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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Norway's Petter Northug won the men's 50km cross country skiing gold medal on the final day of the Winter Olympics Sunday as Vancouver braced itself for the men's ice hockey match between Canada and the United States.
Northug overcame treacherous conditions at the Whistler Olympic Park to win the lung-bursting event just ahead of Germany's Axel Teichmann while Sweden's Johan Olsson came third in a race marred by rain and snow, which made the going slippery and caused several crashes.
The cross-country was the penultimate event of the Games and served as the perfect light appetizer to the men's ice-hockey final, the most eagerly awaited match-up of the Olympics.
Downtown Vancouver was a sea of red and white maple leafs as thousands of people flooded into the central business district in preparation for the match.
Outside every restaurant and bar, there were long queues of people, some stretching for more than one city block.
Some had been waiting in line for more than four hours just to get a seat, most wearing Canada's national colors, in anticipation of a dream ending to the Games.
"It's our game, we invented it and we're going to win the gold," said Gordy Ford of Ontario.
Near him, dressed in an Uncle Sam outfit, was an American keen to join in the friendly repartee.
"It's the Olympics. We came from the U.S. to conquer the gold. We will stop at no cost," said Keith Butts, from Seattle.
"The Canadians have been great. It's all in good spirit."
Canada were already assured of finishing on top of the medal standings for the first time at either a Winter or Summer Olympics after bagging another three golds on the penultimate day to lift their golden tally to 13.
That equaled the record for the most for any country at a Winter Olympics after the Soviet Union won 13 at Innsbruck in 1976 and Norway matched the mark at Salt Lake City in 2002.
Victory over the U.S. in the ice hockey final would enable them to set a new mark and inevitably trigger wild celebrations across a country that only a week ago was facing public demands for a full investigation into their failure to win more golds.
Editing by Miles Evans