VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Martina Sablikova and Marcus Hellner pocketed their second gold medals at the Vancouver Winter Games on Wednesday after Lindsey Vonn crashed out of a second Olympic Alpine skiing event and Canada nervously awaited their sudden-death ice hockey showdown with Russia.
Sablikova of the Czech Republic won the women’s 5,000 meters speedskating gold while Hellner led Sweden to a surprise victory in the men’s cross country relay in the only two events decided in the day.
Heavy fog at Whistler mountain forced the postponement of the women’s giant slalom. The competitors completed the first run but the second run, which will determine the medals, was rescheduled for Thursday morning.
Austrian Elisabeth Goergl was leading France’s Taina Barioz by 0.02 seconds after the opening run which saw Vonn, billed as the leading lady of the Games, tumble out of contention.
Merchandisers had been cashing in on her appeal by selling t-shirts and baseball caps with Vonn-Couver emblazoned on them, but she has failed to live up to the hype.
She defied a painful shin injury to win gold in the women’s downhill and a bronze in the super-G, but blew her chances of adding to her medal haul by falling in her two other events, including Wednesday’s giant slalom.
Vonn came to grief on the opening run when she lost her balance and slammed into the safety netting. She needed some brief medical attention but was not seriously injured.
‘PROBABLY MAD AT ME’
Her team mate Julia Mancuso, the defending Olympic champion, was next out of the start hut and was released while Vonn was still being attended to.
Mancuso’s run was halted but she made it safely down the mountain at the re-start but finished way back in 18th place and left the course in tears, unhappy at being stopped because of her team mate.
“I know that she is mad and probably frustrated and probably mad at me but I can’t help that I fell,” Vonn said.
“I wanted to finish I was having a great run and wish I could have come down and not have her be flagged and that is absolutely not what I wanted.”
At the nearby Whistler Sliding Center, Dutch pilot Edwin van Calker withdrew from the four-man bobsleigh competition after losing confidence to race down the ice track that has faced questions about safety.
The Netherlands became the second crew to withdraw from the four-man after Australia pulled out the previous day when two of their crew were concussed in a fall.
“It’s a build-up of numerous factors, including his crash in the two-man, the tragic accident in the men’s luge and external family pressures,” Netherlands head coach Tom de la Hunty told reporters.
The slender Sablikova added the 5,000m gold to her 3,000 meters title and surprising bronze in the 1,500m, with a time of six minutes 50.91 seconds.
Stephanie Beckert of Germany, who claimed silver behind Sablikova in the 3,000m, repeated that result by finishing second in 6:51.39.
Clara Hughes, the 37-year-old Canadian who won the race at the 2006 Turin Games, grabbed the bronze medal.
Hellner, who also won gold in the 30km individual pursuit, held off a storming final leg by Norway’s Petter Northug to give Sweden a thrilling victory in the cross country relay.
Northug began his anchor leg a distant 37.5 seconds behind Hellner but the Swede had too much of a cushion and Hellner surged to the finish line with a powerful closing stretch.
World champions Norway, thanks to Northug’s remarkable display over the last 10km of the grueling race, took silver while the Czech Republic had to settle for the bronze.
Another three medals were on offer on Wednesday in short track, bobsleigh and freestyle aerials but the real attention, at least for the host nation, focused on the men’s ice hockey quarter-finals.
No athletes were under greater pressure to deliver gold in Vancouver than the home-nation’s ice men wearing the Maple Leaf on their sweaters but it has been anything but smooth sailing so far.
A loss to the United States in the final round of preliminary matches on Sunday left them facing the prospect of an extra match just to qualify for the quarter-finals.
They had no problems beating Germany 8-2 on Tuesday to reach the last eight to set up a mouthwatering clash with Russia.
“It’s going to be a challenge and we all know the rivalry and how intense it is,” Canadian forward Sidney Crosby said.
The U.S. became the first team to reach the semi-finals when they beat Switzerland 2-0 on Wednesday, both goals coming from Zach Parise.
Editing by Jon Bramley