German women grab pursuit gold

By Larry Fine

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Germany erased a one-second deficit on the final lap to edge past Japan by two-hundredths of a second and win the gold medal in the women's team pursuit on Saturday which closed the Olympic speedskating competition.

Japan, using skaters Masako Hozumi, Nao Kodaira and Maki Tabata, crossed the line of the six-lap, 2,400m race in 3:02.84.

Friesinger-Postma celebrated her fifth Olympic medal dating back to 1998 in Nagano, thrusting her arms in the air and joining her team mates for a victory lap around the Richmond Olympic Oval ice with two German flags stretched between them.

The 33-year-old German nearly scuppered her team's chances when she lost her balance around the last turn and fell to the ice when her legs gave out in the semi-final against the U.S.

After frantically paddling her way through the last 10 meters, she pounded the ice in disgust thinking she had caused a defeat that eliminated their golden hopes, before looking up in astonishment at a 0.23 second victory.

"It was like feeling up and down. It was a carousel," she told reporters. "I nearly messed it up. But we fought and we did it."

The bronze medal went to Poland, with Katarzyna Bachleda-Curus, Katarzyna Wozniak and Luiza Zlotkowska, who beat the United States team by 1.57 seconds when American Catherine Raney-Norman faded badly at the finish.

Poland's skaters carried their flag as well and in a good-natured tribute to the German veteran, they all dropped to the ice and slid on their bellies in a humorous salute.

The Japanese showed their joy at winning silver by holding hands and leaping on to the podium together.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)