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Canada ends hockey medal drought

Canada's 24-year wait for a medal in Olympic hockey is over. Now the team and the nation just have to wait to see which one they'll get.

The dry spell that began in 1968 ended when Canada beat Czechoslovakia 4-2 Friday in the semifinals.

Canada (6-1) will face the Unified Team (6-1) in Sunday's gold-medal game. The consolation prize is silver. The Unified Team's predecessor, the Soviet Union, won seven of the last nine golds.

The United States (5-1-1), which lost 5-2 to the Unified Team earlier Friday, meets Czechoslovakia (5-2) for the bronze medal today.

Canada's coach Dave King, in his third consecutive Olympics, said, "It's been a long time. To get an opportunity to be in the gold-medal game in the 1992 Olympics is a dream come true."

Curt Giles, a 12-year NHL defenseman who scored only 47 goals in 931 regular-season and playoff games, made it possible when he broke a 2-2 tie at 3:59 of the third period with a soft shot from the left point that got by goalie Petr Briza. Fabian Joseph made it certain with an insurance goal off a rebound with 2:12 remaining.

Canada went ahead 2-0 on goals by Dave Hannan and Dave Archibald, but King said a goal by Czechoslovakia's Robert Svehla with eight seconds left in the first period "seemed to get us a little concerned."

The concern grew when Patrick Augusta tied the game 3:22 into the second period.

"We had some (more) chances in the second period and we didn't score," said Czechoslovakia coach Ivan Hlinka, who played against Giles when he spent two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.

"The third period was a very close, even period," King said. Then the 33-year-old Giles scored and, "all of a sudden we played with a lot more confidence."

That guaranteed Canada its best showing since 1960, when it won the silver medal. Its last gold came in 1952, when King was 4 years old.

"It means an awful lot for us to have a chance to play for it," King said. "The guys in the room, when I walked in were all saying, "one more step. We've got one more step to go.'

"

BOBSLED

Will's decision proves sound, driving doesn't

LA PLAGNE, France _ Chris Coleman did his job as Herschel Walker's replacement on the top U.S. four-man bobsled team. Driver Randy Will, who canned Walker, didn't quite do his.

As a result, USA I was ninth after Friday's first two runs, 0.76 seconds behind the leader, German great Wolfgang Hoppe.

Start times, the reason Will had Walker benched Thursday, were great. With Coleman as the brakeman, Will's crew covered the first 50 meters in 5.92 seconds on the first run, tying Hoppe and two-man gold medalist Gustav Weder of Switzerland for the fastest time. Their 5.95 on the second run was third-best.

But Will lost an estimated three-tenths of a second _ enough to move up three places _ when the right rear runner lifted off the icy track two turns from the finish line on the first run.

"That's just driver error," Will said. "That was my problem, and I'll take care of it just like the guys took care of their thing.

"The turns come up so quickly here that the sled just jumped up, went down in the hole and I couldn't do anything about it. All the guys behind me were like, "What in the world were you doing there?'

"

Will's first-run time of 58.57 seconds was only 10th-fastest. His 58.71 was third-fastest in the second heat, giving him a combined time of 1 minute, 57.28 seconds.

Will said he had expected the better start times. "We needed to prove this for my decision," he said.

But he added, "I think the pressure's on because I've got to pull one out" in today's final two runs. "That's the nice thing about bobsledding. The race is only half over."

Although he was elevated from his position as alternate, Coleman didn't exactly come out of nowhere. A three-time national brakeman push champion, he has been Will's sled mate for years. But Walker was tapped for the four-man brakeman's spot after his pushoff performance at the U.S. trials last month.

"Herschel is a great athlete. But that doesn't necessarily mean he's a great athlete in bobsled," Coleman said. "If he spends some time, he's going to be the best brakeman in the world. But you cannot just throw a man in the sled just like that.

"I think we basically proved today that experience counts for something," Coleman said.

Will said he took Walker off the sled "because Herschel's never raced a four-man race before in his life. I just didn't feel comfortable about it and the way the sled felt. I didn't feel that he understood what was going on.

"Like everything, it just takes time and practice. It took me eight years to get here and I've got a little bit to go. Maybe two years from now, we'll see what happens in Lillehammer (with Walker)."

Hoppe is trying to tie the Olympic record of three bobsled gold medals set by U.S. driving coach Meinhard Nehmer when he was competing for East Germany in 1976 and 1980. Hoppe clocked the fastest second run down the 4,946-foot track for a combined 1:56.62, putting him .07 seconds ahead of Ingo Appelt in Austria I. Hoppe was a double gold medalist in 1984 and double silver medalist in 1988.

Canada I pilot Christopher Lori had a strong showing _ third in both heats _ and was .19 seconds back in third. Weder was fourth, .23 back.

USA II, piloted by Chuck Leonowicz, was 14th, 1.21 off the pace.

SKIING

Italian woman wins 30K, Russians pile up medals

LES SAISIES, France _ Stefania Belmondo became the first Italian woman to win a cross-country gold medal by racing to victory in the grueling 30-kilometer event that completed the women's cross-country program.

Then she shared the medals platform and the attention with Lyubov Egorova, whose silver medal made her the most successful cross-country athlete in a single Games.

Egorova, of the Unified Team, medaled in every event, collecting three golds and two silvers. Teammate Elena Valbe, who took the bronze, also ended with five medals _ four bronzes and the relay gold.

The two Russians were helped by the fact that the cross-country program had five events for the first time.

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