SALT LAKE CITY – Like an inversion above the Utah valley, the contentious debate over judging in the pairs figure skating lingered over the Olympics for a fourth day — although it lifted a bit when U.S. skater Tim Goebel grabbed a well-deserved bronze.
The 21-year-old, in his first Olympics, captured his medal in a contest devoid of the animosity that accompanied the judging in the pairs skating. He stumbled just once during his routine, and landed his signature move — a quad jump — three times, a feat never before accomplished in the Olympics.
"I feel great," Goebel said. "I skated as well as I can skate, and I was just so happy to go out there and put it out under pressure."
Gold medalist Alexei Yagudin of Russia received four perfect 6.0s for artistry — and nobody complained at all. The silver went to his teammate, Evgeni Plushenko of Russia. And the crowd cheered all the winners, unlike the boos that rained down after the pairs decision.
The Thursday night competition was a respite from the flap over the earlier skating medal. The latest rumblings: perhaps a gold medal for both the Russian winners and the Canadian runners-up in Monday night's much-maligned result.
The International Olympic Committee wouldn't rule out twin golds as a means to end the judging controversy that has marred the sport and dominated the Winter Games.
"The IOC will consider any request from the ISU," said president Jacques Rogge, referring to the International Skating Union.
The ISU head responded that it would be "very difficult" but "not impossible" to award the gold to Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who narrowly lost to the Russians in a questionable vote.
"Nothing is impossible," Ottavio Cinquanta told NBC Sports.
Earlier Thursday, the ISU had ignored IOC pressure and refused to speed up its timetable for investigating the judging of the pairs figure skating.
The ISU executive board will conduct a meeting Monday as scheduled, with no decision until then, said Cinquanta.
"It is a legal hearing on an appeal," Cinquanta said, adding the date would not be changed for a ruling on the gold medal awarded to Russian couple Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze despite their obvious technical error in Monday's competition.
The silver went to Canada's Sale and Pelletier. The Canadian Olympic Association subsequently appealed to the ISU to hold an independent investigation of the judging. And a French Olympic official said a judge from his delegation was "somewhat manipulated" before casting her vote.
International Olympic Committee director general Francois Carrard said Thursday that Olympic officials wouldn't demand the ISU move any faster.
The figure skating flap went on even as another group of skaters prepared for the men's free program Thursday night.
Germany remained atop the top of the medals chart with 15 (4 gold, 7 silver, 4 bronze). The Americans were second with 11 (3-5-3), ahead of Norway (5-5-0) and Austria (1-2-7).
The most medals the Americans have ever won in a Winter Olympics is 13.
SPEEDSKATING: For another Canadian skater, a gold medal came much easier Thursday — and she won't have to share it with anyone.
Speedskater Catriona Le May Doan zipped to a controversy-free gold medal Thursday, winning her second straight Olympic 500-meter race. She easily defeated the rest of the field in becoming only the second women ever to win two straight 500s.
She easily defeated a pair of Germans. Monique Garbrecht-Enfeldt of won the silver, and teammate Sabine Volker took the bronze.
Le May Doan, on her victory lap, carried a Canadian flag and donned a cowboy hat — a gift from her husband Bart Doan, a rodeo cowboy and icemaker at the Calgary Olympic Oval.
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING: Johann Muehlegg of Spain needed no judges to confirm the cross-country skiing medal that was his second in Salt Lake City.
Muehlegg, who became a Spanish citizen after a 1998 split with the German ski federation, was so far ahead after the first portion of the pursuit that even his competition ceded the gold.
"We knew we couldn't catch Muehlegg, so the race was on for the silver," said Frode Estil of Norway, who tied with teammate Thomas Alsgaard to share that medal. A last-second lunge by Alsgaard created the tie.
Muehlegg finished nearly 30 seconds ahead of the Norwegians. His first medal came in the 30K freestyle event.
WOMEN'S COMBINED: High winds and fog turned things upside down in the ski race, with the slalom runs done first and the downhill delayed until later. When the fog cleared, 20-year-old Janica Kostelic was the winner — and Croatia had its first Winter Games medal ever.
Renate Goetschl of Austria won the silver, and Martina Ertl of Germany won the bronze. American medal hopeful Caroline Lalive, the seventh-place finisher in 1998, dropped out after a fall in the slalom.
SNOWBOARDING: Sorry, dude — the flow of U.S. snowboarding medals has stopped.
In the women's parallel giant slalom, Lisa Kosglow was the only one of four Americans to qualify for the finals — and that included star racer Rosey Fletcher, who failed to make the cut. Kosglow finished seventh of the 16 qualifiers.
Among the U.S. men, only Chris Klug — 11th of out 16 — reached the finals. Klug, 29, received a liver transplant just two years ago after battling a rare disease.
WOMEN'S HOCKEY: The U.S. women, defending gold medalists, clinched a medal round berth with a 12-1 victory over China. Cammi Granato posted her first Olympic hat trick as the Americans won their second straight game.
Joining the Americans in the medal round were Finland, Sweden and No. 1 seed Canada, the silver medalists in Nagano. Eliminated in the preliminary round were China, Kazakstan, Russia and Germany, with a combined 0-8 mark.
CURLING: The U.S. women, after winning their first two games, have now lost three straight and may not reach the medal round. A 9-4 loss to Denmark, followed later in the day by a 7-6 loss to Switzerland, could leave the Americans on the outside looking in. Only the top four teams in the 10-team round-robin tournament make medal play.
"We can't afford to lose anymore," U.S. skip Kari Erickson said.
The U.S. men are 2-3 after beating Switzerland Thursday.
NORDIC COMBINED: The men's 90-kilometer Nordic combined team jumping was postponed by high winds. It was tentatively rescheduled for Saturday, weather permitting.