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Maelle Ricker shines but it's a "black day" for some

By Mary Milliken

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's Winter Olympics came under further fire on Tuesday after a slew of problems -- some man-made and others purely down to Mother Nature -- threatened to take the focus away from a memorable home triumph.

Snowboarder Maelle Ricker won Canada's second Olympic gold medal on Day Four, a first for its women on home soil, by carving her way through a rain-soaked cross course where humiliating wipe-outs were the order of the day.

The 31-year-old's triumph was one of the few bright spots for Winter Games host Canada, coming under increasing criticism for its handling of weather-wracked events and equipment mishaps like unreliable ice resurfacing machines.

Malfunctions affected athletes, fans and possibly even medals. Timing errors were reported in biathlon skiing, prompting one official to call it "the blackest day ever".

More fog and snow up at Whistler mountain forced the postponement of the men's super combined slalom until Sunday and a major reshuffling in the men's Alpine skiing events.

On Cypress Mountain, the lightning rod for weather-related complaints after the warmest January on record, more than a dozen women snowboarders' careered off a course likened to "mashed potatoes" by American favorite Lindsey Jacobellis. She fell and failed to make it into the medal final.

While Games organizers said there was little they could do about the weather, they still faced a barrage of questions over mishaps and, far worse, the death of a Georgian luger in a horrific training crash on Friday.

UNSTABLE GROUND

Adding to their woes, organizers refunded tickets for 28,000 standing freestyle and snowboard spectators worth C$1.4 million due to unstable ground.

At Whistler's biathlon course, it was not weather, but rather problems with the stopwatch.

A timing error in the women's biathlon pursuit may have cost Sweden's Anna Carin Oloffson-Zidek a medal, since she left 14 seconds too late, and a similar blunder affected the men's race. Times were adjusted and should stand.

That overshadowed the biathlon gold medals that went to Germany's Magdalena Neuner in the women's race and to Sweden's Bjorn Ferry in the men's.

Finally, to complete this day of foul-ups a third-placed competitor in the women's luge was forced to delay her final run because a photographer had accidentally set off a hydrant, briefly flooding part of the course.

It was that kind of day and, to an extent, has been that kind of Games.

On the other hand, although the Games has yet to witness its first world record, when the weather and human mess-ups did not interfere, fans were treated to scintillating, world class performances throughout the day and evening.

In women's speed skating 500 meters, South Korea's Lee Sang-hwa edged out world champion Jenny Wolf of Germany and Tatjana Huefner of Germany triumphed in the women's luge,

Those medals put South Korea and Germany at the top of the medals table with Switzerland on three golds apiece, while the United States, France, Sweden and Canada all have two golds.

RICKER'S REVENGE

Ricker's win on the hills above her native Vancouver was sweet revenge for her compatriot Mike Robertson who was edged out by American Seth Wescott for gold the day before.

"I'm so overwhelmed, I can't even believe it," Ricker said after winning before a wildly happy Canadian crowd. "The way my day started ... and the way it all went through." She had fallen in her opening qualifier but took the opportunity on her second run to progress on her route to eventual gold.

The ice hockey competition, in which Canada is a favorite to take gold, started to heat up, and not only because of what was happening in the rink.

The International Olympic Committee told U.S. goalkeeper Ryan Miller to take "Miller Time" off his mask since it is a popular beer slogan and his teammate Jonathan Quick to remove a 'Support Our Troops' slogan for contravening Olympic rules on political propaganda.

Miller moved past the controversy and helped his team to a 3-1 win over Switzerland. Canada crushed Norway 8-0. Russia, their major rivals for gold, also made short work of Latvia, winning 8-2.

Canada also look like they meant serious business in the men's curling competition which is more than many casual observers would have said of the Norwegian team they opposed in their opening encounter.

The visitors took to the ice in trousers of eccentric design; a harlequin pattern of red, white and blue, drawing stiffled sniggers and smirks from competitors and fans alike.

Once the action started, though, the Norwegians showed they were certainly no clowns on ice and pushed the fancied Canadians hard before succumbing 7-6 before they beat the U.S. 6-5 in their second match. Canada also defeated Germany 9-4.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)