Swiss roll to gold as Games come alive

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> The Vancouver Games finally came alive as Didier Defago handed Switzerland its first mens downhill gold since 1988.

Updated: February 16, 2010 09:11 IST
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Didier Defago handed Switzerland its first men's downhill gold since 1988 while Chinese pairs skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo prepared to cap a remarkable Olympic comeback.

After days of heavy snow and rain caused chaos to alpine events, the Vancouver Games finally came alive as the Swiss veteran all-rounder held off Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal and American Bode Miller to land the blue-riband title yesterday.

It ended a long wait for Switzerland dating back to the great Pirmin Zurbriggen at the Calgary Olympics 22 years ago.

"I'm very happy. It was a crazy run, not very easy because it was very different from the training," said Defago, who clocked 1min 54.31sec down the 3,105-metre-long Dave Murray course on the Whistler mountains.

"I really wanted to go back home with a medal. After three Olympics and a lot of championships, I think my experience made the difference."

Training also got underway in the women's alpine skiing opener, the super-combined, after the final was rescheduled to Thursday, allowing American superstar Lindsey Vonn time on the slopes as she recovers from a shin injury.

Charlotte Kalla claimed gold in the women's 10km freestyle cross-country for Sweden's first medal in Vancouver.

The 22-year-old posted a a winning time of 24 mins 58.4secs to outsmart Estonia's Kristina Smigun-Vaehi and Norway's Marit Bjoergen.

"It felt good the whole race, I just tried to focus on my plan and be patient. It feels great," said Kalla.

The Olympics, beset by problems, entered their fourth day with Canada still celebrating after Alexandre Bilodeau won their first gold in the men's moguls.

He was hailed a hero in newspapers nationwide Monday with his win consigning to history their dubious honour of being the only country to host the Olympics twice -- Calgary 1988 Winter Games and Montreal 1976 Summer Games -- and not capture a gold.

On the ice, Shen and Zhao are the key focus after posting a new world best in the pairs figure skating short programme on Sunday.

The married duo, three-time world champions who were coaxed out of retirement by the lure of Olympic gold, hit all their elements during their two-and-a-half minute routine to Queen's Who Wants to Live Forever.

But they face a battle for the title in the free skating program Monday from Germany's reigning two-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who are just 0.70 behind in second place.

"We have not competed much in the last two years and we came back to compete at the Olympic Games as it is our dream to win a gold medal," said Zhao, 36.

China should also make an impact in the women's 500-meter speedskating, where Wang Beixing leads a pack of Asian contenders.

In other medal events, Canadian cross-country skier Gordon Jewett is hoping home advantage will count in his favour against Europe's finest in the men's 15km freestyle.

Meanwhile, Frenchman Pierre Vaultier is seeking to garnish his season by winning the snowboard cross crown on

Cypress Mountain, but there won't be many fans watching him. Organisers have had to shutdown the standing-room viewing areas due to safety concerns after persistent heavy rain.

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