Category archive: Olympics

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Vladislav Tretiak has devoted most of his life to Russian hockey, both as one of the greatest goalies of all time and now as the country's hockey leader. No one is more upset than he that the gold-medal contenders lost in the Olympic quarterfinals.

In his first interview with a North American media outlet since his team's early exit, the general manager of Russia's Olympic team and president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation told ESPN.com on Saturday that he's just as disappointed as all the passionate Russian hockey fans, but everything was done to give Russia its best chance to win here.

"Before the [quarterfinal] game with Canada, I said that it was very unfortunate that two great teams met in a position where one would have to be eliminated and without a medal," Tretiak said through a translator. "We had the best team that we could put together. But Team Canada was stronger, and there's nothing else you can say. They were faster than us. We couldn't do anything with their speed."

Last month, Tretiak was re-elected to a five-year term to stay on as federation president, a stay that would run through the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Under his helm as president, Russia has won bronze and two gold medals at the men's world championships, and he believes that success will continue despite the stunning loss here.

"It's sport, you can't always win," Tretiak said. "Even when I played, you were never guaranteed results."

In a separate interview with ESPN.com and The Hockey News earlier on Saturday, KHL president Alexander Medvedev underlined his feelings about Russia's early exit Wednesday.

"It was a big disappointment," Medvedev said. "Everybody dreamed about the final between Canada and Russia. I appreciate the performance of the Canada team. They deserved the win, but I don't agree it was a great game. A great game is when it's a tough competition all the way around like it was yesterday between Slovakia and Canada. ...

"Surprisingly with the Russian stars, everybody anticipated strong performances of [Alex] Ovechkin and [Evgeni] Malkin and [Ilya] Kovalchuk, but it was not at the top of their level, including the physical play. Why it happened? It's a question for coaches and specialists to answer. Canada didn't allow Russia to demonstrate their skills."

One of the main criticisms of the Russian Olympic team is the belief the nine KHL players didn't mesh with the NHL stars. But both Tretiak and Medvedev disagreed with that notion.

"I don't think so," Medvedev said. "Because for two years in a row, there was no difference between NHL and KHL players in Quebec [2008 world championships] and Bern, Switzerland [2009 worlds]. We had nine KHL players. I don't agree with those who say KHL players were weaker than NHL players. Actually, it was the [whole] team that failed."

Said Tretiak, "For two years, we were world champions because we did come together as a team."

Tretiak also denied another widely held belief that there was outside pressure to select that many KHL players.

"No there was no pressure to pick players from the KHL," Tretiak said. "The coach [Vyacheslav Bykov], in fact, picks the players. The general manager does not actively participate in picking the players."

Four years ago, when Russia beat Canada in the quarterfinals at Torino, Italy, it was GM Wayne Gretzky and the Canadians who needed to explain themselves. Now it's Tretiak and the Russians. That's just sport, Tretiak said.

"It is a difficult tournament; there's a factor of luck," Tretiak said. "Just like in 1981 when we won the Canada Cup 8-1 in the final, was the Canadian team worse than us? No. They also had the best players. But in that game, we were better, our luck was better. If we played eight games instead of one game [here in Vancouver], nobody knows how it would turn out. But in this game, they were better."

Tretiak cares deeply about his country and the national team. He believes he has a strong vision for the team moving forward and hopes to be able to deliver on it.

"The most important thing for us is to keep the team bonded," he said. "Only these players can help us in the future with world championships, and obviously we need to get ready for 2014. We have to learn our lessons, but we also need to move forward and keep our heads on straight. What happened happened. We have to keep on going."

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- We don't believe much in ghosts, but if you hang around hockey players enough, you'll understand that the game is filled with karma and superstition and omens, both good and bad.

On the eve of the gold-medal game between Canada and the United States, if there was ever a U.S. team able to channel the late Herb Brooks, it's this one.

U.S. forward Ryan Malone was mentored by Brooks for many years.

"He just always expected more," Malone said of the coach of the last U.S. gold-medal team, the "Miracle on Ice" squad from 1980. "If you were in there working out for half an hour after a game, he was always asking, 'Why weren't you in there for an hour?'"

