- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

From combined dispatchesMIDWAY, Utah A pair of silver goggles concealed Stefania Belmondo's tears twice yesterday.
The Italian cried during and after the women's 15-kilometer freestyle cross-country race.
And she always will remember both.
Belmondo won the first gold medal of the Winter Olympics, taking the women's 15-kilometer race in 39 minutes, 54.4 seconds. Larissa Lazutina of Russia took the silver in 39:56.2, and Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic won 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."
Americans Nina Kemppel, Barbara Jones and Kristina Joder were 30th, 44th and 54th, respectively. Kemppel finished nearly three minutes behind Belmondo.
In the men's 30-kilometer race, Johann Muehlegg of Spain broke away early and cruised to his first gold medal in one hour, nine minutes, 28.9 seconds. Christian Hoffmann of Austria took the silver in 1:11.31.0, and Mikhail Botvinov, another Austrian, won the bronze in 1:11.32.3.
Muehlegg set an impressive pace from the start, leading a five-man breakaway group at the 6.2-kilometer mark. He pulled away from there.
"My plan was to force the pace during the first few laps and pull away from my rivals, and I did it," said Muehlegg, a German-born skier who sought and attained Spanish citizenship after a 1998 dispute with the German ski federation.
Per Elofsson of Sweden, the overwhelming favorite for the gold, skied deep in the pack and retired at the halfway mark after trailing Muehlegg by more than two minutes.
"I had rubber legs halfway through the race," Elofsson said.
Andrew Johnson led the way for the Americans, finishing 22nd, while Lars Flora and Carl Swenson were 56th and 58th, respectively. Justin Wadsworth did not finish.
Drexel University professor Prawat Nagvajara suffered the same fate. The 43-year-old engineering professor the first Thai athlete to participate in the Winter Games pulled out before the 15-kilometer mark.
The women had a much closer race, and Belmondo's was nearly as emotional as her victory.
It began at the 10.5-kilometer mark. Racing with the leaders, she broke a ski pole, faded from the front and then lost her composure.
"At that point, I thought the race was over," the 33-year-old Belmondo said. "I cried. I screamed like never before."
She started sobbing but never stop skiing.
She pushed with one pole for the next 700 meters, losing several spots and about seven seconds to the leaders.
But just when she was about to lose all hope, a team trainer appeared along the course and gave her another pole.
With the leaders in sight, she knew she was still in the race.
"I gave it all I had," said Belmondo, a 5-foot-3, 101-pound skier who favors the hilly Soldier Hollow course.
She regained her composure, increased her confidence with every pass and caught up to the leaders setting up a frantic finish.
Lazutina and Belmondo broke away from the lead pack during a steep climb about 1.5 kilometers from the finish.

U.S. strong in Nordic combined
PARK CITY, Utah Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong aren't kids anymore, and as they grow up, the U.S. Nordic combined team is coming of age, too.
The Americans leaped steady and long in the ski-jumping portion of the event, surprising the dominant Europeans by both finishing in the top 10.
"Anything is possible tomorrow," said Lodwick, who enters today cross-country portion in seventh, one spot ahead of Demong.
The two men already have exceeded expectations in a sport Americans have traditionally struggled in. The highest Olympic finish by a U.S. athlete is ninth, in 1932 by Rolf Monsen.
"Every single person out there is afraid of the USA right now," said coach Jan-Erik Aalbu, who coached the powerful Norwegians at the 1994 and 1998 Olympics. "Four or five years ago, it was not that way."
At 17, Lodwick pulled off a remarkable fifth-place showing in the ski jump, but his bad skiing technique failed him. He was 43rd out of 52 competitors in the next day's race, and wound up 14th. He was 13th after the jump in Nagano but again struggled on the skis, taking 20th overall. Now 25, Lodwick benefited from taking time off last year and came back strong, winning two World Cup events in December.

Belarus 1, Ukraine 0
PROVO, Utah Sergei Shabanov stopped 17 shots, and Oleg Mikulchik scored during a two-man advantage with 12:11 to play as Belarus beat Ukraine in the first match of the men's Olympic hockey preliminary round.
Shabanov won a tense duel with Ukraine goalie Konstantin Simchuk, a veteran of four North American minor leagues. Shabanov made several outstanding saves in the third period as both teams' offenses emerged from two dull periods for an outstanding series of scoring chances in the third.
The teams' most recognizable NHL players weren't with their teams for the match. Anaheim defenseman Ruslan Salei won't join Belarus until tomorrow, while Washington's Dmitri Khristich is expected to miss Ukraine's first two matches.

Germany 3, Slovakia 0
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah Marc Seliger stopped 29 shots and German pro league teammate Jurgen Rumrich scored a short-handed goal as Germany pulled off an upset at the Olympic hockey tournament.
Jan Benda added a power play goal as Germany's special teams scored twice against goalie Pavol Rybar in a pivotal second period, making the Germans the front-runners to advance from their four-team pool into final-round play.
Klaus Kathan added a late empty-net goal in Germany's best Olympic performance since it nearly upset silver medalist Canada in Albertville in 1992.

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