Brit gold at last but hosts try to spoil party

By Mary Milliken

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Amy Williams claimed an extremely rare metal for Britain on Friday -- gold at the Winter Olympics -- on a day when the Norwegians shone even brighter but many other nations seemed to be at each others' throats.

It was one more protest in a spate of challenges among rival nations who could ruin organizers' new upbeat mood, now that initial glitches and weather woes are clearing.

In the past two days, Austria has complained about a Swiss ski jumper's boot bindings and Russia and the United States are bitching at each other over men's skating gold denied to the great Yevgeny Plushenko. Even Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made a dig on that one.

Canada had reason to be disappointed. Home favorite Mellisa Hollingsworth clocked a terrible fourth run and finished a distant fifth with tears running down her face.

Canada did, however, get more than a consolation prize in the men's race when Jon Montgomery upset frontrunner Martins Dukurs in his bid for Latvia's first ever Winter Olympics gold.

Montgomery won by seven one hundredths of a second, less time than a human being takes to blink.

In contrast, Britain's medal is its first individual gold medal at a Winter Games in 30 years, the last one earned in 1980 by skater Robin Cousins.

"It's amazing. I feel like I am in a little bubble," Williams, known as "Curly Wurly" for her curly hair, told Reuters.


The ice cool speed queen of England had little tradition to slide on in her skeleton pursuit, while Hollinsgworth carried the weight of a nation with high hopes.

"It is just really hard," Hollingsworth said, tears streaking her red cheeks. "I feel like I have let my entire country down. It could have happened anywhere ... but it ended at the Olympic Games."

While Britain may garner only one gold at these Games, Norway continued to storm up the medals table.

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal flashed down Whistler mountain to win the men's super-G Alpine ski race and deny American Bode Miller an elusive gold medal.

Svindal's countrywoman Marit Bjoergen then became the first competitor to win two gold medals in Vancouver when she won the lung-bursting 15 kilometer cross-country pursuit after taking the sprint classic two days ago.

Svindal added a gold to the silver medal he won in the downhill earlier in the week with a breathtaking run inspired by Norwegian skiing greats who have made Norway the ruler in super-G.

"I don't think it's about Norway, I think it's more about amazing athletes," said Svindal.

The United States remains at the top of the Games' gold tally with six medals to Norway's five, while Germany and Canada follow with four.

In Alpine skiing alone, these Olympic Games are increasingly becoming America's Games.

Miller did not win the super-G gold, but he did get silver and countryman Andrew Weibrecht claimed bronze. They took the joint men's and women's medal count to six medals, the same as "Rest of the World" after three events.


"It's kind of like the U.S. championships," said Ted Ligety, the defending Olympic champion in combined.

In skating, it was very much the United States versus Russia as the dispute over the men's figure skating gold spilled into day two of the competition.

Putin weighed into the bitter dispute between Yevgeny Plushenko and his American conqueror Evan Lysacek by declaring the Russian's silver medal as a gold in his eyes.

Plushenko said he did not regard Lysacek as a worthy winner because he was unable to perform a quadruple jump but the American was unimpressed by the former champion's rant.

"If it was a jumping competition, there'd be no music, they'd give you 10 seconds to do your best jump and that would be it," Lysacek told a news conference on Friday.

The International Ski Federation also dismissed an Austrian complaint about the boot bindings used by Swiss ski jumping champion Simon Ammann as the two rival nations traded insults.

Organizers nevertheless began the day in a markedly brighter mood after a tough series of events, including the death of a Georgian luger before the Games opening on Friday.

"It is certainly not a case of we told you so but we sort of told you so," said International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams, as he saw predictions of doom and gloom lift with fans flooding into Vancouver in ever increasing numbers and making it a truly Olympic party city.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)