

Men's Nordic Combined
1. Gold-- Jason Lamy Chappuis, France, time: 25:01:1
2. Silver-- Johnny Spillane, U.S.A., time: 25:03:5
3. Bronze-- Alessandro Pittin, Italy, time: 24:59:9

It took a few days but the Canadians finally have their first Olympic gold won by a Canadian on home soil. Alexandre Bilodeau took gold in the men's moguls; he says he won it for his brother Frederic who suffers from cerebral palsy and sat in his wheelchair cheering from the stands. Bilodeau tore through the course with the fastest time, 23.17, besting the defending Olympic champion Dale Begg Smith, Vancouver born, but competing for Australia. Bilodeau said he couldn't believe that he won, and said, "it's too good to be true." Bryon Wilson of the United States finished in third, the 21 year old from Utah impressed judges with his level of difficulty on jumps. He and gold medalist Bilodeau were the only two men who attempted a back flip with two twists on the top jump (both of them executed the move cleanly).

Men's Moguls
1. Gold-- Alexandre Bilodeau, Canada, 26.75
2. Silver-- Dale Begg Smith, Australia, 26.58
3. Bronze-- Bryon Wilson, U.S.A., 26.08

Pairs Figure Skating: Standings following short program
1. Xue Shen/ Hongbo Zhao, China, 76.66
2. Aliona Savchenko/ Robin Szolkowy, Germany, 75.96
3. Yuko Kavaguti/ Alexander Smirnov, Russian Federation, 74.16
4. Qing Pang/ Jian Tong, China, 71.50
5. Dan Zhang/ Hao Zhang, China, 71.28

The story of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao is appropriate on Valentine's Days, because their story is a love story essentially. The two have been skating together for 18 years; Xue was 13 and Hongbo was 18 when they began the journey that is their skating career; they were handpicked by Chinese skating coach Yao Bin. The two competed in the Salt Lake Games as well as the Torino Games and won a bronze medal at both, but their dream was gold. The duo had struggled at the Torino Games because Hongbo had just returned from injury; he has ruptured his Achilles tendon months earlier. Shen and Zhao thought that they wouldn't even be able to compete, but miraculously won bronze. In 2007, they returned to greatness capturing the World Championship title, married, and announced their retirement from the sport they so loved. Hongbo says he grew closer to Xue during his injury; she supported him, and that's when their relationship began to change. A year ago, they decided as a couple to return to amateur competition with the hopes of competing in the 2010 Olympics. Hongbo says if they don't win the gold this time around, they will have no regrets even though they had to put their marriage on hold living in training facilities in China. The two say they are truly a couple on the ice and they have experience and maturity to help their performance. Hongbo is currently the oldest member of the Chinese Olympic team at 36 (Xue is 31); he says his desire to win the gold brought him back.

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