Hockey gods and bobs make it Canada's day

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By Mary Milliken

In a country where hockey is religion, Canadians rejoiced to be back on the medal track in Winter Games venue Vancouver where maple leaf-clad fans poured into the streets three days after a demoralizing loss to the Americans.

"We actually had doubts, about the game with Russia, but they won, and how," said Mindy Mahil, a fan perched on a fountain waving a large red-and-white flag.

Canada's happiness was compounded minutes later as two of the women's bobsleigh teams took the top two medals, the gold going to Kaillie Humphries in a thrilling final that saw a highly rated German team flip over on the fast ice track.

With a gold that takes Canada to the top of the medal table alongside the United States and Germany, two silvers, a bronze and the big hockey win, Wednesday was Canada's day.

Day 12 of the Winter Games had its notable losers too.

South Korea were disqualified while they were celebrating what they thought was their victory in women's short track 3,000 meters relay.

The gold went to China, while the Koreans' cheers turned to tears and they rushed past reporters without stopping to explain what referees deemed a push in the relay exchange.

It was also a disappointing day for top American skier Lindsey Vonn, the downhill gold medalist who crashed out on a fog-enveloped giant slalom and broke her little finger.

The giant slalom second leg fell prey to poor weather and will run instead on Thursday morning, with no Vonn and little hope for team mate and defending champion Julia Mancuso.

In a different type of skiing, Australia's Lydia Lassila flew and spun her way to Olympic gold in women's freestyle aerials, cleanly landing two of the hardest jumps of the day.

"Ever since I started this sport, I wanted to jump like a man," said Lassila, when asked why she tried such a difficult jump on her first effort.


For all of Canada's medal stash, no Olympic honor is more coveted than the gold one in men's hockey.

"You want to do well because you're proud and because you think hockey is Canada's game," said Canada coach Mike Babcock after Wednesday's win.

"Now it's pretty obvious it's the world's game but we still think it's ours and I'm a bit of a redneck so I like to think it's ours.

After losing to the United States in the final round of preliminary matches on Sunday, Babcock told the nation the team had chosen to take a "longer route" to get where they wanted to be. And so far, he was right, and it has been pretty scenic.

Forced to play an extra match to qualify for the quarter-finals, Canada dispatched Germany 8-2 on Tuesday. Twenty four hours later, they lined up for a mouthwatering clash with Russia and dominated from start to finish.

Canada will face Slovakia, who knocked out 2006 Turin gold medalist Sweden in a 4-3 thriller.

The United States was the first team to reach the semi-finals when they beat Switzerland 2-0 on Wednesday, both goals coming from Zach Parise. The Americans will face Finland for a place in the final.


Heavy fog at Whistler mountain forced the postponement of the women's giant slalom until Thursday morning. Austrian Elisabeth Goergl was leading France's Taina Barioz by 0.02 seconds.

Vonn's fall wreaked havoc on Mancuso, who was forced to stop her run with Vonn still on the course and make a new run later in worse snow conditions.

The two-time silver medalist at these Games finished back in 18th place and left the course in tears.

"I know that she is mad and probably frustrated and probably mad at me but I can't help that I fell," Vonn said.

"I wanted to finish, I was having a great run and wish I could have come down and not have her be flagged and that is absolutely not what I wanted."

Merchandisers had been cashing in on her appeal by selling t-shirts and baseball caps with Vonn-Couver emblazoned on them, but she has failed to live up to the hype.

She defied a painful shin injury to win gold in the women's downhill and a bronze in the super-G, but blew her chances of adding to her medal haul by falling in her two other events.

Despite the broken pinkie, Vonn is expected to race in the final women's Alpine event, the slalom scheduled for Friday.

As the Games enter the final stretch, two athletes accumulated their second gold medal. Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic won the women's 5,000 meters speedskating gold while Marcus Hellner led Sweden to a surprise victory in the men's cross country relay.

(Editing by Miles Evans)