The Winter Olympics were rolling right along until controversy struck Monday night and shifted the focus of the games.A close decision gave Russia the gold medal in the pairs figure skating for the 11th consecutive Olympics, but most observers felt the Canadians deserved to win.The Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze led after the short program, but one mistake coming out of a jump cost them slightly in the free skate.Canada’s Jamie Sale and David Pelletier then went out and skated a near-perfect routine that elicited a standing ovation and shouts of, “Six! Six! Six!” from the crowd. However, some of the judges didn’t see it that way and awarded the gold to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, leaving Sale in tears and with just a silver to take back to Canada.Allegations later surfaced that Russia traded votes with France to help the French team win the ice dance competition, and that has been the focus ever since.It’s too bad because, until the latest figure skating controversy unfolded, snowboarding was energizing the OlympicsOutcasts in Nagano, the snowboarders had been front and center in Salt Lake City. Their big airs and killer tricks can’t be matched in any other sport at the Winter Olympics. The loose, relaxed style with which they compete is refreshing and they provide a lingo ? even for the announcers ? that adds some fun to the games.Another important aspect of snowboarding is each run’s individuality. Most people can’t tell the difference between any two above average runs in bobsled, luge, alpine skiing or ski jumping, but when the two best snowboarders go down the halfpipe you see two totally different runs.The main reason snow- boarding has dominated these games is that the United States has dominated the snowboard-ing. Kelly Clark got things started by winning the first U.S. gold in the women’s halfpipe.Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas then kicked things up a notch by sweeping the men’s halfpipe ? just the second time the United States has swept an event at a Winter Olympics.The men’s and women’s parallel giant slalom take place today and tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if the competitors can build on excitement generated by the halfpipe.Freestyle skiing is another new event that the United States has excelled at. Shannon Bahrke won the first U.S. medal with a silver in the women’s mogls.In the men’s competition, Jonny Moseley created a stir when he pulled off his innovative Dinner Roll trick, but it was U.S. teammate Travis Meyer who won a medal ? silver.The first feel-good story of the games was U.S. 1,500-meter speed-skating specialist Derek Parra. When Holland’s Gianni Rommi failed to qualify in the 5,000-meter race, everybody knew that somebody would win an unexpected medal. However, no one thought it would be Parra. The former World Champion inline skater had the race of his life and held the world record for about 10 minutes before finishing with a silver medal.So what did the new Olympic medalist do the next day? He went back to work at the Home Depot, of course.While that was the first upset of the games, it was not the biggest. That came in ski jumping on the normal hill where Poland’s Adam Malysz and Germany’s Sven Hannawald were expected to compete for the gold. Malysz won the bronze to give Poland its first medal at the winter games since 1972 and Hannawald took the silver.You had to feel good watching the joy of 20-year-old Simon Ammann when he realized that he had won gold for Switzerland. Ammann continued his improbably run of success by winning gold on the large hill.The United States also had unusual succes in luge singles. Adam Heidt put together four surprisingly good runs to place fourth. Heidt was third after the first run, but the big three ? Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler, Germany’s Georg Hackl and Austria’s Markus Prock ? were too good for him to beat.Becky Wilczak finished fifth in the women’s singles. The German dynasty swept the event with ease. Sylke Otto, Barbara Niedernhuber and Silke Kraushaar each finished more than a second, which is an eternity in luge, ahead of the next closest luger.Ski jumping is a sport that the United States has never been good at, but maybe Alan Alborne’s 11th-place finish will spark some interest in the sport.U.S. long track speedskater Casey FitzRandolph finally won gold for the first medal of his career. However, his training partner, Canada’s Jeremy Witherspoon, fell on his first run.Multiple medal hopefuls Bode Miller and Apolo Anton Ohno both got off to strong starts.Miller attacked the hill in his second slalom run to win the silver medal in the men’s combined alpine race.Miller nearly crashed in his downhill run when his skis left the ground and he slid on his left leg. He somehow recovered and finished the race in 15th place. He stumbled a couple times in his first slalom run and stood in fifth place with one run left.A stellar run and mistakes by two of the skiers in front of him gave him the silver. Miller also has medal hopes in the slalom and giant slalom.Ohno began his quest for four gold medals by advancing in two events. The Seattle teenager finished second in his 1,000-meter short track speedskating race to reach the quarterfinals.Ohno also led the United States to an easy win in the semifinals of the 5,000-meter relay. The race was shocking, however, because it was restarted after gold-medal favorite Korea crashed and was disqualified.The biggest surprise of the Olympics may eventually be the final medal count. The United States is second at the Olympics with 10 medals ? Germany leads with 12 ? but has not won the medal count since winning 12 medals in 1932.Jacobs can be reached at bjacobs@campustimes.org.



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