Malone recalled one night Brooks saw him score a hat trick in a college game. Brooks, a longtime Pittsburgh Penguins scout who was also involved with player development for the team, told him the hat trick was bad news for Malone because now he was going to have to work that hard every night.

"He always told me the legs feed the wolf," Malone said. "To make sure the legs were always going and training for hockey players is probably the most important part to get where you want to go."

Malone attended the University of Minnesota, where Brooks first coached NCAA hockey.

"The hockey camp I've been going to since I was 15, he started, so it's weird how it all kind of shakes out like this and you just want to make him proud on Sunday," Malone said.

That's not all.

U.S. defenseman Brooks Orpik, born in San Francisco a few months after the "Miracle on Ice" win in Lake Placid in 1980, was named after Brooks.

"Obviously, my dad's idea," Orpik said. "My mom didn't even know what hockey was up until then."

Orpik was likewise drafted by the Penguins and got to know Brooks before his death in a car accident in the summer of 2003. Orpik recalled how he and former teammate Colby Armstrong would meet with Brooks periodically when Brooks would visit the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.

"And we got to pick his brain about anything really," Orpik said.

There is a strong Brooks connection in every gold-medal effort the U.S. hockey team has been involved in. In 1960, Brooks was among the last players cut before the U.S. went on to win gold in Squaw Valley. He coached the 1980 team and was the coach in 2002 when the Americans were defeated by Canada in their last gold-medal game appearance.

Heading into Sunday's game, does it seem strange having all of these connections to Brooks?

"I don't know how much more special it can get than this moment, but it's definitely a little weird how everything played out and worked out here in the end," Orpik said.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- There's losing, and then there's humiliation. There are some very proud hockey players in Finland's dressing room, and Friday's 6-1 loss to the hands of Team USA in the semifinals of the men's Olympic hockey tournament left them nearly speechless.

"I really have no words. It's just unbelievable," veteran winger Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks said after the demoralizing effort.

"You don't get to play these games too often," said defenseman Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers. "Obviously, 6-0 in the first period, the game was over there. If I had an explanation of why that happened, I would give it to you, but I don't have it."

What's strange is it's not like this group of Finnish players to drop a stinker like this. Oh sure, they've lost plenty of games over the years, but they were almost always close affairs. It's their trademark. Down 6-0 12:46 into the first period? Not so much.

"I don't really know what happened," said Selanne. "Obviously, it's really disappointing. I've never been part of that kind of game before. It was something that you don't want to experience many times. When the game is over after 10 minutes, it's going to be a real tough day. I'm very disappointed we didn't even give ourselves a chance for the gold medal final. Losing is fine as long as you play your best game; but losing like this, it's tough."

Once it got to 6-0 so early in the game, "at that point, you wish it was curling so you could just give up," said Selanne (curling matches can be conceded early by the losing team in a rout).

But it's not time to give up yet. The Finns have a bronze-medal game to play Saturday night, and while some countries (ahem, Canada) can't seem to get up for the third-place game, the Finns always do. This is a tough tournament that's eight teams deep in talent, and a medal of any color is an achievement for any country.

"There's a bronze on the line tomorrow and it's all about bouncing back and trying to take what's left," said Selanne. "A bronze medal for this kind of tournament is huge. We have to remind ourselves it's not over yet."

For Selanne (it's definite) and buddy and captain Saku Koivu (likely), Saturday's game will be their last hurrah wearing Suomi colors in the Olympics. Wrapping it up with a bronze would mean a lot. Expect a better effort from the Finns.

"I hope I can smile tomorrow," said Selanne.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Bode Miller, Chad Hedrick and the men's four-man bobsled team will all be in action Saturday. Here's what we'll be watching:

Alpine skiing: Men's slalom: Three events into these Games, Miller was two medals from becoming the first Alpine skier to medal in all five events since 1988, the first year five events were contested at the Olympics. But after a DNF in giant slalom, those plans changed. Now, with a medal performance in slalom Saturday morning, he can become only the fifth athlete to medal in four events in one Olympics. Miller's teammate Jimmy Cochran, a slalom specialist, also is a medal hope for the U.S., as well as Ted Ligety, a two-time Olympian who looks to live up to a 1972 performance by his aunt, who won gold in slalom in Sapporo. Besides reigning gold and silver medalists Benjamin Raich and Reinfried Herbst of Austria, the greatest challenge Team USA will face is the weather, and themselves.

