VANCOUVER (Reuters) - It was indeed “Miller Time” -- as the beer slogan goes -- for the U.S. Olympic team Sunday after skier Bode Miller snatched his first Olympic gold medal and ice hockey goalkeeper Ryan Miller stopped Canada in a heartbreaking loss for the hockey-crazed host nation.
Miller the skier, in a remarkable comeback after quitting last year, slalomed from off the pace to grab the men’s super combined, adding gold to his haul of a silver and bronze in these Winter Games.
At night, all eyes turned to ice hockey, where U.S. beat Canada 5-3 in Olympic men’s qualifying Group A on a day packed with three matches between historic rivals.
Miller the goalie, who sported “Miller Time” on his helmet last week before Olympic officials forced him to remove the slogan, recorded 42 saves at the net.
Earlier in the day, the Winter Games host suffered a tragic turn of events as figure skating champion Joannie Rochette’s mother died of unknown causes, just days before the start of the women’s Olympic competition.
Hours later, Rochette turned up to train looking remarkably composed. She has been tipped as the only athlete likely to stop an Asian sweep of the medals in the women’s competition.
Day nine of competition also brought a third gold for the Netherlands’ speedskating team, the second gold for German biathlete Magdalena Neuner and the first bobsleigh gold for experienced German pilot Andre Lange.
Up on Whistler mountain, the U.S. ski team, already the medal leaders of the Games’ Alpine competitions, sealed their dominance with Miller’s stunning come-from-behind win.
Aksel Lund Svindal, who won gold for Norway in the men’s super G, had led after the downhill round and Miller trailed a distant seventh.
But the American, silver medalist behind Svindal in the super G, set the pace with a blistering slalom and Svindal was unable to finish after missing a gate.
Miller’s triumph at the twilight of his career might just silence the critics of the former tearaway of American skiing, but the 32-year-old played down the gold’s importance.
“The gold medal is great, it’s perfect, that’s what everyone is shooting for but the way I skied in these last races is what matters,” said Miller.
The Americans top the medals table with seven golds, ahead of Germany with six and Norway and Switzerland with five apiece.
In speedskating, Ireen Wust of the Netherlands upgraded her 2006 Olympic bronze in the 1,500m to gold in Vancouver. The 23-year-old had become her country’s youngest Olympic gold medalist ever in 2006 with her win in the 3,000m in Turin.
Germany’s Neuner won her second gold medal of the Games with a storming finish in the women’s biathlon 12.5km mass start. Switzerland’s Michael Schmid took the gold medal in the crash-filled debut of men’s ski cross.
In the two-man bobsleigh, the peerless Lange proved his total domination of the sport, hardly scraping a wall during four smooth drives on a course that has produced several high-speed crashes Saturday.
Lange, known as the Teddy Bear for his affable nature off the track, has now won the last four Olympic bobsleigh golds, two-man and four, dating back to Salt Lake City in 2002.
In Canada, the attention was not on medals, but on the world’s six top-ranked ice hockey teams who were closing out preliminary rounds with rematches of the last three Olympic finals.
The grudge matches started with Russia winning their face- off against the Czech Republic 4-2 in a rematch of the 1998 Nagano final.
They turned the ice over to neighbors Canada and the United States, who played for gold in 2002 at Salt Lake City. Brian Rafalski put the U.S. ahead in the first minute of the game and scored again in the opening period.
It is not the end for Team Canada, but they are now forced to play and win another match to progress to the next round, while the United States advances with a 3-0 record at the top of Group A.
Nordic rivals Sweden and Finland closed out the day’s Olympic hockey action in a rematch of the 2006 Turin final, the Swedes easing to a 3-0 win.
Vancouver was undoubtedly up for the Sunday hockey party, although the police were determined to maintain order in the city by closing liquor stores early for a second night.
“The early closing (on Saturday) contributed to less alcohol in the streets and fewer problems for police to deal with,” said Constable Jana McGuinness. “We saw a marked improvement in the atmosphere of the crowds, with a lot less intoxicated people.”
Editing by Miles Evans