Kim Yuna and Joannie Rochette shine on thin ice of emotion

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By Julian Linden

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - South Korea's Kim Yuna shrugged off the weight of expectation from her homeland to win figure skating gold on Thursday but Canada's Joannie Rochette won most hearts by overcoming heavy personal grief to claim a bronze medal.

An extraordinary day of raw human emotion and unrelenting drama at the Vancouver Winter Olympics also saw Norwegian cross country skier Marit Bjoergen become the first triple gold medalist of the Games and Canada win the women's ice hockey to join Germany and the United States at the top of the medal standings.

The Canadians beat the U.S. 2-0 to trigger wild celebrations at Canada Hockey Place -- and add to the suffocating pressure on the men's team to emulate their feat in the final event of the Games on Sunday.

It was the evening figure skating, however, which provided Thursday's icing on the cake after another day of enthralling action on all competition arenas.

Yuna, 19, showed poise and grace beyond her tender years to win the women's figure skating gold with a record total of 228.56 points, well clear of Japan's Mao Asada, who finished second, and Rochette, who maintained her composure to win the bronze just four days after her mother suddenly died.

"I do not see myself as a hero. When I stepped on to the ice I knew I had to be as cold as possible. My legs were shaking but my mother was there with me, giving me strength," an emotional Rochette told reporters.

"It was almost like a relief going on the ice. I needed to be in a state of mind where I was Joannie the athlete and not Joannie the person. I was shaking but I knew that I would leave everything on that ice."


Earlier, Bjoergen, 29, skied the last leg of the 4x5km relay in front of a packed grandstand where Norway's King Harald V was watching. She grabbed a Norwegian flag and skied without using poles in the final few meters to her fourth podium finish in four events.

"This has been so great. I had a dream of winning one gold medal and now I have three so this has been a wonderful Games for me," said Bjoergen.

With three in the top four after Wednesday's first run, the Austrians had looked set to win their first Olympic gold in the Alpine events at Whistler mountain but again came up short.

German Viktoria Rebensburg unexpectedly won the women's giant slalom, which was delayed 24 hours because of fog, after her parents had flown home following Wednesday's opening leg when she was in sixth place.

Elisabeth Goergl was first after the opening leg but found a soft course on the second run and ended up with her second bronze of the Games.

The silver went to Slovenia's Tina Maze, who finished just 0.04 seconds behind Rebensburg, a former junior world champion yet to win a World Cup race on the senior circuit.

Rebensburg weaved her way to the front with a dazzling second run to become Germany's first women's giant slalom champion in 54 years and second youngest Alpine gold medalist.

"It sounds so strange, it's unbelievable," she said. "I think it's going to take a few days for me to realize it."


After Finland beat Sweden 3-2 to claim the women's ice hockey bronze medal, Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin scored both goals in the first period of the final against the U.S.

Canada's men, watching from the stands, play Slovakia in Friday's men's semi-finals while the U.S. face off against Finland, setting up the possibility of a dream north American final on Sunday.

On the curling rink, Canada's women continued to clean up, advancing to the final against Sweden by beating Switzerland in a tense semi.

The Canadian men also booked their place in the final with a 6-3 win over Sweden to extend their unbeaten run. They next play Norway, who have developed a cult following in Vancouver with their diamond-print pants.

Belarus collected their first Winter Olympic gold when Alexei Grishin won the men's freestyle aerials at Cypress Mountain. Jeret Peterson of the U.S. took silver and China's Liu Zhongqing the bronze.

Away from the ice and snow, the U.S. Olympic Committee confirmed that American bobsleigh crew member Bill Schuffenhauer had been arrested and then released to compete in Friday's event.

Vancouver police had earlier said a U.S. Olympian had been arrested on Wednesday for assaulting his common law partner but did not name him.

A South Korean man was arrested too in Seoul for threatening to blow up the Australian Embassy after an Australian judge disqualified the South Korean women's short track team on Wednesday.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)