Cross-country skiing: Women's 30-kilometer mass start: This torturous event -- 18.6 miles, if your math is rusty -- is simply a survival of the fittest. Since the event's debut in 1992, the Italians have won three of five gold medals, and Marianna Longa could continue the tradition. Finn Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, Norwegian Kristin Stoermer Steira and Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk all are talented distance skiers, but the hometown crowd will be behind four-time Olympian and British Columbia native Sara Renner. American Kikkan Randall also will race, but she excels in freestyle skiing, and in this race, athletes are required to use the classical style.

Four-man bobsled, Day 2: American Steven Holcomb and his Night Train crew built a whopping (in bobsled terms) four-tenths of a second lead over Canada's Lyndon Rush in the first two runs of the competition Friday, setting successive track records with each run. Defending champ Andre Lange of Germany is just three-hundredths of a second behind the Canadian sled. But on the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre, no lead is safe. Six sleds failed to make it through Curve 13, ominously dubbed the "50-50 curve" due to the chances of making it through unscathed, and slid down the track upside down. Should Holcomb's group hold on to its lead, it will win the first U.S. gold in four-man bobsledding in 62 years.

Men's curling: Gold- and bronze-medal matches: Unbeaten skip Ken Martin and the Canadian team will face Norway -- flashy, diamond-print pants and all -- for the gold medal Saturday afternoon at Vancouver Olympic Centre. The home team is trying to become the first curling squad to go undefeated at the Games since the sport returned as a medal event in 1998. The Norwegians have lost just one match in Vancouver after Team Canada beat them 7-6 in extra ends Feb. 16, and the rivalry is an old one. Canada won gold in 2006, and Norway won it all in 2002. In the earlier match, Sweden and Switzerland will face off for bronze.

Snowboard: Men's parallel giant slalom: Sure, one country (the U.S.) has dominated halfpipe snowboarding. But in recent years, one family has dominated men's PGS: the Schoches. Phillip and Simon Schoch finished 1-2 in Torino in 2006, and younger brother Phillip won gold in 2002. Both return in the hopes of once again making the Olympic PGS race a family affair. The U.S. team of Tyler Jewell and Chris Klug could jumble those plans. Jewell placed 11th in his first Olympics in 2006 and was 10th at the 2009 World Championships. Klug, the only American to medal in this event (bronze in 2006), is a sentimental favorite. Spreading his story of overcoming a liver transplant to compete in the Olympics is much of his motivation for returning for another Games (aside from also becoming the second medalist, that is).

Long-track speedskating: Men's and women's team pursuit: Despite having earned the most winter medals in U.S. Olympic history, American long-track speedskaters have won just three medals in Vancouver: Shani Davis' gold in the 1,000 meters and silver in the 1,500, and Hedrick's bronze in the 1,000. They have a chance to earn more in the team pursuit Saturday afternoon at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Veteran Hedrick, joined by youngsters Trevor Marsicano, 20, Brian Hansen, 19, and Jonathan Kuck, 19, upset the favored Dutch in qualifying and will face Canada in the final. The women's team consists of two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jen Rodriguez, four-time Olympian Catherine Raney Norman, and newcomers Jilleanne Rookard and Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. They have advanced to the semifinals, along with Japan, Poland and Germany.

Ice hockey: Men's bronze-medal game: Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and the Finns looked stunned after suffering through a one-sided first period Friday in which Team USA scored six goals. Team Finland managed to score just one goal in the 6-1 semifinals rout. Now, Finnish veterans Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu have one chance to redeem themselves in what likely will be their last Olympics. They play Slovakia in Saturday afternoon's bronze-medal match at Canada Hockey Place. The Slovaks, though, enter the game on a roll: Their third period against Canada was one of the best of the tournament, and they nearly beat the home team in the closing seconds.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Apolo Ohno, Lindsey Vonn, and the men's U.S. and Canadian hockey teams will all be in action Friday. Here's what we'll be watching:

Snowboarding: Women's Parallel Giant Slalom
Since PGS was added to the 1998 Games - it was individual giant slalom back then -- European riders have dominated the event. Austrian racers Marion Kreiner and Doris Guenther, the top two women at the 2009 world championship, will be the women to beat Friday afternoon at Cypress Mountain. The U.S. has only had one medalist: Rosey Fletcher, who took bronze at Torino in 2006. But the lone American in this year's field would like to change that stat. Michelle Gorgone finished in the top 10 at four World Cup races in 2009 and returns for her second Olympics with a real shot at placing in the top five. Known for going for broke on every turn of every run, Gorgone hopes to finally cash in before retiring at the end of this season.

