Olympic fever in full swing, U.S. surpasses medal goal

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The Canadian couple finally got their gold, the U.S. men’s and women’s hockey teams flexed their Olympic muscles and the U.S. surpassed its goal of winning 20 medals. Yes, Olympic fever is definitely in full swing.It was a very interesting and entertaining past seven days at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the remaining competition will no doubt be filled with the same drama and intrigue that has accompanied the games so far.The biggest story of the past week was the continuing saga of the pair’s figure skating scandal, which was finally corrected Sunday night when the Canadian couple, Jamie Sale and Davis Pelletier, was awarded gold medals. The other gold medal pair, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia, joined the Canadians on the podium for the emotional ceremony.The scandal, triggered by a French judge who said she was “pressured to act in a certain way,” led to a decision on Monday by the International Skating Union to scrap the current judging system and replace it with a system where skaters would earn points for the elements they complete. Half of the judges’ scores will now randomly be thrown out by a computer to prevent fixing. There will be 14 judges under the new system, compared to the nine-judge panel in the current system.Staying on the ice, the U.S. men’s hockey team had a strong showing in the round-robin play. The team went 2-0-1 and earned the No. 1 seed from group D. John LeClair has scored in bunches, including an opening game hat-trick versus Finland, and has teamed with Brett Hull and Mike Modano to form the most potent offensive line for the U.S. Bill Guerin, U.S. goaltending trio of Mike Dunham, Tom Barrasso and Mike Richter, has been very solid. Richter is expected to be the No. 1 goalie headed into Wednesday’s elimination play.Sweden swept is first three games and captured the No. 1 seed from group C, but was defeated by Belarus 4-3 Wednesday afternoon and was eliminated from the tournament. Russia and Canada haven’t played as strong as people expected, but both are dangerous heading into elimination play. Russia defeated the defending Olympic champion Czech Republic team 1-0 in early action on Wednesday to earn a trip to the semi-finals.The U.S. team defeated Germany 5-0 Wednesday night to set up a semi-final match with Russia on Friday. The game will take place exactly 22 years after the historic “Miracle On Ice” game between the two countries. Prior to the U.S-Germany game, German coach Hans Zach said he preferred to play the U.S. in the first elimination game, which U.S. coach Herb Brooks responded to by saying “Maybe that’s why they lost the Second World War.”The USA women’s hockey team has ripped through everyone so far and is set to collide with bitter rival Canada for the gold medal on Thursday night. The women beat Canada 3-1 for the gold in 1998, and has defeated Canada eight consecutive times heading into the gold medal game. Canada has been almost as impressive as the U.S. so far, and defeated the U.S. in the 2001 World Championships. The clash between USA and Canada was almost a sure bet, since neither team has ever lost to anyone except each other.The past seven days have also featured many surprises, including a world-record, gold medal performance in the 1,000 meters by U.S. women’s speed skater Chris Witty, who was still feeling the effects a bout with mono earlier during the figure skating season. American bobsledders Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers, who coming into the games weren’t even considered the best American team, won the gold medal in the inaugural women’s bobsled competition. The victory was also historic because Flowers became the first African American athlete ever to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.In a disappointing event, American gold medal favorite Apolo Anton Ohno had to settle for the silver medal in his first speed skating race, the men’s 1,000 meters, after he was interfered with on the final turn, causing a crash that took down all but one of the competitors. Ohno suffered a gash in his leg that required six stitches, but said he will be ready for his other three races, which began Wednesday.Not all was bleak however, as American Derek Parra won the gold Tuesday and set a world-record in the process. At press time, the Americans lead all countries in speed skating medals with seven.Emotions are always a part of the Olympics, and American Jim Shea won the men’s skeleton (like the luge, except head first) on Wednesday while carrying the funeral card of his grandfather in his helmet. Shea’s grandfather won a gold medal in speed skating 70 years ago and died four weeks before the start of the games. After Shea won the gold, he took the funeral card out of his helmet and waved it in the air while fans cheered.Looking ahead to the final weekend of the games, American Michelle Kwan is in position to win her first gold medal after finishing first in the women’s short program Tuesday night. The gold medal will be awarded after the free skate, which takes place Thursday night.Men’s ice hockey is the most anticipated event of the weekend, with the semifinals taking place Friday and the gold medal game, the last event of the Olympics, being held Sunday at 2 p.m. central time. Capping off the games with a U.S. gold medal would be the ultimate finish for an Olympics where the U.S. has exceeded all expectations.The closing ceremonies will take place Sunday night at 7 p.m.. For complete Olympic coverage go to www.olympics.com.