Snowboardcross steals spotlight from downhill

VANCOUVER: Snowboarders took on Alpine skiers on Monday in a scheduling clash at the Vancouver Games and may have beaten them in the excitement stakes.

American Seth Wescott’s come-from-behind win in the men’s snowboardcross finals was every bit as compelling as Swiss skier Didier Defago’s victory in the men’s downhill. Could snowboardcross — only in the Winter Games for the second time — eventually become a signature event of the Olympics, even overtaking the prestigious downhill?

The snowboardcross-downhill head-to-head was totally accidental. The downhill was supposed to be run on Saturday, but weather forced a postponement for the high-speed daredevils in the skintight suits.

meanwhile, When Kristina Smigun-Vaehi gave birth to her first child 20 months ago, she was sure her Olympic career was over. But her maternity leave didn’t last long. The 32-year-old Estonian who won two cross-country skiing golds at the 2006 Turin Games returned to the podium on Monday after finishing second in the women’s 10-kilometre freestyle race at the Vancouver Olympics.

The Estonian veteran finished a mere 6.6 seconds behind gold-medal winner Charlotte Kalla of Sweden to cap an improbable comeback after sitting out all of last season and only returning to the World Cup circuit in late November.

She beat Marit Bjoergen, the Norwegian bronze medallist and one of the pre-race favorites, by 9.3 seconds. Kalla and Bjoergen may want to keep Smigun-Vaehi in their thoughts, however, as the Estonian suddenly looks a lot more likely to defend her gold in the 15K pursuit on Friday. Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China won their elusive prize in the pairs competition, coming out of retirement to add a gold medal to their two previous bronzes.

It wasn’t the best skate of their career, but it was good enough for gold — and that was all that mattered. Their score of 216.57 points was more than three points ahead of teammates Pang Qing and Tong Jian.

South Korea’s Mo Tae-Bum won the men’s 500 metres speedskating Olympic title on his 21st birthday, the nation’s first ever gold at the Winter Games outside short-track.

In an Asian cleansweep, Mo’s combined time for his two runs was 69.82sec, putting him 0.16sec ahead of Japan’s silver medallist Keiichiro Nagashima, whose teammate Joji Kato took the bronze in a time of 70.01.

China’s Wang Meng, who won the 500m to stop South Korea’s sweep of Olympic women’s short-track gold medals in 2006, defends the title to kick off her all-conquering bid at the Games. She seems ready to reign supreme, having taken the overall, 500m and 1000m titles at the 2009 world championships a year after sweeping all world titles in the Olympic distances which also includes 1500m.

Wang also won the 1000m silver and the 1500m bronze at the 2006 Turin Olympics. American Linsdey Vonn would surely forgive the weather challenges that have made life difficult for Olympic skiers, as well as course workers, in recent days if it serves up a maiden Winter Games medal.

After missing out on an expected podium spot in Turin four years ago due to an injury sustained while training for the downhill, Vonn claims she would be happy just to get her hands on a medal of any colour. Yet the reality is, Vonn can aim for three golds — the downhill, super-G and super-combined — and emerge as the biggest star of the Games.

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