Alpine Skiing: Women's Slalom
Once again, the talk heading into women's slalom - the final event on the women's Alpine roster -- is about one of Lindsey Vonn's body parts. Vonn broke her right pinkie finger in her first run of the giant slalom Wednesday afternoon, but has decided to race her final event of the 2010 Games. "She's had way worse than that. She'll be fine," U.S. coach Jim Tracy told Reuters on Wednesday. Vonn's teammate Julia Mancuso opted out of the final event, and Sarah Schleper de Gaxiola of Vail is a technical skier who has posted two top-10 finishes in World Cup races this year. But Maria Riesch of Germany and Sandrine Aubert of France are still the women to beat.

Bobsled: Four-Man
At a news conference earlier this week, Steven Holcomb was pranked by his U.S. teammates, who told him he had to take his final eye exam in front of the media. A degenerative eye disease left him nearly blind last year, but an experimental procedure restored his vision to nearly 20/20. As he read the eye chart, Holcomb spelled out "The Night Train Will Win Gold." And after piloting his sled, dubbed the Night Train, to the first U.S. world title in 50 years last March, Holcomb and teammates Steve Mesler, Curt Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen could become the first U.S. athletes to win gold since 1948. John Napier, pilot of the USA 2 sled, also has medal potential. A 1-2 U.S. finish? You'd have to see it to believe it.

Curling: Women's Gold- and Bronze-Medal Matches
Skip Cheryl Bernard and the top-seeded Canadians are exactly where they wanted to be: playing for gold in front of the home crowd. They will face Anette Norberg and the defending gold medalists from Sweden in Friday's final match at the Vancouver Olympic Centre. On Thursday morning, Norberg, 43, competing with the same team she had in Torino, Italy, defeated the Chinese team in the semifinals. It was a rematch of the 2009 world championship final, a match the Chinese won. The Canadians defeated the Swiss in their semifinal in a match that came down to the last stone. China and Switzerland will play for bronze.

Short-Track Speedskating: Men's 500m, Men's 5,000m Relay, Women's 1,000m On Friday evening at Pacific Coliseum, Apolo Ohno will defend his gold medal in the 500 meters while shooting for his eighth overall Olympic medal. Later on, he'll lead the U.S. men in the relay, the final race of the short-track competition, against strong teams from France, China, South Korea and Canada. Sandwiched between the two men's events is the women's 1,000. American Katherine Reutter set an Olympic record in the qualifying round Wednesday afternoon, but will have to contend with 500m gold medalist Wang Meng and 1,500m gold medalist Zhou Yang, both of China.

Ice Hockey: Men's Semifinals, USA vs. Finland, Canada vs. Slovakia
By now, everyone knows Canada blew out the Russians in Wednesday's quarterfinals, rendering superstar Alex Ovechkin virtually useless by putting the sheer size and skill of winger Rick Nash and defenseman Shea Weber in his way. Now, Canada will have to get through Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa and the rest of the Slovakian team to earn a berth in the gold-medal gamel. The Americans, who squeaked by Switzerland in the quarters, will face Finland, which eliminated the Czechs on Wednesday night at UBC Arena.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Americans play at noon local time Friday, which will mark the fourth time they will play the lunchtime special at these Olympics.

Obviously, it requires that players prepare differently than for normal NHL games in the evening or even midafternoon tilts.

"You wake up, you eat breakfast and play. It doesn't give you a lot of time to think about the game, which can be good. You don't sit around all day. You just get up and play. I don't mind it at all. I thought I wouldn't like it at all, but I do," American forward Zach Parise said.

