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WINTER OLYMPICS 2002 - Clark brings snowboarding to forefront, wins first U.S. gold

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY - With the song "This is Growing Up" pumping through her headphones, 18-year-old Kelly Clark helped the sport of snowboarding come of age.

Soaring and spinning higher and faster than her halfpipe foes, Clark on Sunday became the first American to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, instantly giving snowboarding more credibility than the X-Games could ever provide.

"Snowboarders have their reputations," Clark said. "But my doing this, especially in the U.S., says a lot. Maybe it will shine a light on snowboarding, and people will look at it in a different way."

The Salt Lake City Games got off to a rousing and, most importantly, safe start this weekend.

The games opened with a solemn tribute to a torn flag and a "miraculous" lighting of the flame courtesy of the 1980 U.S. hockey team - a show that smashed TV ratings for previous Olympics - then quickly turned to the business of sport.

The U.S. team came away from the first two days of competition with one gold and two silvers. Mogul skier Shannon Bahrke got the medal party started Saturday with a silver, then hours later speedskater Derek Parra set a surprise world record in the 5,000 meters that held up for a silver.

Medals were to be decided around midday Monday in women's downhill, men's luge singles and women's 15-kilometer biathlon.

Later in the day, the men's 20-kilometer biathlon, men's halfpipe and pairs figure skating will be decided.

WOMEN'S HALFPIPE: Clark gave a performance so spectacular the French judge gave her a perfect 10.0, knocking Doriane Vidal of France to second. Fabienne Reuteler of Switzerland won the bronze.

"I figured I had second place wrapped up, so I had to go for it," said Clark, whose winning routine included a 11/2-revolution, upside-down spin, another 2-revolution twist and the highest jumps of the competition.

American Shannon Dunn, the 1998 bronze medalist, finished fifth and teammate Tricia Byrnes was sixth.

The ultra-hip snowboarding community might scoff at Clark's celebration plans.

MEN'S DOWNHILL: After swooshing through the ultra-steep downhill course, Austria's Fritz Strobl - a 29-year-old police officer who'd never won a medal in a major competition - called his wife and two young sons with some big news: He snared the gold.

"I was just thinking of racing down the course, not of winning," said Strobl.

Lasse Kjus of Norway finished second and Stephan Eberharter, the Austrian expected to win, was third. American medal hopeful Daron Rahlves finished 16th.

SPEEDSKATING: The Utah Olympic Oval is living up to its speedy reputation.

Parra set a world record in the 5,000 meters Saturday, then saw the Netherlands' Jochem Uytdehaage smash his mark to take the gold.

On Sunday, Germany's Claudia Pechstein won the gold by breaking her own world record in the 3,000 meters by more than 11/2 seconds. Renate Groenewold of the Netherlands was second and Canada's Cindy Klassen third. Anni Friesinger, who had won every 3,000 race during the World Cup season, was fourth. American Jennifer Rodriguez finished seventh despite breaking her own national record.

FIGURE SKATING: The pairs competition goes into its free skate program Monday with the Russian duo of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze leading the way.

After Saturday night's short program, world champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada were in second and Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China were in third. Americans Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman were fifth and Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn were 11th.

MEN'S HOCKEY: Slovakia, which might have proven dangerous in the final round with all its NHL stars, won't be around to find out.

A 6-6 tie with Latvia on Sunday and a 3-0 loss to Germany on Saturday eliminated the Slovaks from the preliminary round. Austria is also out, following a 4-2 loss to Latvia and a 3-2 loss to Germany. That leaves Germany (2-0) playing Latvia (1-0-1) tonight for a spot in the eight-team final round.

In the battle for the other finals berth, Belarus won its opener over Ukraine 1-0 on a power-play goal by Oleg Mikulchik, who last played in the NHL six years ago, and France tied Switzerland 3-3.

SKI JUMPING: Germany's Sven Hannawald was thinking gold. He'd just made the longest jump of the day on the 90-meter hill and the only challenger left was a 20-year-old coming off injuries. Then Simon Ammann turned those thoughts to silver with a final jump that earned Switzerland its first ski jumping medal since 1972.

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