American Medal Count Reaches 21 With Bobsled Win

It took a gold from speedskater Derek Parra to meet U.S. Olympic medal expectations. It took another from its unheralded women's bobsled team to exceed them.

With Tuesday night's surprise medal from bobsledders Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers, the United States had collected 21 medals in the Winter Games — one more than the bold prediction made months ago by U.S. Olympic officials.

Flowers became the first black athlete in history to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

The Americans are assured of at least one more medal, with the women's hockey team reaching the gold medal game thanks to a 4-0 victory over Sweden. And Michele Kwan, a silver medalist in '98, was poised for possible figure skating gold — judges willing — with a first-place finish in the women's short program.

Tuesday's pair of gold medals, along with aerials skier Joe Pack's gravity-defying silver, pushed the Americans past the 20-medal goal with five full days left in the games.

For Parra, the 5-foot-4 Home Depot worker, the race of his life in the 1,500 meters brought his second medal of the games — a gold to go with his silver in the 5,000 meters.

"This is a fairy tale come true," Parra said. "I have a big heart, and that's it."

Parra zipped around the Utah Olympic Oval in world-record time, breaking the mark set an hour earlier by Jochem Uytdehaage of the Netherlands, who took the silver. Parra then took a slow victory lap — a pair of sunglasses perched on his head — waving to the crowd and clutching an American flag that belonged to his late grandfather.

Taking full advantage of their homefield advantage, the Americans now have six gold, eight silver and seven bronze medals — easily surpassing the previous best of 13, done in the last two Winter Games.

For Pack, who interacted constantly with the crowd at freestyle skiing, performing in front of an appreciative American audience provided an extra boost that other teammates have noticed, too.

"Unbelievable," he said. "I heard them yelling at the top ... To hear the crowd yell when I landed pushed me back probably 10 feet."

The Americans stayed second in the medals table with their 21 medals; their six goals equaled their most ever in a Winter Games, done four times previously. Germany remained atop the table with 28 (eight gold, 13 silver, seven bronze), with Norway in third with 17 (9-6-2).

WOMEN'S BOBSLED: Yes, the Americans won the gold medal, ending a 46-year drought in the sport. But it wasn't the Americans most folks expected on the medals stand.

U.S. favorites Jean Racine and Gea Johnson, subject of much pre-Olympic hype, finished fifth. It was their teammates, Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers, who scored a stunning victory and claimed the gold medal.

Racine wept once the race was over, congratulating her celebrating teammates from USA-2. "We didn't win, but America did," Racine said.

It was the first U.S. bobsled medal since a bronze by the four-man team in 1956. The silver went to Sandra Prokoff and brakewoman Ulrike Holzner of Germany, with the bronze going to a second German team of Susi Erdmann and Nicole Herschmann.

FIGURE SKATING: The 21-year-old Kwan turned in a near-perfect short program, skating to the lead after the first part of the two-part competition. The medals are handed out after Thursday's free skate, which is worth two-thirds of the final score.

Kwan edged ahead of her main rival, Irina Slutskaya of Russia, to take the top spot. Americans Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes finished in third and fourth places, respectively, raising the possibility of multiple U.S. medals in the event.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Pack — a regular Joe if there ever was one — twisted and soared to a silver medal in the aerials competition, winning after one of his teammates went from a gold medal to last place on a single blown jump.

Pack, 23, put the Americans back on the medal platform after the U.S. squad was shut out — for the only day of the Olympics — on Monday.

He's a hometown favorite, a football and soccer star at nearby Park City High School who can be seen riding his dirt bike around his adopted hometown once the snow melts.

Before the games, he had spoken about the boost he would get from the local crowd. He proved quite prescient; one of the fans waved a sign encouraging, "Go Huge Joe." After his first jump, Pack grabbed his ski like a guitar and mimed a few riffs for his audience.

"It was a great contest," he said.

A stunning miscalculation by defending aerials gold medalist Eric Bergoust left him on his back and in last place after his second jump. The gold medal went to Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic, while Alexei Grichin of Belarus won bronze.

WOMEN'S HOCKEY: It's a much-anticipated replay of four years ago: the United States and Canada, the two best teams in the world, in a showdown for the gold medal.

Cammi Granato had two goals and an assist to lead the Americans past Sweden 4-0, setting up the long-assumed rematch between the Canadians and their recent nemesis.

The Americans won the gold medal in Nagano and beat Canada in eight straight exhibitions before the 2002 games.

While the Americans won easily, things looked a little scary for the Canadians — and then, in the space of just six seconds, everything was all right again.

Trailing 3-2 to Finland in the third period, Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford scored breakaway goals just six seconds apart in a 7-3 victory that put the Canadians in the gold medal game.

Finland, the defending bronze medalist, faces Sweden in the bronze medal game.

In the game for seventh place, China beat Kazakstan 2-1 in overtime. Russia took fifth place with a 5-0 victory over Germany.

JUDGING: It's the latest craze in Salt Lake City: questioning the Olympic judges.

On Tuesday, it was the Lithuanians — fifth-place finishers in ice dancing — who filed a protest with the International Skating Union over the votes that dropped the pair in the standings during Monday night's finals.

And the Russian Olympic Committee fired off a letter to the International Ski Federation, complaining of biased judging in the freestyle aerials competition. Russian Olga Koroleva led after the first jump of the final Monday, but slipped to fourth after the second jump.

The new complaints came as ISU investigators interviewed a championship judge who allegedly witnessed a "confession" of a vote-swapping deal by the French woman in the middle of the judging scandal.

CROSS-COUNTY-SKIING: For the second time in as many Olympics, Julija Tchepalova of Russia has won a gold medal. This time, she did it much quicker.

Tchepalova, winner of the 30-kilometer freestyle in 1998, captured the first Olympic women's 1.5K cross-county sprint. It was her second Salt Lake City medal, along with the bronze she won in the 15K freestyle event.

Evi Sachenbacher of Germany won the silver and Anita Moen of Norway the bronze. Favored Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic lost in a qualifying heart.

In the men's 1.5K race, Tor Arne Hetland of Norway grabbed the lead in the final 100 meters to win his first gold medal in two Olympics. Peter Schlickenrieder of Germany won the silver and Cristian Zorzi of Italy won the bronze.

Americans Carl Swenson, Torin Koos, Lars Flora and Kris Freeman were all eliminated in the early heats.

WOMEN'S CURLING: Great Britain moved into the Olympic semifinals with a pair of tie-breaker victories. They eliminated Sweden 6-4, then did the same to Germany, 9-5. Next for Great Britain: a medal round game against powerful Canada.