One of the other differences has been dressing in rooms that have no clock ticking down to the start of the game. In NHL dressing rooms, there are clocks that allow players -- especially those who hold to a firm pattern or ritual of pregame readiness -- to know exactly how much time they have before having to take the ice.

Those clocks do not exist here, or at least the clocks in the room have been difficult to follow.

Chris Drury joked that there some players who follow the ritual so closely that he doesn't think they could survive this tournament.

"You don't really have that here, so everyone's trying to figure out when exactly it is, when they need to be doing something. As the tournament goes on, you eventually figure it out," Parise said.

"I usually do a little hot and a cold tub in the morning on the day of a game. It's different playing at 7. Playing at noon, I don't want to be taking a cold tub at 10 in the morning. That's one thing that I've just kind of had to throw out, and shockingly I can still play."

Line juggling

Team Canada coach Mike Babcock has kept reporters busy with his line juggling in this tournament.

"I was just giving you guys something to write about," he joked Thursday. "You need something to complain about. We said right from the get-go we're a work in progress. We're trying to get better each and every game. It took us awhile to get to where we got last night. I told the coaches, I looked at my book and on Nov. 17, those were my lines. We finally got back to that. It's just one of those things we didn't think was the right combination to start Game 1."

So, Mike, what else is in that Olympic notebook of yours?

"Lots of stuff," he said. "All my notes for the whole year are in there. I'm going to sell it to you when I'm all done."

The defensive pairings are quite different from what he had in mind a few months ago.

"To tell you the truth, the only group that's stayed together is [Scott] Niedermayer and [Shea] Weber," Babcock said. "The rest has all changed. That's why you come to the tournament. You have this thing on paper, like I do every year with the Red Wings in the summer, and you get to camp and you throw it out about three days in because none of it worked. Some players are better than you expected, some aren't moving as quick as you expected. So they decide who plays in what situations."

Darling Ducks

Babcock was happy to see Anaheim stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry finally have a big night, the pair combining for three goals against Russia.

"I thought [Perry] and Getzy had to be a lot better, and I thought they were last night," the Canadian coach said. "They were real good for us and really effective. I just said to both of them, 'We've had some wars with Anaheim over the last three years, and every night we played them, those guys came to play and they were big-time warriors and I expect the same here.'"

Crazy Canada

Team Canada forward Mike Richards had quite the reaction from family and friends in the wake of the big win over Russia.

"It was a lot of text messages, calls," the Philadelphia Flyers captain said. "You could feel the atmosphere in the building and how much everybody wanted it, not only us but the fans and everyone around wanted us to beat them. It's nice to get the win, but it's over and now we have to move on to Slovakia."

Richards said his team needs to be wary of Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens.

"He's quick. He's a standard kind of butterfly goaltender, but he's got quick feet and when you think he has the open net, he kind of kicks it over, so you've got to be aware of that and bear down on your chances."

Nice job

Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber helped shut down Alex Ovechkin on Wednesday night, and he said he relished the opportunity.

"I don't think I was nervous," Weber said Thursday. "He's one of the best players in the world. As a kid, you dream about playing in big games against the top players in the world. It was a challenge I was looking forward to, and as a team, I think we did a pretty good job."

Canada-USA?

Let's face it, a USA-Canada rematch is on a lot of people's minds.

"It would be huge," Canadian defenseman Drew Doughty said Thursday. "The game we played in the round-robin was a big game, 20 million viewers or something like that. But we can't look past this game tomorrow. I think we have a team that's definitely capable of winning the tournament, but all four teams are capable of winning. They wouldn't be at this point if they weren't really good."

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Like many Nordic skiers, Billy Demong cross-trains in the summer by riding a road bike, and he's good enough to have competed in some races on the domestic professional circuit. During July 2008, he was on the receiving end of an athletic act of generosity that may have gotten more attention in cyberspace than anything Demong had done in three previous Winter Olympics.

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Billy Demong
Frank Fife/Getty ImagesBilly Demong's gold medal was the culmination of decades of hard work.

Demong, who had crashed about 1.5 miles from the finish of the Cascade Cycling Classic in Oregon, crossed the finish line in a most unusual fashion. Veteran pro Chris Horner, now a support rider on Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team, came upon Demong and offered both him and his banged-up bike a piggyback ride. Fans were stunned when they saw Horner approaching with his cargo.

