Sat, Feb 25, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Arakawa comes through

FINAL COUNTDOWNShizuka Arakawa secured the first Olympic figure skating title for Japan and its first medal of any kind at this year's Winter Games

AP , TURIN AND SAUZE D'OULX, ITALY

Daniela Meuli of Switzerland celebrates after winning the women's snowboard parallel final in Bardonecchia, Italy, on Thursday.

PHOTO: EPA

With rivals literally falling by the wayside, Shizuka Arakawa calmly and gracefully saved Japan from its worst Winter Games in 30 years with an upset triumph in women's figure skating.

While highly-favored Sasha Cohen and world champion Irina Slutskaya had tumbles, Arakawa performed an elegant and acrobatic routine to Puccini's Violin Fantasy of Turandot.

Her artistry and music selection delighted the Italian crowd and her five triple jumps wowed the judges, who awarded her a combined score for short and free programs that was almost eight points clear of second-place Cohen.

Cohen stumbled twice, ending the US' chances of a third consecutive women's Olympic title, and Russia's hopes of a sweep of all the figure skating gold medals in Turin dived when Slutskaya missed a landing. She finished with bronze.

"I'm just so surprised about all of this that I'm speechless," Arakawa said. "I never expected that I would be the first one to win a medal for Japan, so I didn't feel that pressure. But I'm very happy that I am the one who won it."

Arakawa's win pushed a doping scandal involving disgraced Austrian coach Walter Mayer into the background for a while.

And it came after Sweden improved on its best showing at a Winter Games when its 'rock star' women won the curling title 7-6 over Switzerland after an extra end. The Swedes, who recorded a video with a heavy-metal rock group before the Games, now hold the Olympic, World and European titles.

The victory gave Sweden its 11th medal at Turin -- beating the country's previous best Winter Olympic haul of 10 set in 1948 and 1956.

Earlier, Russia won its eighth gold medal of the games when it easily beat two-time defending champion Germany in the 4x6km biathlon relay. France finished third.

Anna Bogaliy started in place of Olga Pyleva, the only athlete expelled so far in the tightest drug net in Winter Olympics history, and gave her team a big lead at the first exchange that the Russians never gave up.

The Russian team of Bogaliy, Svetlana Ishmouratova, Olga Zaitseva and Albina Akhatova covered the San Sicario course in 1 hour, 16 minutes, 12.5 seconds.

Switzerland continued its dominance of the snowboarding parallel giant slalom when three-time defending World Cup champion Daniela Meuli won gold after her opponents in the semifinals and final crashed.

Philipp Schoch had won the men's event a day earlier, with brother Simon taking silver.

Amelie Kober of Germany won silver and Rosey Fletcher won the US' first ever medal in the event by taking bronze.

Away from the competition, the IOC said testing continued on doping samples taken from 10 Austrian athletes last weekend during raids of their accommodation in the Italian Alps.

The testing was carried out after Italian police raided the athletes' rooms and seized blood transfusion equipment and other materials linked to disgraced Austrian ski coach Mayer.

Austrian ski federation chief Peter Schroecksnadel met Thursday with prosecutors at Turin's main judicial offices, said Giampaolo Zancan, a top Italian lawyer hired by the Austrians.

"He is meeting prosecutors as a witness," Zancan told AP. "I accompanied him and left him there because as a witness he doesn't need a lawyer with him."

The results are expected to be released by tomorrow when the games end.

Han Xiaopeng became China's first Olympic gold medalist in freestyle skiing when he won the men's aerials on Thursday on the next-to-last jump at the Turin Winter Games.

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