Hedrick stays on track for five Olympic golds

One bid for a five-gold Winter Olympics was shattered Saturday on the first day of competition. Another stayed on track the long track.

Chad Hedrick, who swapped inline skates for speedskates only four years ago, won the men's 5,000 meters. He has four more races at the Lingotto speedskating track and wants four more golds to equal Eric Heiden's 26-year-old record of five gold medals in one games.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen's chance of five golds evaporated in the Alps when he missed two early targets in the 20-kilometer biathlon and finished second behind Michael Greis, who won the first gold medal of the Turin Games for Germany.

Georg Hettich made it 2-for-2 for Germany which topped the medal table at Salt Lake City when he won the 15-kilometer Nordic combined.

Jennifer Heil got Canada's first medal of the games a gold when she won the women's moguls on the last run of the day.

Heil's clean run earned 26.5 points, enough to beat defending Olympic champion Kari Traa of Norway by 0.85. Sandra Laoura of France won the bronze.

In the last training session of the men's downhill, Bode Miller was fastest at the final interval. Hermann Maier was next.

Hedrick, a brash-talking Texan who was cheered on by U.S. First Lady Laura Bush, skated the grueling 12 1/2 laps in 6 minutes, 14.68 seconds.

The predominantly orange-clad Dutch crowd applauded him and tossed Hedrick an orange cap even though he beat second-place Dutch skater Sven Kramer. Enrico Fabris earned host Italy its first medal of the games by taking bronze in 6:18.25.

Hedrick said there was more to come.

"I didn't come here to win one gold medal," he said. "You're going to see my face a lot more. ... The more fun I have, the better I perform. I'm ready to go."

Bjoerndalen started the biathlon as a strong favorite. If he had hit one of the two targets he missed, he would have taken the gold.

Instead, the defending champion's misses relegated him to silver and jeopardized his quest to become the top gold medal winner in Winter Olympic history.

Greis missed only once on his way to gold in 54:23, 16 seconds ahead of Bjoerndalen. Halvard Hanevold of Norway took third, 1:08.9 behind Greis.

The 32-year-old Bjoerndalen swept all four biathlon events four years ago at the Salt Lake City Games, adding to a gold he won in 1998 at Nagano.

"The competition is harder now than in Salt Lake," Bjoerndalen said. "If you want to win, you have to do everything perfect. And today, Michael Greis was too perfect for me. He was the best guy today."

He now needs to win his remaining four races to give him more Winter Games golds than any other athlete. Another Norwegian, cross country skier Bjoern Daehlie, holds the record with eight golds.

"I think it will be difficult," Bjoerndalen said. "But I will try."

In the Nordic combined, Hettich's jumps of 101.5 and 104 meters on the normal hill gave him a cushion going into the 15-kilometer cross country ski.

Austria's Felix Gottwald ended second, 9.8 seconds back, while Magnus Moan was third, lunging over the finish line ahead of Petter Tande, who had been second after the jumping.

Hannu Manninen of Finland, the gold medal favorite after 11 World Cup victories this season, finished ninth  still leaving him without an individual Olympic medal in his fourth and probably final Olympics.

On the downhill course, Miller finished in 12th place because most top skiers braked before the finish to get a better starting position for Sunday's race.

The defending overall World Cup champion reached the last interval in 1:31.87, 0.47 seconds faster than Maier. Antoine Deneriaz of France was next at 1:32.39.

But Miller will need to look out for "The Herminator."

"There is still room for improvement," said Maier, who is recovering from the flu. "I am hoping to be better for tomorrow."

Michelle Kwan took to the figure skating rink Saturday, but got off it again quicker than expected, cutting short her practice after struggling on several jumps.

The 25-year-old five-time world champion was given a medical bye onto the U.S. team after a groin injury sidelined her for the national championships a month ago.

Kwan stopped short of saying she was considering dropping off the U.S. team. But asked directly, she replied: "I really have to pay attention to how I am feeling these days. Dropping out, it's not something I want to do, but I have to listen to what my feelings are", reports AP.


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