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

Dmitri Dashinski of Belarus took silver and Vladimir Lebedev of Russia won bronze after coming in as only the 30th-ranked aerialist in the world.

"I never thought this would happen -- I'm overjoyed with such a win," said Han. "I feel like I'm in a dream.

"I was so happy to win the first gold medal for the Chinese team in the history on the snow."

Han did not qualify for the final at Salt Lake City four years ago or at the 2003 and 2005 world championships. The 22-year-old from Liaoyang has had three second-place finishes at World Cup events in the last two seasons and is third in the standings overall.

Han said he was physically suited to the event and promised big things in future.

"I think the men's aerials is designed for China and I'm happy to be the one to make this a reality," he said.

As promised, Jeret "Speedy" Peterson tried his trademark trick -- the Hurricane -- on the aerials course, but a bobble on the landing did him in.

The American finished seventh on a night when the world's best simply weren't making mistakes.

It was perfectionists like Han and Dashinski who took the day, not revolutionaries like Speedy.

The first- through sixth-place finishers all had brilliant landings on their second jumps, and though none of them were as intricate and difficult as Peterson's, those landing points made a difference.

Han earned 130.53 points on a conservative final jump to put him in first with 250.77.

When Dashinski couldn't match him, Han grabbed his country's flag and waved it.

"I didn't think about changing for a more difficult [last] jump," said Han. "I feel very comfortable about this jump -- I had the confidence."

He came through big after watching his female teammates grab the top three spots after the first round in the women's final the night before, only to walk away with a single silver.

Dashinksi was exhausted and surprised to end up with silver, although he admitted Han was jumping better than he'd ever seen him.

Lebedev was a surprise. Part of his success could be attributed to a watered-down field, the result of a mistake-filled night of qualifying that eliminated many of the top jumpers, including top-10 Americans Joe Pack and Ryan St. Onge.

Peterson tried the hardest trick in the sport, a triple somersault with five twists, three of which are crammed into the middle flip. It's even more difficult than the five-twister Ales Valenta used four years ago to win his gold -- so difficult, in fact, that Peterson can only remember landing it four times since he started doing it about a year ago.

Regrets? He had none.

"It was very hard," he said. "It was the hardest jump ever tried in competition and I'm very glad I threw it in the Olympics. I said I'd be first or 12th and I ended up somewhere in the middle. That's what it's all about."

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