Foul weather gives ski events a soggy send-off

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By Mary Milliken

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Italy's Giuliano Razzoli whooshed through sleet and fog to lead in the first run of a tricky men's slalom race on Saturday that tripped up nearly half the racers including Olympic comeback kid Bode Miller.

Foul weather was sure to complicate the final full day of Winter Games competition, with bouts of hail and fog so thick that snowboard racers could barely make out the gates.

The chance to go for their most cherished gold was not the only reason for host nation Canada to celebrate.

Just days after lamenting its lack of medals, Canada stood atop the gold medal standings with 10 golds to nine for Germany and eight apiece for the United States and Norway.

Still, the Games' organisers had to contend with one more round of climate chaos in a three-week battle with Mother Nature.

The men's snowboard parallel giant slalom -- the final event on weather-challenged Cypress Mountain -- began as scheduled, but competitors complained of poor visibility.

"It's like riding by Braille," said American Chris Klug, who added that, despite the rain and fog, the snow quality and the course were actually really good.

The course may be fine, but some spectators turned around and walked back down the mountain after seeing the dismal conditions.


At the final Alpine event on Whistler mountain, the completion rate in the first slalom leg was just over 50 percent with top racers like Americans Ted Ligety and Miller skiing off course.

Miller, who came to the Games promising little and ended up with gold, silver and bronze, straddled a slalom gate in his final showing but goes home happy.

"I didn't have huge expectations for any of these results," said Miller after his truncated slalom run. "I was fired up and could not have been more happy.

"I leave here feeling that I really accomplished something," he said, adding that he will have to take some time off to heal a sore ankle.

Razzoli, who grew up admiring Italian Olympic champion Alberto Tomba, had a 0.43 second lead after the first run over Slovenia's Mitja Valencic.

The second slalom run, weather permitting, is scheduled for early afternoon.

Other medals in contention on Saturday are women's 30km cross country skiing, men's four-man bobsleigh, the men's curling final between Canada and Norway and the men's and women's team pursuits in speed skating.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)