Hannah Kearney, the freestyle skier, struck gold for the USA with a thrilling final run in the women's moguls on Cypress Mountain to frustrate Canada's hopes of winning their first home gold medal on the opening day of competition at the Winter Olympics. Canada's reigning Olympic champion, Jennifer Heil, had the home crowd in raptures with a storming second run that put her in the lead with just Kearney left to race.
But 23-year-old Kearney held her nerve to take the gold with a combined score of 26.63 and ensure that Canada's dubious distinction of being the only nation to never win a gold medal on home soil continues for a while longer. Kearney said: "I heard the roar of the crowd when Jenn got her score so I knew I had to go for it." The Canadians could not deliver gold at the 1976 summer Games in Montreal or in the 1988 winter Games in Calgary and Kearney's heroics prevented Heil from being the one to make history.
She had to settle for silver with a score of 25.69 while Kearney's USA teammate, Shannon Bahrke, claimed the bronze with a score of 25.43. Heil said: "All I can say is that a gold medal is coming soon. I'm so proud of all the other athletes and I'll be there cheering them on." In other first-day action, South Korea's Lee Jung-Su took the gold in a thrilling short track speed skating men's 1500-metre final at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum.
It looked like a Korean clean sweep on the final lap but Lee's team-mates Lee Ho-Suk and Sung Si-Bak fell at the last bend, enabling the American duo of Ohno Apolo Anton and JR Celski to take the silver and bronze medals. All eyes were on the Whistler Sliding Centre for the first day of the men's luge following the tragic death of Georgia's Nodar Kumaritashvili in training on Friday. Track modifications included a switch to the women's start ramp and a reconfigured final curve and raised wall.
Kumaritashvili's Georgian team-mate Levan Gureshidze did not compete and it was Felix Loch, of Germany, who led at the halfway stage of the competition with his countryman David Moller second and Armin Zoggeler, the Italian double Olympic champion, in third. Switzerland's Simon Ammann produced a giant final-round jump of 108 metres to claim the first gold medal of the Games in the men's ski jumping competition at Whistler Olympic Park.
Poland's Adam Malysz took the silver and Austria's Gregor Schlierenzauer claimed the bronze. Ammann, whose winning points total was 276.5, had led after the first round and the 28-year-old held his nerve brilliantly to produce the biggest jump of the competition and secure gold. Ammann said: "Life does not always go the way you want it to. "This is why I want to cherish the moments and I've had a lot of luck in my career and also today."
Holland's Sven Kramer won the first medal on ice, taking gold in the 5,000m speed skating with an Olympic record time. Kramer took the title at the Richmond Olympic Oval in a time of 6 mins 14.60 secs, 2.35 seconds ahead of South Korea's Lee Seung-Hoon. Slovakia's Anastazia Kuzmina took the gold medal in the women's biathlon 7.5km sprint, while Canada opened their women's ice hockey campaign with a record-breaking 18-0 rout of Slovakia.
In the opening group match Sweden, the silver medallists in Turin four years ago, were comfortable 3-0 winners over Switzerland. * With agencies