VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada struck new gold in the hills and on the flats of its home ice on Saturday, mining more medals in snowboarding and speedskating to top the standings in the twilight of the 2010 Winter Games.
Just days after a public outcry over a lack of medals, the Olympic host nation boasted 12 golds halfway through the penultimate day of action before the closing ceremony on Sunday.
Snowboarder Jasey Jay Anderson won a fog-filled men’s parallel giant slalom and the Canadian men skated to victory in the speedskating team pursuit.
The German women won their speedskating pursuit final following a bizarre semi-final in which one of their skaters belly-flopped on the ice in the final straight and swam across the finish line.
As Germany won its 10th gold of the Games, Italy picked up its first in the final Alpine race, the men’s slalom.
Giuliano Razzoli, who grew up admiring Italy’s skiing great Alberto Tomba, prevailed on a tricky course where poor weather in the first leg tripped up nearly half the racers including Olympic comeback kid Bode Miller.
The 25-year-old Razzoli, who had clocked the fastest time in the first leg through fog and sleet, became the first Italian man to win the title since Tomba 22 years ago to the day in Calgary 1988.
Poland also won its first gold in the women’s 30km cross country race, as Justyna Kowalczyk sprinted in the finish to rob Norway’s Marit Bjoergen of her fourth gold in these Games.
”I was fighting and I don’t even remember the last 200 meters,“ Kowalczyk said. ”But this is the Olympics and you must fight.
The Olympic fight ended, however, for a blind cross country skier who learned he was not selected to represent Canada in the men’s 50km classical event.
“It is not something I ever hoped to hear and I‘m not happy,” said a teary Brian McKeever, who is legally blind since his late teenage years and hoped to become the first athlete to compete in both a Winter Olympics and a Paralympics.
Saturday’s foul weather complicated matters for the late medal chasers, particularly the snowboarders who could barely see the gates as they carved through foggy Cypress Mountain.
“It’s like riding by Braille,” said American Chris Klug, who later skied off course.
While the race went on, some spectators turned around and walked back down the mountain after seeing the dismal conditions.
At the final Alpine event on Whistler mountain, the completion rate in the first slalom leg was just over 50 percent with top racers like Americans Ted Ligety and Miller skiing off course.
Miller, who came to the Games promising little and ended up with gold, silver and bronze, straddled a slalom gate in his final showing but goes home happy.
”I didn’t have huge expectations for any of these results,“ said Miller after his truncated slalom run. ”I was fired up and could not have been more happy.
“I leave here feeling that I really accomplished something,” he said, adding that he will have to take some time off to heal a sore ankle.
The Americans were poised to win another medal on Saturday.
The so-called “Night Train,” the four-man American bobsleigh team led by Steve Holcomb, moved one run away from earning the United States their first triumph in the four-man in 62 years.
Canada could later consolidate its position at the top of the gold table as the unbeaten favorite in the men’s curling final against Norway.
Editing by Miles Evans