Silver streak for U.S.

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- The U.S. Olympic team wanted a fast start in the Winter Olympics -- and with a pair of silver medals, they got one.

Speedskater Derek Parra just wishes it was four seconds faster.

Parra set a world record in the 5,000-meter speedskating, then stood helplessly as the Netherlands' Jochem Uytdehaage smashed his mark by about 3 1/2 seconds to take the gold medal and leave the American with a silver on day one of Olympic competition.

Earlier Saturday, Shannon Bahrke won the first American medal with a silver in the women's freestyle moguls as the U.S. team -- at home for the Winter Games for the first time in 22 years -- delivered for the vociferous Utah crowds.

Parra, skating on the Utah Olympic Oval ice that many skaters believe is the world's fastest, appeared on his way to a gold after his record-setting run. But the Dutchman, skating in the next to last pair, made sure Parra's record was short-lived. Jens Boden of Germany took the bronze in 6:21.73.

The surprising medal bodes well for the diminutive Parra -- he stands just 5-foot-4 -- since his best event lies ahead in the 1,500. Parra's time was 15 seconds better than his previous best in the 5,000.

''To be on the medal podium for a 5K is definitely a surprise for me,'' Parra said. ''The Dutch are dominant in this sport.''

On the first day of competition, 10 countries won medals. Austria and the United States were the only countries with two.

Heavy security -- a staple of the first post-Sept. 11 Olympics -- didn't dampen the enthusiasm of fans. And the Americans appeared intent on exceeding the previous highest U.S. winter medals haul of 13.

''We want to win medals on everything we can,'' freestyle coach Jeff Wintersteen said. ''But we had a lot of people coming up to us before this, saying, 'Get off to a good start.' So, yeah, I guess this one is pretty important.''

FREESTYLE MOGULS: Bahrke, in her first Olympics, grabbed a silver medal Saturday in the women's freestyle moguls with a near-flawless performance. The highlight: her helicopter iron-cross -- a full revolution with the tips of the skis crossed, all the while looking straight back toward the top of the hill.

After finishing the bumpy course, the 21-year-old shook her head, pumped her fists, and waited -- just like Parra -- for the other skiers to finish. She maintained her lead until the final skier, Kari Traa of Norway passed her for the gold. Defending Olympic champ Tae Satoya of Japan took the bronze.

WOMEN'S CROSS-COUNTY SKIING: After crying tears of frustration on the course, Italian cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo wept tears of joy when she charged from behind to win the first gold medal of the Salt Lake City games.

Belmondo nearly broke down about two-thirds into the race, when she snapped a ski pole, faded from the front and burst into tears. But she regained her composure and pushed to the front of the 15-kilometer race, finishing in 39 minutes, 54.4 seconds.

Larissa Lazutina of Russia took the silver in 39:56.2 and Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic captured the bronze in 40:01.3.

''I am very, very happy,'' said Belmondo, who won her second gold medal in what might be her last Olympics. ''It's incredible. It's such a wonderful feeling.''

The Americans didn't fare as well in the curtain-raising race. Nina Kemppel, Barbara Jones and Kristina Joder finished 30th, 44th and 54th, respectively.

The men opened with a 30-kilomter race, and Johann Muehlegg of Spain won the gold. Christian Hoffmann of Austria took the silver, with his teammate Mikhail Botvinov winning the bronze.

NORDIC COMBINED: A pair of Americans, Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong, logged top 10 finishes to raise hopes for the first-ever U.S. medal in the Nordic combined.

After the ski-jump portion of the two-day event, Lodwick was seventh and Demong eighth. Part II -- the 15-kilometer freestyle skiing race -- was scheduled for Sunday.

Lodwick will start 2 minutes, 15 seconds behind leader Jaakko Tallus of Finland, while Demong will begin the race 2:20 back.

Lodwick, 25, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., remains the best American hope for a medal in his third Olympics. He finished 14th in Lillehammer and 20th in Nagano.

The highest American finish ever in the Nordic combined was ninth by Rolf Monsen in 1932.

FIGURE SKATING: The Russian pairs team of Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze appears ready to bring its homeland's four-decade figure skating victory streak into the 21st century.

After Saturday night's short program, the Russian couple was in first place ahead of Canada's world champions, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. It's been 42 years since another country has taken the gold in the figure skating pairs.

The free skate, the second part of the competition that's worth two-thirds of the final score, was set for Monday.

Americans Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman were fifth after a slightly flawed program. The other American pair, Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, were 11th after she fell twice.

MEN'S HOCKEY: Oleg Mikulchik, who last played in the NHL six years ago, scored the only goal on a two-man power play as Belarus beat Ukraine 1-0 to start the Olympic hockey preliminary round. In other first-round action, Germany blanked Slovakia, 3-0, and Latvia defeated Austria, 4-2.

TV RATINGS: The opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics was a ratings smash -- the highest-rated ever, with more than 72 million Americans tuning in.

The NBC broadcast of Friday night's ceremony drew a 25.5 national rating and a 42 share, according to Nielsen Media Research. Translation: 25.5 percent of all U.S. TV homes and 42 percent of TVs that were on were tuned to NBC.

Friday's rating was 57 percent higher than NBC's number for Sydney's opening ceremony, and 49 percent higher than CBS got for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

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