Ricker lifts gloom for Canada at Vancouver

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Snowboarder Maelle Ricker gave Canadians a welcome distraction with a gold medal at one of the Olympic venues that has caused concern at the trouble-plagued Van

Updated: February 17, 2010 19:09 IST
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Snowboarder Maelle Ricker gave Canadians a welcome distraction with a gold medal at one of the Olympic venues that has caused concern at the trouble-plagued Vancouver Games.

"I'm so overwhelmed I can't believe it, the way my day started," Ricker said after her win in the snowboardcross, the host nation's second gold of these games - the first two for Canada in three Olympics on home soil.

The start of qualifying was delayed because of rain and fog.

And thousands of people who bought tickets for her event didn't get to see Ricker, with organizers having to close a standing area at Cypress Mountain because it became too dangerous due to a lack of snow required to pack down a temporary platform. Organisers said they'll have to refund a total of 28,000 tickets at the freestyle skiing venue, at a cost of USD 1.44 million.

Too much snow at Whistler overnight continued to play havoc with the Alpine schedule, with the men's super-combined postponed and the women's downhill training canceled. Only one race - the men's downhill - has been completed, but organisers say there's no cause for panic.

At the luge track, where the training death of a Georgian slider overshadowed last Friday's Olympics opening ceremony, Tatjana Huefner's victory gave Germany its ninth women's gold medal in 13 Olympic competitions.

Huefner's win also gave Germany a sweep of singles luge gold, after Felix Loch won the men's event.

Germany now has three gold medals, equal with South Korea and Switzerland, and one clear of Canada, France, Sweden and the United States.

Speedskater Lee Sang-hwa clinched unexpected gold for the Koreans with an upset win over German world-record holder Jenny Wolf in the women's 500 meters at Richmond's Olympic Oval.

Indoor events will come more heavily into focus in Vancouver now that men's hockey - the national obsession - and curling have started. The hockey team opened with an 8-0 win over Norway. The men's curlers held off a Norwegian team 7-6, with team skip Kevin Martin sealing the win with the last stone in the extra end.

The wet and warm weather that is causing trouble on the mountains didn't cause too many problems for biathlon, which produced the first multi-medalists of the games. But some embarrassing human errors brought the sport into focus.

Germany's Magdalena Neuner won the women's 10-kilometer pursuit, holding off Slovakia's Anastazia Kuzmina - the pair exchanging podium places in the first two women's races.

Kuzmina had beaten Neuner for gold in the 7.5K sprint on Saturday, the first day of full competition.

Bjorn Ferry won the men's 12.5-kilometer pursuit, giving Sweden its first men's biathlon gold medal in 50 years.

"I am 31 and I've waited for this my whole life," said Ferry, who was 16.5 seconds faster than silver medalist Christoph Sumann of Austria.

Frenchman Vincent Jay, who started first after winning the 10K sprint in his Olympic debut Sunday, took the bronze.

But just like in the women's 10-kilometer race, officials in the men's pursuit made embarrassing errors on the starting line.

While three women went off late in the first race, including the fourth-place finisher, Anna Carin Olofsson-Zidek, two athletes went off too early in the men's race, including Jeremy Teela of the United States and Canada's Jean Philippe Leguellec, who was penalised 30 seconds for starting early and slipped from fifth to 11th place.

Norbert Baier, the International Biathlon Union's technical delegate, acknowledged that his federation had been warned that there were inexperienced officials handling the start gates.

"It is embarrassing," Baier said. "I can't understand why this can happen. It was so easy to start today.... Why do we have this incompetence?"

Alexandre Bilodeau's win in the moguls on Sunday night was Canada's first Olympic gold medal at home, after missing out in 1976 at Montreal and in the Calgary Winter Games in 1988.

Ricker lifted the mood again with her win, which wasn't entirely expected despite her lead in the World Cup standings.

It helped that her main rival Lindsey Jacobellis, the American who cost herself a gold medal at Turin four years ago when she tried to show off near the end, was disqualified in the semifinals.

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