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Winter Olympics Roundup

February 18, 1998

NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ It took a team of underpaid, overachieving women hockey players to start a golden spurt for the United States in the Nagano Games. It didn’t take long for a group of underachieving NHL millionaires to end it.

The spectacular collapse of the U.S. men’s hockey team was made complete today when the carefully assembled collection of NHL all-stars lost 4-1 to the Czech Republic and was eliminated from the Olympics before even getting a chance to play for a medal.

On the same ice where the U.S. women team won Olympic gold the night before, a team that featured six 50-goal scorers and 17 other NHL stars scored only one first-period goal in losing its third game in four tries.

``This was the biggest waste of time ever,″ said U.S. assistant captain Keith Tkachuk. ``I hate to be negative, but this is disgusting.″

The shockingly quick exit extended the U.S. men’s hockey medal drought to five Olympics, ever since the Miracle on Ice team won the gold in 1980.

It also put a damper on a sudden flurry of gold _ all coming in newly hatched Olympic sports _ that pushed U.S. medal winnings into double figures and close to the American record of 13 medals in Lillehammer.

A trio of gold medals, two of them in freestyle skiing, pushed the U.S. total to five golds and 10 overall. And a powerful trio of female figure skaters waited in the wings to add to a medal count that has an outside chance to become America’s best ever.

``Best ever″ also describes Norway’s Bjorn Dahlie, who skied his way into Olympic record books with his seventh gold medal and 11th overall in cross country events.

A day after beating Canada 3-1 to win the women’s hockey gold, members of the U.S. team savored both the win and the attention for a sport making its Olympic debut. They showed up with gold medals around their necks at a Nagano hotel reception, then appeared on ``Late Night with David Letterman″ to recite the 10 best things about winning a gold medal.

It was a far cry from the years of anonymity on ice before women’s hockey became an official Olympic sport in Nagano.

``We were talking about who was going to be on the Wheaties box,″ U.S. forward Alana Blahoski said. ``We were told it was going to be Picabo Street or us. Why not us?″

Eric Bergoust, who learned aerials by jumping off the chimney of his parent’s farmhouse into a pile of mattresses, and Nikki Stone could also lay claim to the cereal box after hitting twisting back flips to win golds in men’s and women’s aerials.

``I can crash every jump for the rest of my life and I won’t care,″ Bergoust said. ``I felt like everything I’ve done before doesn’t matter now that I’ve finally done this.″

Bergoust was close to perfection on both his quad jumps on a snowy and windy day, while Snow, who nearly retired after failing to qualify for the final in Lillehammer four years ago, was nearly as good.

U.S. freestyle skiers now have three of the five American golds, with a super-G win by Picabo Street the only other individual gold for the United States. Freestyle skiing didn’t become an Olympic medal sport until 1994.

``My dreams, everything I’ve dreamed of since I was 5 years old, I was in a gym saying, `I’m going to win a gold medal someday,‴ Stone said. ``I can’t believe it.″

With four days of medals still to be won, the United States was nearing its best showing ever of 13 medals in Lillehammer. Germany, with 22 total medals, topped the medal list, followed by Norway (19), Russia (13), and Canada and Austria (12). The United States was tied for sixth with the Netherlands and Finland.

_ CROSS COUNTRY: Last week, Thomas Alsgaard cost Dahlie his chance at a seventh gold by surging past him in a race. Today, he made up for it by sticking his right ski across the finish line just ahead of Italy’s Silvio Fauner to give Norway the gold in the 40-kilometer cross-country relay.

Alsgaard’s late charge ended in victory when he got his right ski across the line two-tenths of a second ahead of Fauner. Italy took the silver and Finland the bronze.

``I was not thinking about it so much, but it means something to me,″ Dahlie said of the record. ``I will appreciate it in a few years when I look back on a fantastic career. But I was not concentrating on it here.″

Dahlie has seven gold medals and 11 overall in three Olympics. He’s won three in Nagano, including two golds.

_ SKIING: Another day, another postponed ski race. Even moving to a different mountain didn’t help Alpine skiers, who seem to bring bad weather with them at these games.

An overnight blizzard that dumped more than 3 feet of snow on Mount Higashidate forced postponement of the men’s giant slalom. That meant Italy’s Alberto Tomba would have to wait another day to try to win a medal for an unprecedented fourth Olympics.

_ BIATHLON: Ole Einar Bjorndalen could have had reason to complain when they stopped a biathlon he was leading Tuesday because of heavy snow and fog. Instead, he simply came back to win the restarted 10-kilometer race. The Norwegian star used flawless shooting and steady skiing to top teammate Frode Andresen, who took second. The bronze went to Finland’s Ville Raikkonen.

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