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Arakawa brings home the gold for Japan

ON THE ICE: A surprise winner from a surprise country.

"I still can't believe this," said Shizuka Arakawa, whose gold gave Japan its first medal of these Games.

She earned 191.34 points, almost eight ahead of American Sasha Cohen. Russia's Irina Slutskaya was third.

Arakawa is the first Japanese woman to win Olympic gold. Midori Ito finished second to Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992.

Skating to Puccini's Violin Fantasy of Turandot, her gracefulness was edged with power. Her spirals were breathtaking. And when she did an Ina Bauer, a variation of a spread-eagle that puts her in a full backbend while her toes point in opposite directions, the crowd gasped.

Arakawa's face lit up when she finished. When she saw the marks that moved her into first place, she pumped her fists in a rare display of exuberance and flashed a "V" for victory sign.

THANKS, COACH: "Yes, of course I was surprised. I thought she could medal. But I didn't think she would win gold," said Nikolai Morozov, hired by Arakawa in November after the 2004 world champion dropped to ninth at worlds last year.

- TIMES WIRES

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