The first thing I thought of when Demong won the Nordic combined large hill individual event Thursday was the concept of unselfishness. He wouldn't be a gold medalist if he hadn't had longtime teammates Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane with him, not just for Thursday's 10-kilometer race, not just for the past two weeks in Whistler, but for most of the past 12 years. These guys have taken turns carrying each other through many mishaps and close calls and the slow build to success on the World Cup circuit, and they haven't done it for fame or financial reward. Most sports writers -- and I'm among them -- didn't start paying attention until it was clear the team was going to be a contender in Vancouver. Most of us are still not versed in the nuances, but it's not hard to grasp how long and hard these athletes toiled in obscurity to get there.

I'm certain Demong's victory is sweeter because the team had won a collective silver medal together two days before. "No matter what, our team approach has been to train together, compete together, win together," he told me in an interview last month. "We know that as a small sport in a big country, we need to be together to push each other. As long as somebody is doing well, it brings the level of the group up. It doesn't matter who is excelling at any given time as long as somebody pushes the limit.

"That's what makes us strong, not only on the playing field -- we're a band of brothers. We spend upwards of 250 days a year together. At 29 years of age, I was reflecting today on the van trip, as I always do when we drive across Europe, that I've probably spent more nights in a hotel room with Johnny Spillane and Todd Lodwick than I spent with my mother.

"It's the group that has made us good. It started with Todd being able to break the mold and say, 'You know what, Americans can be good at this sport. I'm not gonna take history as an example. I'm gonna make my own way.' And then Johnny and I learning from him and following his tracks. I think we all truly view and value this as a team effort all the way, even the individual results."

Demong was raised just outside Lake Placid, N.Y., so it's completely understandable that his Olympic ambitions were a tad outsized from the start. He came into the 2002 Games thinking he'd get a medal and get out of the sport; the team finished fourth, and Demong had to recalibrate his expectations.

His own tomfoolery -- he fractured his skull taking a playful dive into a shallow hotel swimming pool -- derailed him for a season but also made him so acutely aware of his gifts that he came back to the sport with new dedication. His dry sense of humor has helped him navigate the long, grinding course since. When I told him I wanted to interview him for a story on Olympic "lifers" -- three athletes who had found a way to compete in four straight Winter Games -- he asked, "Have we all had some sort of catastrophic accident or injury that caused us to maybe increase our longevity?"

As the years rolled on and the results accumulated, a true confidence replaced Demong's former cocksureness. And that confidence, again, was built on the knowledge that his teammates would force him to be at his competitive best yet always be there for him, even when he somehow lost his starting bib and cost the team a medal at the World Championships. Lodwick took two years off and returned, but he and Demong and Spillane are as tight a fraternity as you'll find in sports, still choosing to spend some of their precious off-time together riding their bikes, fishing and hunting.

The fact that all three stayed in the sport as long as they did was crucial to the U.S. success here. The team medal, Spillane's two individual silvers and Demong's gold didn't just end the lifetime U.S. drought in the sport, they flooded the plain. "There are definitely some young guys who have good results, but they're less frequent," Demong told me in January. "Year in, year out over my tenure, it's the older, more experienced athletes who tend to excel on a daily basis. There's a lot of pieces of this puzzle that have to come together. There's a lot of things that go into a day of Nordic combined that an experienced athlete can roll with, whereas a younger athlete may stress."

Leaning against the wall in Demong's basement in Park City, Utah, is a pair of weathered gray wood cross-country skis that look like they were chopped out of the side of a barn, with cracked leather bindings. The antiques are a reminder of the sport's roots, and by extension, how far Demong and his teammates have been able to take it. Endurance athletes often get better as they get older. What Demong never could have known until now is how much more meaningful it would be after all this time.

WHISTLER, British Columbia -- For an hour after the women's giant slalom finals Thursday morning, Julia Mancuso's family stood at the entrance to the media area here, anxiously awaiting the moment when they finally could celebrate with her.

"We haven't had a proper celebration yet," said Andrea Webber, Mancuso's mom. "This will be the first time we celebrate her two silver medals together."

