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Olympics-Norway scoop more gold as athletes ski through rain and mist

Source: Reuters - Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:27 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Fog, rain and snow, but skiing events go on

* Members of Pussy Riot protest group arrested

* Bidders may have to abide by anti-discrimination rule

* NHL refuses to promise future release of players for Games (Updates after further medal events)

By Mike Collett-White

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Snowboarders and skiers raced through fog and rain at the Winter Olympics on Tuesday, as Norway continued their impressive Games with two more golds and short track speed skating produced more of its usual controversies.

After two days of delays and postponements organisers will have been delighted to get back on schedule as Frenchman Pierre Vaultier won the men's snowboard cross in a race originally due to be run on Sunday.

Tina Maze won her second gold medal, in the giant slalom, and this time did not have to share it, while Norway's Emil Hegle Svendsen claimed his third Olympic title and denied France's Martin Fourcade a golden Sochi hat-trick in a photo finish to the 15km biathlon mass start on Tuesday.

There was a second gold for Norway in the Nordic Combined large hill thanks to Joergen Graabak, while South Korea triumphed in the women's short track 3,000m relay, where China crossed the line second but were disqualified.

Away from the action, Russia's controversial anti-gay propaganda law, which has never been far from the surface, was again to the fore.

The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that future bidders may have to abide by a specific anti-discrimination rule modelled on the Olympic Charter's Principle 6 if they are to be awarded the Games.

Principle 6 says sport does not discriminate on any grounds, including race, religion, politics or gender.

There has been little sign of dissent against legislation introduced last year, although two members of protest group Pussy Riot were detained by law enforcement authorities on Tuesday.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said they were detained on suspicion of theft less than two months after their release from prison under an amnesty.

Up in the mountains, having had to wait two days for their moment in the spotlight, the snowboard cross men produced their usual exciting racing.

However, medical staff were again in action as Italian athlete Omar Visintin was carried off on a stretcher, the latest in a series in injuries at the Extreme Park.

In a close final Vaultier edged out Russian Nikolay Olyunin.

It was even tighter in the men's biathlon as Svendsen and Fourcade reached the final straight together.

The Norwegian seemed home and dry when he pulled away in the sprint for home but almost paid the price for a premature celebration as Fourcade thrust a ski forward at the line.

Svendsen, who had disappointed in the first three races here, was awarded the victory after a photo finish, giving him a third gold after his 20km individual and relay success four years ago.

Graabak made it another good day for Norway when, despite finishing sixth on the ski jump section, made up a 42 second deficit in the 10km cross country section to pip compatriot Magnus Moan.

AMAZING MAZE

In the women's giant slalom, Maze, who shared downhill gold with Swiss Dominique Gisin, was alone on top of the podium on Tuesday after making the most of starting first in slippery conditions in the first run.

But it came down to hundredths of seconds in the end, as she just edged out Anna Fenninger of Austria.

Ninety skiers were on the start list for a race that traditionally includes athletes from many non-Alpine nations.

Among those making up the numbers was violin virtuoso Vanessa Mae representing Thailand. Racing under the name Vanessa Vanakorn, she finished 50.10 seconds behind Maze after two descents.

"It's so cool. You've got the elite skiers of the world and then you've got some mad old woman like me trying to make it down," Mae said.

"I think it's great the Olympics is here - it gives you the chance to try something new later in life. If you do everything when you're young, you leave no fun until the end."

In the short track speed skating, South Korea went some way to making amends for 2010 - when they were disqualified after finishing first - by taking gold and keeping it.

Shim Suk-hee brought them home and said: "Even though I did not take part in the Vancouver Olympics ... when I crossed the line I thought of that moment four years ago when my country was disqualified."

China inherited the gold that time, but it was their turn to fall foul of the judges on Tuesday in a sport where disqualifications are commonplace.

Canada were promoted to silver - matching their performance on home ice four years ago - with Italy winning bronze.

GERMANY ON TOP

After 65 of the Games' 98 events, Germany lead the medals table with eight golds, one more than Norway. Russia, Netherlands, the United States, Switzerland and, surprisingly, Belarus, all have five.

For most Russians, the big contest of the day comes at the futuristic Bolshoy Ice Dome, where the hosts are facing Norway in a qualification playoff.

Russian players have sought to reassure the passionate home fans, despite not qualifying automatically for the quarter-finals of a competition Russia would love to win more than any other.

Canada and the United States are fancied above Russia, but a gold for the host nation in a final being played just hours before the closing ceremony on Sunday would provide the fairytale end to the Sochi Games.

However, whether future Games will continue to attract the cream of ice hockey remains in doubt.

Rene Fasel, head of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association chief Donald Fehr faced the media in Sochi but showed few signs of reaching an agreement that would see the NHL release players for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"Yes, Rene would love for Don and I to say today that we are coming but he knows that's not the case," said Bettman.

"This is the fifth time we have participated in the Olympic tournament - where we are in this process should not be a shock to anybody."

The NHL has continually refused to make a long-term commitment to the Games and indications are that team owners no longer believe the worldwide exposure they gain from competing is worth shutting the league down for two weeks in the middle of the season and handing over their players to the IOC.

Tuesday's other medal events see speed skater Sven Kramer seeking to add the 10,000 metres title to his 5,000 gold and extend the remarkable run of success the Netherlands have enjoyed at the Adler Arena.

Freestyle skiing closes the day under the lights with the men's halfpipe final. (Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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