- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Alpine skiing finally started Monday at the Vancouver Olympics, and Swiss veteran Didier Defago claimed the first gold medal by winning the men’s downhill.

Defago had an error-free run on the Dave Murray course in Whistler to win in 1 minute, 54.31 seconds — becoming the first Swiss skier to win the prestigious event since Pirmin Zurbriggen claimed gold at the 1988 Calgary Games.

“It is one of the most beautiful days of my life,” said Defago, who at 32 years and 4 months became the oldest man to win the Olympic downhill.

Jean-Luc Cretier of France was 32 years and 1 month when he won at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, the defending overall World Cup champion, was second, 0.07 seconds behind. Bode Miller of the United States finished third, 0.09 back.

“It was hard for me to push without making mistakes,” said Miller, who won two silver medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games but earned none four years ago at the Turin Games. “I skied really well at the top but I was pushing too hard.”

The men’s downhill was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed for 48 hours due to the mix of warm temperatures, heavy snowfall, rain and fog that have wreaked havoc with the Alpine schedule.

Mechanical problems delayed the start of the men’s 500-meter speedskating race, but Mo Tae-bum of South Korea won the gold when it finally did get going.

Mo posted the second-best time of the opening race, then blazed around the track in 34.90 seconds in the second heat to snatch the gold with a total time of 1:09.82.

After the first 10 pairs skated the opening race, there was a long delay while officials tried to repair the ice-resurfacing machines. Officials even discussed postponing the rest of the competition before one of the machines was fixed.

Later, the pairs free program in figure skating will be decided. Chinese husband and wife Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo set a world record in winning the short program on Sunday.

Also Monday, Charlotte Kalla of Sweden led from start to finish to win the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle cross-country race and Dario Cologna of Switzerland won the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle in his Olympic debut.

“It was an incredible race for me,” said Cologna, who won in 33:36.3. “I had a very good feeling from the start.”

Kalla won in 24:58.4 for her first Olympic gold medal.

“I feel a bit confused,” the 22-year-old Swede said. “It’s going to take a while for this to sink in. … I can’t believe I’m a gold medalist.”

In the men’s snowboardcross event, Seth Westcott of the United States defended his Olympic title, overtaking Mike Robertson of Canada to win the gold medal.

Tatjana Huefner of Germany took the lead midway through the women’s luge competition, where a new starting position following the death of a Georgian slider left some sliders slower and frustrated.

“I need to concentrate on me,” said Huefner, this season’s overall World Cup champion who’s primed to become German’s ninth women’s gold medalist in 13 Olympic luge competitions. “Hopefully, I can have two good runs. We’ll see if it’s gold.”

Canada won its second straight game in women’s ice hockey, beating Switzerland 10-1. The host nation routed Slovakia 18-0 on Saturday.

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