By Julian Linden
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Lindsey Vonn and Shani Davis, two of the main performers who helped rescue the Vancouver Olympics from an avalanche of bad publicity, were relegated to bit-part roles on a day of extraordinary 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 meters speedskating final.
Norwegian world champion Petter Northug finished out of the medals in the men's 30 kilometer cross country pursuit as Sweden's Marcus Hellner snatched the gold, leaving Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann as the only expected winner on the day as the Games reached the halfway stage.
"We are pleased after eight days, of course there are eight days left, but there is no reason to believe that those eight days will not continue as normal," IOC Executive Director for the Games Gilbert Felli told reporters.
While most of the favorites may have bombed out on Saturday, the familiar strains of Europe's national anthems helped bring a sense of familiarity to an Olympics that began slowly but were building unstoppable momentum.
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 organizers 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.
The 24-year-old produced a flawless display in a tricky event that incorporates the daredevil speeds of downhill with the technical requirements of giant slalom.
"I like a tight course and I like a difficult race," said Fischbacher, 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 most memorable moments of the Games.
"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 provide some better news for 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.
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 favorite 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.
Hellner produced a stunning late burst to win the lung-busting cross country pursuit, charging clear of a tight bunch of four skiers on the final loop.
The U.S. retained their place at the top of the medals table despite the surprise defeats of Vonn and Davis. With two medals still to be decided on Saturday, the Americans led the way with six golds, from Norway on five and Germany, Canada and Switzerland each on four.
(Editing by Miles Evans)