Defago claims downhill gold

Swiss upsets odds to win men's showpiece Alpine event ahead of Norway and US rivals.

    Defago is the envy of the slopes as he turns to celebrate his run [AFP]

    Switzerland's Didier Defago took the Olympic gold medal in the men's downhill, upsetting fellow Swiss skiers favoured to win the Games' showpiece Alpine event.

    Norwegian skier Aksel Lund Svindal won the silver, while America's Bode Miller became the comeback kid by clinching the bronze in the blue riband race aged 32.

    For host country Canada, it was a disappointing race on the Dave Murray piste, where days of bad weather and delays gave way to sunny, crisp conditions for the first Alpine event on Monday.

    Local ace Manuel Osborne-Paradis, a pre-race favourite who hoped to carry on Canada's gold momentum, lost precious ground on the lower part of the Whistler course and ended way back in the pack.

    That contrasted with the glory of compatriot Alexandre Bilodeau, the 22-year-old mogul master who won Canada's first gold of the Winter Games on Sunday and the first ever for the hosts in three Olympic Games at home.

    Collective relief

    "Home Gold! The Wait Is Over," the Vancouver Sun newspaper proclaimed from its front page, echoing the collective relief of a host country that feared falling flat on the world Olympic stage.

    Canada had not won a gold at either of the two Games it had previously staged in Montreal (Summer 1976) and Calgary (Winter 1988) and Day One on Saturday here had not yielded one either.

    "I feel a bit confused. It's going to take a while for this to sink in. I can't believe I'm a gold medallist"

    Charlotte Kalla, Swedish freestyle skier

    Bilodeau was the talk of a town that hankered for a hero after a difficult start to Canada's third home Olympic Games.

    The horrific death of a Georgian luger in training marred the Games' official opening hours later on Friday.

    Then on Saturday, one of the best bets to break the Canadian home medal curse, mogul favourite Jennifer Heil, saw gold snatched from under her nose by American Hannah Kearney.

    The downhill, one of the Games' headline events, can be notoriously difficult to predict and Monday's race proved no different.


    Swiss skiers Didier Cuche and Carlo Janka were both podium contenders, but it was Defago who became the first Swiss to win a men's Olympic Alpine title since 1988, at Canada's Calgary Games.

    Swede Kalla has won her first Olympic gold at the age of 22 [AFP]
    The weather was the best seen since the Winter Games opened after spells of warm temperatures and then fog, snow and rain.

    Up on Cypress Mountain, where Bilodeau was crowned on Sunday night, snowboarders walked around shirtless in the relatively warm weather, taping up ribs in preparation for the men's hot-dog snowboard cross competition.

    A trio of Americans led by defending champion Seth Wescott will vie for gold on a course made mostly with snow lifted from neighbouring mountains after the warmest January on record.

    The Americans, however, will have to face down Pierre Vaultier of France, the country that leads the Olympic medals table with two golds going into Day Three of competition.

    Sweden's Charlotte Kalla led from start to finish to win the women's 10km freestyle race for her first Olympic gold medal earlier on Monday.

    Kalla led by more than 12 seconds with less than 3km to go in the interval-start race and then held off Kristina Smigun-Vaehi's strong finish to win in 24 minutes, 58.4 seconds.

    Swede dreams

    "I feel a bit confused," the 22-year-old Swede said.

    "It's going to take a while for this to sink in. ... I can't believe I'm a gold medallist."

    Smigun-Vaehi, the Estonian who won two golds at the 2006 Turin Games but has struggled this season, won silver after finishing 6.6 seconds behind Kalla.

    Marit Bjoergen of Norway took the bronze medal, 15.9 seconds back.

    World Cup leader and double world champion Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland trailed from the start, finishing fifth behind Anna Haag of Sweden.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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