No gold in them thar hills for Canada...again

Sun Feb 14, 2010 2:27am EST
 
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By Mary Milliken

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada, a country now entirely gripped by Winter Olympics fever, watched helpless on Saturday as an ice-cool American snuck in to snatch gold from mogul favorite Jennifer Heil and prevent a 34-year national sporting jinx being broken.

After a day in which the death of a luge competitor dominated despite a dazzling opening ceremony, Games organizers and fans were treated to some world class and scintillating sports action.

Canada have a track record of staging first class Olympics -- they hosted the 1976 Montreal Summer Games and 1988 Winter Games in Calgary -- but less of a knack of gaining anything but consolation hugs and losers' shrugs when they do.

Neither of those two events yielded gold for Canada and all the pre-Games talk for 2010 Vancouver has been when, not if, they would break that drought and who would do it.

Certainly, Saturday's opening day action included a clutch of Canadian competitors with every prospect of breaking through, none more so than the elfin-faced Heil, a winner in the last Olympics in Turin four years ago in the women's freestyle.

She was so, so close. An inch here or there, as the crowd at Cypress Mountain had witnessed plenty of times, could throw a competitor on her backside if she misjudged a turn or jump on the treacherous mounds of a lightning quick course.

So when Heil took the lead with only American Hannah Kearney left to go, the fans at courseside -- including Premier Stephen Harper -- and millions more Canadians watching on TV held their breath for a piece of national sporting history to unfold.

Kearney, though, turned party-pooper with surely as cool a performance as this Games will witness. She whistled down the course with barely a ski out of place and ended up beating Heil and the field by the relatively large margin of over a point.   Continued...

 
<p>Gold medalist Hannah Kearney (C) of the U.S., silver medalist Jennifer Heil of Canada (L) and bronze medalist Shannon Bahrke of the U.S. celebrate during the flower ceremony after the women's freestyle skiing moguls final on Cypress Mountain at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics February 13, 2010. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>