Swiss steals Alpine thunder

Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:44am EST
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By Janet Guttsman

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Swiss Didier Defago dashed out of the shadows of more fancied rivals to win the showcase men's downhill at the Winter Olympics on Monday as China gracefully broke Russia's astonishing 46-year grip on pairs skating gold.

Canada failed to build any momentum from Sunday's first gold on home soil and America's megabuck NHL ice hockey players were rapped on the knuckles for sporting politicized slogans on their helmets during training on the eve of the men's event.

Defago, a 32-year-old veteran of the World Cup scene who had never come close to an Olympic podium before, scorched down the Dave Murray course in Whistler to become the first Swiss to land the men's blue riband event since Pirmin Zurbriggen in 1988.

"This morning I knew that the course would suit me well," said Defago, who eclipsed favored team mates Didier Cuche and Carlo Janka. "I have been looking for a podium for a long time."

The event, for many the showcase of an Olympic Games, was also a tale of redemption for a more famous 32-year-old racer, American Bode Miller.

Miller, the wild child of American skiing, took the bronze medal, finishing close behind Aksel Lund Svindal from Norway.

China broke Russia's remarkable domination of pairs figure skating dating back to the 1964 Games in Innsbruck.

HOT WATER   Continued...

<p>Switzerland's Didier Defago clears a gate during the men's alpine skiing downhill event at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>