When Julia arrived, nearly an hour after giving her first postrace interview, Mom placed the tiara she'd been wearing all morning on her daughter's head. Julia's sister April held out a stack of plastic cups. Julia reached into her bag and pulled out a bottle of Celebris champagne. Then, after hanging her two medals around her neck, Mancuso popped the cork, divvied up the champagne among her family and friends, and made a proper toast. "Here's to the Olympics!" Mancuso said, holding up her glass. "Cheers!"

Although Mancuso did not medal in giant slalom, she was the fastest woman down the mountain Thursday and finished eighth overall. And after Wednesday's unfortunate, and now infamous, yellow-flag incident, it was something else for Mancuso and her family to celebrate. Instead of thinking about what could have been, Mancuso was able to concentrate on what was and celebrate an impressive final performance at these Olympics. In that final run, she also was celebrating the memory of a friend.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mancuso learned of the death of her good friend CR Johnson, a well-known and popular freeskier who helped pioneer the sport of halfpipe skiing. Johnson, 26, was known for pushing limits, as well as for his inspiring recovery from a traumatic brain injury he suffered in a skiing accident in 2005. He died Wednesday after a fall while skiing at Squaw Valley, his home mountain. Johnson and Mancuso, who also is from Squaw Valley, Calif., had been friends for years. In 2002 in Salt Lake City, at her first Olympics, Johnson stood with Mancuso's family and cheered her on the day she took silver in the giant slalom. On Thursday, he was with her in spirit.

"Our little sister Sara found out first, and I knew Julia would find out, so I wanted to be the person to tell her," April said. "I called her and said, 'I have horrible news. You should probably sit down.' After I told her, she was in disbelief. Yesterday was a bad day for Julia.

"Everything seemed so unfair. She was upset about what happened in her first run and thinking about it a lot. But then after hearing her good friend had passed away, she realized you have to let it go. It put everything in perspective. Life is so fragile, and although this is upsetting, I mean, it's the Olympics. What happened is nothing compared to losing her friend."

At the finish of her second run, Mancuso told the media, "CR helped me realize how much I love skiing."

On Wednesday night during their call, Mancuso told her sister that she was dedicating her final run to her friend. On Thursday morning, she told the world in a post on her Twitter account.

"This last run is for CR Johnson. Gonna rip it for you!!! CR was in Salt Lake City at my first Olympics, cheering for me. I know you're here now and with everyone when they ski and push their limits. RIP."

Then she lined up at the start and made good on her word.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The final four was set late Wednesday night with one of the most shocking upsets of the men's Olympic hockey tournament.

Slovakia dethroned defending champion Sweden with a 4-3 quarterfinal win and advanced to the semifinals for the first time its young hockey history. There, Zdeno Chara and the Cinderella Slovaks will have its toughest challenge yet, as Team Canada hopes to rock the host nation with a trip to the gold-medal game.

"It's huge, you know," said Slovak veteran Jozef Stumpel. "It's tough to describe. You'll have to ask the people back home how crazy it's going over there."

"This is huge back home," added former Montreal Canadiens winger Richard Zednik. "Hockey is really popular. They're really looking forward to this tournament. It's really exciting for the fans, for the people back home and for sure for us."

Meanwhile, Team USA's surprise Olympic tournament also continues Friday against a gritty Finland team in its semifinal game.

"USA played a good game against Canada," Finnish captain Saku Koivu of the Anaheim Ducks said Wednesday night after a 2-0 quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic. "They have a good roster and [Ryan] Miller is a good goalie. It's a huge challenge, but it's exciting."

The Finns are fourth in the official International Ice Hockey Federation world rankings, while the U.S. is fifth.

"We're probably not the biggest favorite, but if we play as a team, we have a chance," said Finnish goalie Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames.

Slovakia won its first and only world title in 2002, but continues to develop top-end players. The Slovaks upset Russia in a shootout in the preliminary round, but sent out mixed signals with a nervy 4-3 win over hockey minnow Norway on Tuesday night in the qualifying round. Obviously a good night's sleep was all they needed. The Slovaks jumped out to 2-0 and 4-2 leads and held on to stun star-studded Sweden.

