VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Norwegian cross country skier Marit Bjoergen became the first athlete to garner three gold medals in these Winter Olympics with a flag-waving final burst in the women’s 4x5km relay on Thursday.
Day 13 of the Winter Games competition showed the two sides of the Olympic coin: the favorites like Bjoergen who win and the unknowns who serve the upsets, like the German skier who grabbed the women’s giant slalom gold.
Bjoergen, 29, said she knew the race “was going to go my way” and she could afford to take the Norwegian flag and ski without poles in the final meters to her fourth podium finish, three golds and a bronze.
German skier Viktoria Rebensburg, who has yet to win on the World Cup circuit, was surprised to find herself emerging from the foggy course of the delayed giant slalom with gold.
“I think it is going to take me a few days to realize it,” she said, ruing that her parents missed her big day because they could not change their flight home after the weather delay.
Rebensburg’s gold put Germany at the top of the Olympic gold medal table with eight, one over the United States, Canada and Norway with just four days left in the Games.
The medal ranking could shift soon, however, as the American and Canadian women face off in the ice hockey final, a possible harbinger of what is to come in men’s hockey.
Canada also has medal hopes in the women’s figure skating final later on Thursday.
Six-times Canadian champion Joannie Rochette was third after a short program, having skated with remarkable courage in the wake of her mother’s death earlier in the week.
The Canadian faces stiff competition, however, from two 19-year-olds -- South Korea’s Kim Yuna and Japan’s Mao Asada.
On the ice of the curling rink, Canada continued to clean up, advancing to the final against Sweden by beating Switzerland on Thursday in a tense semi-final match.
Not all was celebration on Thursday. Looking back to the fatal crash of a Georgian luger hours before the start of the Games, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the body had a “moral responsibility” over the death, though not a legal one.
After the tough start, the Games were definitely looking better for the Canadians, who savored the spoils of Wednesday -- a redeeming ice hockey win over Russia in the quarter-finals and a medal haul of one gold, two silvers and a bronze.
“Canada: We Owned the Day,” shouted the Vancouver Sun, highlighting that women brought in all the medals on Wednesday, although the men’s hockey continues to grab the attention.
In a country where ice hockey is so important they have put an image of it on their five-dollar bill, Canadians anxiously await their men’s semi-final on Friday against Slovakia, slayers of the 2006 gold medalists Sweden.
The American men will square off against Finland in the other semi-final.
The gold that most matters to Canada could come down to a rematch with the neighbors to the south, who beat the Canadians on home ice in the preliminary round and forced them to play another match to make the quarter-finals.
While Canada surged in the medal race, the Americans came to a standstill after their strong out-of-the-gate gold run.
Disappointment came in women’s Alpine skiing, where downhill gold medalist Lindsey Vonn crashed out of the giant slalom on Wednesday and broke her little finger.
Her team mate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 gold medalist in giant slalom, skied hard from her disastrous 18th place start, but still only managed eighth.
With three in the top four after Wednesday’s first run, the Austrians had looked set to win their first Olympic gold in the Alpine discipline.
Austrian Elisabeth Goergl was first after the first leg, but found a soft course on the second run and ended up with her second bronze of these Games.
Rebensburg was lurking back in sixth place after the first run and weaved her way to the front in the final run to the Austrians’ surprise.
Her parents were unable to change their flight home after the weather delay of the second leg and left on Wednesday.
“They will be a bit mad, but also very happy I think,” Rebensburg said.
Editing by Jon Bramley.