"Obviously, you have to believe," said Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak, who continued his dream-like tourney with 26 saves Wednesday. "Because when you go into a game with Sweden, we are underdogs. But you have to believe. Everyone believes in our locker room and that's why we came out with the victory."

Somewhow, when all the dust cleared Wednesday, powerhouse countries Russia and Sweden were both sent packing. And joining Alex Ovechkin with the early exit was Washington Capitals linemate Nicklas Backstrom of Sweden.

"I don't know, I don't have an explanation right now," a stunned Backstrom said. "I don't feel we were on top of our game. They're a good team, we knew that before the game, but we weren't ready maybe.

"We should be better than what we showed. I'm just really upset right now."

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Once every four years, Jeret "Speedy" Peterson spends a few seconds in the air that earn him something around 15 minutes of fame. There have been times he wished it didn't last that long.

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Jeret Peterson
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty ImagesJeret Peterson's mistakes in 2006 helped him prepare for the Vancouver Games.

The daring aerialist from Idaho is back for his third Olympics, armed once again with the triple-flip, quintuple-twist trick that has made his name and will make or break his medal chances. He left Torino on a sour note, but not because he brushed his hand in the snow as he righted himself after his signature jump and finished seventh. Peterson's involvement in a bar fight made headlines and the U.S. Olympic Committee asked him to leave.

That incident, rehashed around the world at the time, has been stirred up from the bottom of the soup pot again -- but this time, cited as the botched landing that helped set Peterson, 28, on a different path. He took time off the World Cup circuit, quit drinking and worked on blunting the hubris that made him think he could get away with anything, while still retaining the risk-loving edge that makes him a great competitor.

Peterson's ideal medal-winning performance will be as spectacular as possible, and he would also like to be known for something other than overcoming a résumé of tragedies: A sister's death at the hands of a drunk driver, childhood sexual abuse, witnessing the suicide of a close friend. In the last couple of years, he has talked openly about his struggle with depression. "My stance on it is, I didn't do anything to make it happen," Peterson told me during a World Cup weekend in Utah last month. "It's no different than having a broken arm. It's something you have, something you have to deal with, and if you don't, it's not going to heal."

It's irksome to have his past rifled through every so often like an open desk drawer, but he's made peace with it.

"It's been a very difficult process having everything that you do scrutinized," he said. "I made mistakes in my life and unfortunately they were magnified many, many times. Do I feel it's unfair to a certain extent? Yes. I didn't get into this sport thinking that people were going to look up to me.

"I've already been dragged through the wringer again this year. It's OK, mostly because I know and I'm comfortable with who I am now and comfortable admitting where I went wrong. If people don't want to be fans of mine, I'm OK with that."

It's hard not to look up when Peterson catapults himself off the kicker and whirls around like a stunt plane without wings, soaring as high as 54 feet in the air at his zenith. His "Hurricane" trick pushes the physical limits of what an aerialist can do under the current rules. Four flips are not allowed.

In 2002, when Peterson was named to the Olympic team at the last minute due to an injury to teammate Emily Cook, he watched Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic win the gold medal with a similarly difficult maneuver. He's worked on perfecting his own version of it ever since.

Valenta twisted twice on the first flip, twice on the second and once on the third. Peterson twists once on the first flip, an eye-popping three times on the second and once on the third. He said his sequencing improves his chances of landing cleanly. "I get to see [down] right before I do that triple twist and I get to see again at the end of it, whereas Ales didn't see until almost the end of the second flip," Peterson said. "He was blind for 66 percent of his jump."

Peterson and U.S. teammate Ryan St. Onge both qualified for Thursday's aerials finals. The 12-man field, shockingly, will not include Anton Kushnir of Belarus, who is leading the World Cup standings and had been money in the bank until he crashed in qualifying.

Another "Hurricane" attempt will be a game-day decision, depending on conditions at Cypress Mountain, Peterson said. He has used it sparingly, trying it only about eight times in competition and hitting it cleanly three times that he can recall. He has refined it in training to the point where he's microanalyzing small flaws in his landing, which he said is a good place.

"I want to progress our sport and I want everyone to try their hardest," he said. "I don't back down and I'm not going to give up, and I don't want any of my competitors to, either."